Columbus OVI/DUI Attorney Blog

Somewhere between ten percent and twenty percent of Americans have GERD: Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease. While the advertisements by pharmaceutical companies have made GERD common knowledge, it is no so commonly known that this medical condition can inflate the result of an alcohol breath test. When the defendant in an OVI case has GERD, lawyers and judges find themselves at the intersection of law and science.

Science was not my best academic subject. In high school, I was one of only two people in the chemistry class not invited to the take physics. In college, I was required to take a few science courses, and I studied diligently…to find out which courses were the easiest! As a criminal defense lawyer, I was not thrilled to realize that developing expertise in DUI/OVI defense requires at least some comprehension of anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and pharmacokinetics. Although I am far from being a scientist, I have learned enough about the scientific aspect of DUI/OVI cases that I was recently asked to speak at a seminar on the topic of “Presenting A GERD Defense: Law And Science”.

GERD-ethanol exchange in the lungs

Recognizing how GERD affects alcohol breath tests requires understanding how alcohol reaches human breath. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, mostly in the intestines and some in the stomach. Blood carries the alcohol to different parts of the body, including the lungs. In the lungs, small blood vessels wrap around the ends of the bronchial trees; the alveolar sacs. At the alveolar sacs, gases from the blood, including alcohol, go into the lungs. Those gases, including alcohol, are then exhaled. If a person is taking a breath test, those gases are exhaled into the mouthpiece of a breath-testing machine.

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In the last couple weeks, two school bus drivers were suspected of being under the influence while driving a bus full of students. Both drivers were arrested for DUI, and both drivers now face serious consequences. These incidents raise the question of what happens if a school bus driver is convicted of DUI/OVI in Ohio.

School bus on roof.jpgThe first incident, reported by the Associated Press, involves a school bus driver in Utah. The suspect was driving elementary school students for a field trip. Two people, one motorist and one parent on the bus, called 911 to report the bus was swerving erratically and nearly hit a car on the highway. An officer stopped the bus and conducted a DUI investigation. The bus driver was arrested for DUI, and prescription muscle relaxers were found in the bus driver’s purse. The students were driven to the field trip by another, presumably sober, bus driver.

The second incident, reported by the Boston Globe, involves a school bus driver in Massachusetts. The suspect was driving a high school cross country team from a meet to their high school. Witnesses reported the bus driver smelled of alcohol, ran a red light, took the wrong exit, failed to use turn signals, hit rumble strips, and drove at fluctuating speeds. Police stopped the bus in the school parking lot and administered field sobriety tests to the driver. The bus driver was arrested for DUI and was held without bail. The bus driver reportedly had two prior DUI convictions.

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For three decades, lawyers and judges have been misinterpreting the case of State v. Vega. In Vega, the Ohio Supreme Court held defendants in DUI/OVI cases may not attack the general reliability of breath-testing machines. Some lawyers and judges interpret Vega as if it says defendants are not permitted to make any challenge to the breath test result. This misinterpretation of the Vega decision may exist in part because most people have not actually read the decision. It’s like the telephone game where the statement made by the first person in the game is modified drastically by the time the statement is repeated by the last person in the game. A few days ago, the Ohio Supreme Court clarified the holding of Vega in a case which will hopefully end the abuse of defendants’ rights resulting from the misinterpretation of Vega.

Pass-It-On.jpgThe recent case is Cincinnati v. Ilg. In Ilg, the defendant took a breath test on an Intoxilyzer 8000, blew over .080, and was charged with OVI. The defense attorney filed a Demand For Discovery requesting that the prosecution provide records for the specific Intoxilyzer 8000 used for his client’s breath test. When the prosecution did not provide the records, the defense subpoenaed the records from the Ohio Department of Health, the agency responsible for maintaining those records. The program administrator for the Department of Health’s alcohol and drug testing program told the Court the Department of Health did not have the personnel or technology to provide the requested records. The records were not provided.

The trial court excluded the breath test results from evidence, concluding the defendant had the right to challenge the reliability of his breath test and could not do so without the requested records. The prosecution appealed to the First District Court of Appeals, and the appellate court affirmed the decision of the trial court. The prosecution then appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. The prosecution’s primary argument was this: a defendant cannot compel the State to produce information that is to be used for the purpose of attacking the reliability of the breath-testing instrument because State v. Vega prohibits defendants from making attacks on the reliability of breath-testing instruments.

