Columbus OVI/DUI Attorney Blog

An appellate case decided earlier this month illustrates how not to attack the constitutionality of a law.  In the case of State v. Topolosky, the Tenth District Court of Appeals upheld Ohio’s DUI/OVI marijuana law.  Coincidentally, just before the case was published, I wrote about this topic in this blog, and I spoke about this topic at two seminars.  The defendant in Topolosky did essentially the opposite of what I suggested in the blog and presentations.  The defendant used an argument destined to fail…with bad timing…without an expert witness.

Pizza half baked

The argument destined to fail was the argument that the law violates the defendant’s rights to due process and equal protection.  This argument was destined to fail because, unless a suspect classification or fundamental right is involved, the law is judged using the ‘rational basis test’.  With this test, the law will only be considered unconstitutional if the law has no rational relationship to a legitimate government interest.

 

When courts apply the rational basis test, it is incredibly rare for a law to be held unconstitutional.  Using the rational basis test, another Ohio appellate court had already upheld the OVI marijuana ‘per se’ law in State v. Schulz.  It is no surprise the Court of Appeals in Topolosky upheld the same law using the same rationale.

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Four months after Brittany was arrested and charged with OVI, the government charged her with a second count of OVI. In November, Brittany was arrested for OVI. On the day of her arrest, she submitted a urine sample, and she was charged with OVI. Three weeks later, the urine sample was analyzed, and the result was provided to the police department. In March, four months after the arrest, the police department charged Brittany with a second count of OVI based on the result of the urine test. Isn’t that a violation of her right to a speedy trial?

Alarm clock

That question was answered last week in State Of Ohio v. Brittany Wieland. This issue has been addressed by different Ohio courts of appeals but has never been directly addressed by the Ohio Supreme Court. The Ohio appellate courts have reached different conclusions because the issue is not simple. The situation involves two OVI charges and two types of speedy trial rights.

The two different OVI charges involved in this case are OVI ‘impaired’ and OVI ‘per se’. For the charge of OVI ‘impaired’, the government must prove the defendant’s ability to drive was impaired by alcohol. For the charge of OVI ‘per se’, the government must prove the concentration of alcohol in the defendant’s urine exceeded .109 (the equivalent of .08 in blood).

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The Miranda warnings are well-known:  “you have the right to remain silent….”  What is not so well-known is when the Miranda warnings are required.  According to Miranda v. Arizona, the warnings must be given when a suspect is questioned while ‘in custody’.  If a suspect is in custody and the warnings are not given, statements made by the suspect cannot be used in the suspect’s trial.

Suspect and officer outside cruiser

In an OVI case, a suspect may tell an officer, “I had 13 beers, and I know I shouldn’t be driving”.  If the suspect was in custody at the time of making that statement, the statement is never heard by the jury if the Miranda warnings are not given.  For Ohio OVI cases, the question often is this:  when is a person ‘in custody’ for purposes of Miranda?

This question was first addressed by the United States Supreme Court in Berkemer v. McCarty.  In Berkemer, the defendant was stopped for a traffic violation and investigated for DUI.  During the investigation, but before the arrest, the defendant made incriminating statements.  The court held Miranda warnings are required for misdemeanor offenses if a suspect is questioned in custody.  The court concluded a person is not in custody during a routine traffic stop, but treatment by the officer after the stop may render a person in custody.

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At the last minute, without warning, the government convicted Demetrius of a more serious offense than with which he was originally charged. Demetrius received a ticket for OVI. The ticket informed him he was charged with a low-tier ‘per se’ OVI, which carries a minimum of three days in jail and does not involve mandatory restricted (yellow) license plates. Just before his case was finished, the court permitted the prosecution to change the charge to a high-tier ‘per se’ OVI, which carries a minimum of six days in jail and mandatory yellow license plates. Can the government to that?

