Woman Wrongfully Jailed For Driving With Foreign License

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A Canadian woman had a valid driver's license while behind the wheel, and still, an officer arrested her. She had to fight to get her record wiped clean.

A police officer in Georgia arrested a Canadian citizen for driving in the United States with a valid Canadian driver’s license.

Now her story is going viral.

Emily Nield, 27, from Ontario, Canada, had just finished her master’s degree in geology in Tennessee. After a trip, she was driving through Georgia back to Tennessee on the Interstate 75 when she was pulled over for speeding. 

"She kept saying, 'No, Canadian [licenses] are not accepted,'" Nield said. "I was flabbergasted. I just kept saying this can't be right — a Canadian license is always valid."

The road is used routinely by Canadians traveling to and from Florida, CBC reports. So, it was clearly shocking to see the officer’s response.

The officer then asked Nield for proof of Canadian citizenship, and while she had digital copies of her Nexus, her passport, and birth certificate on her phone, that wasn’t enough. The officer wanted to see the actual documents.

"When I failed to produce it, she reached through the window of my car and she put handcuffs on me," Nield explained. "She told me that I have just been arrested for driving without a license and that I needed to go to jail."

In the back of the police car, the Canadian woman made a video and sent it to her friends on SnapChat.

As she was booked at the police station in Cook County and charged for driving without a license and doing 87 mph in a 70 mph zone, her friends were able to locate her. While she was allowed to talk to her friend, officers did not let her contact the Canadian Consulate or even her parents.

They told her she had to remain in jail until June 12, the date she was meant to appear in court, or pay a $880 bond in cash.

"They kept saying 'You're now in the system. Any crime that's going to be committed, your fingerprints are going to be searched,'" said Nield. "I never committed a crime."

After officers eventually allowed her to pay the bond with her debit card, she also had to pay an additional $200 to get her car from the impound.

With the help of a friend’s dad, who is an attorney, she started to work to get her charges dismissed. After all, Georgia Department of Driver Services’ own website states, “non-U.S. citizens holding a valid foreign driver's license are allowed to drive in the state of Georgia." And while the website states that another form of identification, such as a passport, may be needed, it doesn't say it is a requirement.

"I just kept thinking this would ruin me," Nield told reporters. "Any job application you have to check a box. Are you a criminal? Have you ever been convicted or arrested for anything?"

After her arrest, Cook County Probate Court Solicitor Matthew Bennett confirmed that Nield’s charges should be dismissed. After the judge signed off on the decision, Bennett said that measures to have her arrest record erased were ongoing, and that it would take a couple of weeks to have it finalized.

After this incident, he told reporters that Canadian drivers should always have a passport on them to prove their citizenship, not just the Canadian driver’s license.

Still, Nield said that even if she had her passport, it wouldn’t have made a difference because the officer who arrested her thought driving with a foreign license was illegal.

"If you're a police officer, you should know your laws, especially the I-75 people going north," Nield said. "There are so many snowbirds, and Canadians drive to Florida all the time for vacation."

Now that she’s back home with her parents, she wants an apology.

"At least with the officer who arrested me, I would love to see a formal reprimand," said Nield. "That way she can learn that this is not right — an apology is what I would love the most."

We hope she gets her apology. But we also hope this story helps local authorities rethink how they go about handling this type of situation. After all, Nield did nothing wrong. Getting a ticket for speeding was in order, but being arrested because of her license was clearly over the top.

Banner and thumbnail credit: houstondwiattorney.net/Flickr, houstondwiPhotos mp

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