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I’m afraid of heights. I passed on the opportunity to go on the 450′ observation wheel, and I steered clear of the zip line starting at the 50th floor of the hotel. For me, just getting to the 50th floor was challenging because it required riding up an external glass elevator. While others took in the sights of the city on the way up, I faced the door and repeatedly read the maximum capacity of the elevator (30 people and 4,500 pounds). The ride was worth it: I enjoyed a great meal and an amazing view from the Voodoo Lounge. What a great way to wrap-up my annual trek to Las Vegas for the seminar presented by the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD)

WP_20140914_014.jpg The yearly seminar, “DWI Means Defend With Ingenuity”, always recharges my batteries. Although I truly enjoy my practice, and there is no work I would rather do, everyone needs an occasional break from the routine. The Vegas trip is an opportunity to ‘sharpen the saw‘.

It’s also an opportunity to learn from some of the best DUI lawyers in the country. I teach other Ohio lawyers about DUI/OVI defense, and I always learn something from the other speakers at the statewide seminars. I’ve heard it said, however, if you really want to be one of the best in your area, you need a benchmark of world-class colleagues. The speakers at the NCDD seminars are world-class.

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It won’t win a Pulitzer Prize, it will not be mentioned with the New York Times best sellers, and it will not be at the top of readers’ ‘wish lists’. In fact, most people may not find it very interesting. If you are charged with a DUI/OVI in Ohio, however, this book suddenly becomes a must-read. I’m talking about the new book: I Was Charged With DUI/OVI, Now What?!

I wrote the book to answer the questions most commonly asked by people charged with OVI.Cover image from book.jpg After answering those questions for 17 years, I recently came to the realization there was not a published book designed for individuals charged with OVI in Ohio. I thought it would be helpful to create a book which explains ‘what you need to know before going to court and before hiring an attorney for DUI/OVI in Ohio‘.

The book, published a couple weeks ago, is divided into four parts. The first part reveals what prosecutors need to prove for a person to be found guilty of OVI and outlines the potential consequences of an OVI conviction. The second part addresses the evidence used in OVI cases, including field sobriety tests and blood/breath/urine tests. The third part discusses the court process and its various stages. The fourth part addresses how to find a good OVI lawyer.

The book is available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The suggested retail price of the paperback is $9.95, and the e-book costs about half that. With the percentage I receive in royalties, I may buy a few cups of coffee…. The book is obviously not designed to be a money-maker for me. In fact, I will email a pdf version of the book to anyone who requests it, and I intend to make the paperback available in central Ohio libraries.

The book is designed to help people charged with OVI. People in that position need help, and one way I can help is providing this book. I can’t represent every person who contacts me after being charged with OVI: I typically only accept one new client per week. I certainly can’t field calls from every person who has questions about Ohio OVI laws. I can, however, answer those questions in the form of this low-cost book. I hope the book provides valuable information which is helpful to many people charged with DUI/OVI in Ohio.

This summer, I had the honor of being shadowed by Japanese criminal defense lawyer Yaeko Hashimoto, who recently completed an LL.M. program at the O.S.U. Moritz College of Law. In our conversations, it became clear there are differences between DUI/OVI laws in Ohio and DUI/OVI laws in Japan. Yaeko agreed to be a guest blogger and prepared the remainder of this article.

Drinking In Japan
Generally, Japanese culture is generous to drinking behavior, compared with other countries. In spring, people have a picnic under cherry blossoms with alcoholic beverages, and many adults enjoy beer or Japanese sake in public areas. Also, Japan has alcohol vending machines on streets so anyone can buy alcoholic beverages 24 hours per day without identification.

Vending machine with alcoholic beverages.png
Drunk Driving Laws In Japan
Until 2009, if a driver with no prior record was convicted of O.V.I. per se, the person’s driver license was not suspended. However, the law changed after a tragedy caused by a drunk driver in 2006. The drunk driver hit another car head-on on a bridge, and the victim’s car fell into a dark sea. Three young children were killed. In response, the 2007 and 2009 laws made O.V.I. punishments tougher. The legal limit in Japan is .15 mg/l, which is approximately .03%, as compared to the U.S., which has a legal limit of .08%. Changed to Japan’s O.V.I. punishments are summarized in the following table:

Japan OVI punishment table.pdf

Typical Procedure And Consequeces For O.V.I.
If a person is charged with O.V.I. per se for the first time in Japan, the prosecutor will choose a summary trial. With a summary trial, the judge can impose only a fine, not jail, and the defendant does not have the right to court-appointed counsel.

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We are all urged to call the police if we suspect someone is driving under the influence. This message comes to us in radio and television commercials, on billboards, and on cruiser license plates: 1-800-GRAB-DUI. If someone makes the call, when should the police be permitted to stop the driver based on that informant’s tip alone? This question is a hot topic in Ohio DUI/OVI law this year. Two Ohio appellate courts decided ‘informant tip’ cases last month, and the United States Supreme Court decided one earlier this year.