Uniform traffic ticket

That question was answered in the recent case of State of Ohio v. Demetrius Rosemond, and the answer is not obvious. It involves interpreting Rule 7 of the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure. That Rule addresses amendment of complaints, and a traffic ticket is a type of complaint. The Rule says a complaint may be amended, “provided no change is made in the name or identity of the crime charged.” The question in the Rosemond case is whether amending the ticket from a low-tier OVI to a high-tier OVI changes the name or identity of the crime charged.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled on a similar issue in State v. Campbell. In Campbell, the defendant was charged with violating Ohio Revised Code section 4511.19(A)(5). With that particular sub-section (the [5] at the end), the government alleged the defendant had a blood alcohol concentration over .08. The trial court permitted the prosecution to amend the ticket to 4511.19(A)(6). With that amended subsection (the [6] at the end), the government alleged the defendant had breath alcohol concentration over .08.

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Interpreting Ohio’s DUI/OVI sentencing law can be complicated. The sentencing statutes take up many pages in the Ohio Revised Code (O.R.C.), and appellate courts have issued many decisions interpreting those statutes. One issue which has led to confusion is how a court is supposed to sentence a defendant convicted of felony OVI and a ‘repeat offender specification’. This issue is complicated enough that different appellate courts in different districts of Ohio have reached different conclusions. The Ohio Supreme Court recently acknowledged the conflict among the appellate courts and issued a decision which resolves the conflict and establishes one rule for the entire state.

Judge confused or angry

In State v. South, the defendant was convicted of third-degree felony OVI and was also convicted of the repeat offender specification. The trial court sentenced the defendant to five years in prison for the felony OVI and three years in prison for the repeat offender specification. The trial court considered both prison terms ‘mandatory’ and ordered that the prison terms run consecutively, for a total of eight years. The trial court’s decision was appealed to the Ninth District and ultimately the Ohio Supreme Court. The issues decided by the Ohio Supreme Court were: (1) in this situation, what is the maximum prison term for a third-degree felony OVI; and (2) whether the prison term for the felony OVI is mandatory.

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Issue 3 went up in smoke last week, so it’s still illegal to use marijuana in Ohio.  It’s also illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence of marijuana or with a prohibited level of marijuana metabolite in one’s urine.  The last article in this blog addressed the duration of marijuana’s effects and the duration of marijuana’s detectability.  The conclusion was marijuana effects last for two hours to five hours, but marijuana metabolites are detectable in urine for up to five weeks.  With that backdrop, this article discusses whether Ohio’s DUI/OVI marijuana laws are Constitutional.

Marijuana and gavel

The part of Ohio’s OVI law with the most significant Constitutional problem is the part which prohibits driving with marijuana metabolites in one’s urine.  Ohio Revised Code section 4511.19(A)(1)(j)(viii)(II) says no person shall operate a vehicle with a concentration of at least thirty-five nanograms of marihuana metabolite per milliliter of the person’s urine.  A person may be punished for violating this law even though the person’s ability to drive is not at all impaired.

One principle of Constitutional Law is a law should not punish a person based on the person’s status.  A case illustrating this principle is Robinson v. California.  In that case, the defendant was convicted of a California law which made it a crime to be addicted to a narcotic.  The United States Supreme Court held the law was Unconstitutional:  it violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of ‘cruel and unusual punishment’.  The court made two relevant observations.  First, the status of ‘narcotic addiction’ could subject a defendant to repeated arrests.  Second, a defendant could be punished for being an addict in the state of California even though he did not possess or consume a narcotic in that state.

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Next week, Ohioans will vote on Issue 3:  a state constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for medicinal and personal use*.  If marijuana use is legalized in Ohio, more drivers will face charges of operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana.  Ohio’s OVI-marijuana laws raise many questions:  How long does a marijuana high last?  Does marijuana impair driving ability?  Do blood and urine test results correlate with impaired driving ability?  Are Ohio’s OVI-marijuana laws Constitutional?  This article addresses the first question by discussing the duration of marijuana effects.

Urine test positive for THC

The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).  THC is what makes a person ‘high’.  Whether smoked or eaten, when THC enters the body, it is broken down (metabolized) quickly, either in lungs or stomach.  When this metabolism occurs, metabolites are produced.  A metabolite is any substance produced during metabolism:  what remains after a drug is ‘broken down’.

As marijuana is metabolized when it enters the body, it is laughable that Ohio law prohibits operating a vehicle with a prohibited concentration of “marihuana”.  There will never be Ohio OVI cases with blood or urine tests showing a concentration of “marihuana” because blood and urine tests do not identify or measure “marihuana”.  Instead, they identify and measure THC metabolites.

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Even someone with a poker face gives a lot of information to others through facial features. I learned this in Vegas, but not at a poker table: I learned it at the 2015 Las Vegas DUI seminar presented by the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD) and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).

The annual seminar is titled “DWI Means Defend With Ingenuity”, and this year’s magic-show theme was “Secrets Revealed: Overcoming The Illusion Of Guilt”. The presentations included “Techniques For Making Judicial Bias Vanish”, “Magical Techniques And Strategies To Win”, and “Pulling Back The Curtain: Overcoming Biased Prosecutorial Practices”. The seminar featured some of the best DUI lawyers and experts in the country and took place at one of the best hotels in the country: Bellagio Las Vegas.

WP_20151001_010The most novel part of the seminar was Mac Fulfer’s presentation on face reading. Fulfer practiced law for 22 years but now runs face reading workshops. According to Fulfer, examination of a person’s face can reveal information about personal history, personality, and preferences. Fulfer is not talking about interpreting facial gestures. Instead, he is reaching conclusions from facial features such as the shape of the nose, the slant of the forehead, and the curvature of the mouth.

When I saw the topic, I thought face reading sounds like quackery on par with fortune telling.  Fulfer, however, explained the science behind face reading, based primarily in genetics.  Genes work in concert with other genes and share multiple functions.  The genes responsible for personality, preferences, and processing information are also involved in shaping the features of our faces.  Facial features change with time, so our faces are a combination of genetics and life experiences  (now I understand how teen-agers cause parents’ faces to wrinkle).

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I’m traveling to another state for a seminar next week. It just so happens the state is Nevada, and the seminar is in Las Vegas. For me, there is no risk of being convicted of DUI in Nevada because the trip is all about education! Sometimes, however, an Ohio driver comes home with the unwanted souvenir of an out-of-state DUI conviction. When it comes to DUI, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas: there are consequences in Ohio for a DUI conviction in another state.

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The consequence in Ohio for an out-of-state DUI conviction is suspension of the person’s Ohio driver license. Another state cannot suspend an Ohio driver’s license. Instead, if that state is part of the Interstate Driver License Compact, that state transmits to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) information that the Ohio driver was convicted of DUI in the other state. The Ohio BMV then takes action against the person’s Ohio driver’s license according to Ohio law.

Ohio law instructs the Ohio BMV to impose a license suspension on any person who is convicted of DUI in another state. Ohio Revised Code 4510.17 states the suspension shall be a ‘Class D’ suspension, which means the suspension is six months. When the BMV receives the report from the other state, the BMV sends a notice to the driver indicating his or her driver license will be suspended beginning 21 days after the day the notice was issued.

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One of the most frequently asked questions for criminal defense attorneys is about the impact of Miranda warnings. A previous article in this blog explained the holding of the Miranda case. After the publication of that article, the United States Supreme Court decided a Miranda-related case which affects investigations in Ohio DUI/OVI cases.

Interrogation

The case of Salinas v. Texas came in a bit under the radar. This Supreme Court decision regarding the protection against self-incrimination did not receive much media attention, and I did not hear it discussed much among lawyers at the courthouses. Although it was not widely publicized, Salinas could have an impact in Ohio DUI/OVI cases.

To understand the significance of Salinas, one must first understand Miranda v. Arizona. The holding of the Miranda case seems to be one of the most misunderstood aspects of American criminal justice. As explained in this blog’s 2012 article (“But The Officer Never Read Me My Rights”), the holding of the Miranda case is this: if a suspect is questioned while in custody, the suspect’s statements are not admissible in court unless the officer gives Miranda warnings. Another result of Miranda is this: if a suspect chooses to remain silent, the prosecution cannot comment on the defendant’s silence at trial.

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