The two recent Ohio cases of State v. WhemLicense plate of trooper cruiser.jpg and State v. Whitacker have many similarities. In both cases, an informant called the police to report a suspected drunk driver. In both cases, the police stopped the suspected drunk driver without observing any additional evidence the driver was under the influence. In both cases, the defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence and argued the informant tip did not justify the traffic stop. In both cases, the trial judge overruled the defendant’s motion to suppress. In both cases, the defendant appealed to the Court of Appeals.

Whem and Whitacker have different outcomes. In Whem, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court the initial stop of the defendant was justified. In Whitacker, the Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court, concluding the stop of the defendant was illegal.

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If a driver is pulled over and charged with a criminal offense, can the police search through the data on the driver’s cell phone? That question was recently addressed by the United States Supreme Court. The case does not directly involve a DUI/OVI, but it’s definitely worth reporting in this blog. This is a significant case in the area of search and seizure law, and there are frequently search and seizure issues in DUI/OVI cases.

The case is Riley v. California. Riley was stopped for a traffic violation, and he was ultimately arrested for a weapons charge. After Riley’s arrest, an officer searched Riley and seized his cell phone from his pants pocket. Cell phone examination.jpg The officer accessed information on the phone and observed the repeated use of a term associated with a street gang. Later, at the police station, a gang unit detective looked through the digital contents of the phone. The detective found photographs and videos connecting Riley to a gang and implicating Riley in a gang-related shooting.

Riley’s motion to suppress the evidence from his cell phone was denied. The cell phone evidence was used to convict Riley and was also used to enhance Riley’s sentence based on his gang membership. Riley appealed, and the case made its way to the United States Supreme Court. The Court held that police may not search information on cell phones without a search warrant.

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What does it mean when the law says an officer must have ‘probable cause’ to arrest a person for a DUI/OVI? Common sense tells us the evidence observed by the officer must lead to the conclusion that the person is probably under the influence. Common sense and case law tell us the officer must consider all of the evidence in making the arrest decision. A recent case in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals addresses this issue and implies that evidence of sobriety has little meaning in the probable cause determination.

The case of Kinlin v. Kline, decided last month, involves a lawsuit by motorist Michael Kinlin against Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper Shawn Kline. Trooper Kline observed Kinlin change lanes and move into a narrow space between two cars in the left lane. Trooper Kline stopped Kinlin, and Kinlin disagreed with Kline’s claim that the lane change was unsafe. Trooper Kline noticed the odor of alcohol and asked Kinlin how much alcohol he consumed that evening. Kinlin said he drank two beers.

Scales of justice half.jpgTrooper Kline had Kinlin get out of the car. Kinlin complied and walked with the trooper to the cruiser with no balance problems. Trooper Kline began instructing Kinlin with regard to a field sobriety test. Kinlin said in response, “I’m not doing a test. I just told you I had two beers; I’m not drunk”. Trooper Kline told Kinlin he was under arrest. Trooper Kline asked Kinlin two more times if he would take the field sobriety tests, and Kinlin declined. Trooper Kline began doing a pat-down of Kinlin, and Kinlin said he would do the field sobriety tests. Trooper Kline, however, arrested Kinlin and said, “at this point, we’re going to go off your test results”.

Going off the test results did not work out well for Trooper Kline. It turned out that Kinlin’s breath alcohol concentration was .012, well under Ohio’s legal limit of .08. Kinlin sued Trooper Kline, claiming Kline violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Kline responded by claiming he was immune from being sued: the arrest was reasonable because he had probable cause to believe Kinlin was operating a vehicle under the influence. The U.S. District Court agreed with Trooper Kline, and Kinlin appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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This is Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer. A lot of people will be on the road: visiting friends, attending parades, and going to cookouts. Some unlucky people on the road will find themselves stopped at DUI/OVI roadblocks. Although they do nothing wrong, they will have to stop, wait, wait some more, produce identification, and answer questions. They aren’t suspected of doing anything illegal, but they are seized.

Sobriety checkpoint ahead.jpgAlthough this situation seems at odds with our right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, sobriety checkpoints can be Constitutional if they are done correctly. How to do them correctly is not a mystery. The United States Supreme Court gave clear criteria in Michigan v. Sitz, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issues a publication with procedures to follow.

Recent cases in New York illustrate what procedures not to follow. In Queens, New York, five cases of drunk driving were thrown out because they originated with illegal checkpoints, according to Each of the cases involved the same group of highway patrol officers. The officers routinely went to the same location, a service road connecting two highways, to conduct DUI enforcement. The officers called this type of enforcement “step out” surveillance because they waited for cars to approach their location, then stepped out and signaled for the driver to slow down or stop. The officers then looked for a reason to detain the driver, usually items hanging from a rearview mirror. If the officers observed something illegal, they detained the driver for a DUI investigation, including breath testing and field sobriety testing. It is estimated the officers arrested about 150 people using this method of DUI enforcement.

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