In Ohio DUI / OVI cases, mandatory minimum penalties are increased based on prior OVI convictions.  One issue faced by Ohio courts is whether a person’s OVI adjudication (‘conviction’) as a juvenile can be used to enhance a subsequent OVI sentence as an adult.  The Ohio Supreme Court recently issued an opinion which settles the issue.

Juvenile arrested

The case of State v. Hand did not involve an OVI, but the decision will apply to OVI convictions.  Hand was convicted of Aggravated Burglary, Aggravated Robbery, Kidnapping and Felonious Assault.  Those offenses are categorized as first degree felonies and second degree felonies.  Ohio Revised Code section 2929.13(F)(6) says the judge must impose a mandatory prison term for first and second degree felonies if the defendant has a prior conviction for a first or second degree felony.  Ohio Revised Code section 2901.08(A) says a juvenile adjudication for a criminal offense or traffic offense is a ‘conviction’ for purposes of determining the sentence in a later conviction.  Relying on those two Ohio Revised Code sections, the judge imposed a mandatory prison term.

Hand appealed the judge’s sentence, and the case was ultimately heard by the Ohio Supreme Court.  The Court noted the juvenile justice system is different than the adult criminal justice system.  Juvenile case dispositions are intended to be “civil and rehabilitative”, while adult sentencing is “criminal and punitive”.  The court also noted that, while juveniles are afforded most of the same Constitutional rights as adults, there is one right not required in juvenile court proceedings:  trial by jury.

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Over 20,000 DWI cases in New Jersey are being called into question due to problems with the recalibration of breath-testing machines.  According to New Jersey 101.5, Sgt. Marc Dennis skipped a critical step each time he recalibrated the machines.  Plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit now seek to vacate thousands of convictions in which evidence was produced by those breath-testing machines.  Although this debacle occurred in New Jersey, it illustrates the importance of properly maintaining breath-testing machines in Ohio DUI/OVI cases.

Simulator

In Ohio DUI/OVI cases, there is a distinction between a calibration and a calibration check.  When breath-testing machines are built, the machines must be ‘taught’ to identify and quantify alcohol (ethanol).  That ‘teaching’ process is a calibration.  As a machine is being used by a law enforcement agency, the agency periodically runs a test to confirm the machine produces accurate results.  The test is done using a simulator like the one pictured here.  That periodic test is a calibration check.

Calibration checks, also referred to as ‘instrument checks’, are done at least once per week in Ohio.  The weekly instrument checks are conducted by the law enforcement agency which owns and/or operates the breath-testing machine.  Some agencies assign the responsibility to one officer, and, in other agencies, multiple officer share the responsibility of conducting weekly instrument checks.

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Today’s report regarding the conduct of a forensic scientist employed by the state of Ohio demonstrates the danger of the government enforcing laws without effective checks and balances.  Forensic scientist G. Michele Yezzo worked for over 30 years as a laboratory technician for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).  During that time, she analyzed evidence in criminal cases and testified in court regarding those analyses.  The feature story in The Columbus Dispatch says she now, “stands accused of slanting evidence to help cops and prosecutors build their cases.”

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-blood-test-hand-latex-glove-holding-sample-vial-front-form-image37079485According to the newspaper report, the BCI employee stretched the truth in her analyses to satisfy law enforcement.  She even reportedly went so far as asking police officers “What do you need the evidence to say?”  Her work as a government scientist led to hundreds of criminal convictions, including serious cases involving murder and rape.  This forensic scientist’s lack of credibility calls many of those convictions into question.  It also brings attention to the issue of forensic testing in Ohio DUI/OVI cases.

In Ohio OVI cases, forensic testing at crime labs is used to detect and measure alcohol and drugs in blood and urine samples.  If a driver is arrested and the officer suspects the driver is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs of abuse, the officer asks the driver to submit a sample of breath, blood or urine.  Breath samples are analyzed on-the-spot by a breath-testing machine.  Blood and urine samples are sent to a crime lab for analysis.

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Yes, I saw Carlos Santana perform at the House of Blues.  It’s true, I rented a convertible Mustang.  I admit I hiked a breath-taking trail in Red Rock Canyon.  I also acknowledge I enjoyed the luxury of Bellagio and saw amazing views from the High Roller.  However:  the primary purpose of my trip to Vegas was to learn more about DUI/OVI defense.

Photo of NCDD seminar name tag at Bellagio

I recently attended the annual ‘DWI Means Defend With Integrity’ seminar.  The seminar is co-sponsored by the National College for DUI Defense and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  It’s held in Las Vegas each year at the end of September or beginning of October; not a bad time to be in Vegas.  The location has historically been Caesar’s Palace, but for the last two years, the seminar has been held at Bellagio.  This year marks the 20th anniversary for the seminar, and I have attended for about 15 years.

 

This is a great seminar.  The speakers are some of the best DUI lawyers and experts from around the nation.  I have been practicing since 1997, and I have been focusing on DUI/OVI defense since 2002.  I feel like I have developed a bit of expertise in this area.  When I attend this seminar, however, I always learn more.  Hearing from the seminar faculty helps me avoid the limiting comparisons of my local market and allows me to benchmark against world class attorneys.  It also adds to my box of tools for winning.

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Until a few days ago, the scope of driving privileges for Ohio DUI/OVI suspensions was very limited.  A parent on limited driving privileges was not permitted to drive children for extra-curricular activities.  A person on limited driving privileges was not allowed to drive to care for elderly parents.  A person on limited driving privileges could not drive to AA or counseling unless it was court-ordered.  That changed last week, when the state legislature revised Ohio law for limited driving privileges.

Statehouse with Ohio flag

The revised law is Ohio Revised Code section 4510.021.  That section authorizes courts to grant limited driving privileges for driver license suspensions, including DUI/OVI suspensions.  The last time the statute changed was 2004.  Before 2004, the law only provided for occupational driving privileges.  In 2004, the statute was revised to expand driving privileges, authorizing privileges for the following purposes:

•    Occupational, educational, vocational, or medical purposes;
•    Taking the driver’s or commercial driver’s license examination;
•    Attending court-ordered treatment.

The most recent change to the law, in September of 2016, further expands the permissible scope of limited driving privileges.  The statute still lists the purposes above and now adds the catch-all phrase, “Any other purpose the court determines appropriate”.

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The last entry in this blog discussed lesson number one for appealing an Ohio Administrative License Suspension (A.L.S.).  The lesson came from a recent appellate case.  That lesson was for defense lawyers, and it was simple:  file the appeal on time.  This entry discusses lesson number two, which also comes from a recent appellate case.  This lesson is for courts, and it is also simple:  follow the law.

Scales of justice half

The government cannot take property without due process of law.  Due process of law includes an opportunity to be heard (a hearing) at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.  With an A.L.S., the executive branch of government takes property from an individual by suspending the individual’s driver’s license.  Therefore, the individual is entitled to a meaningful hearing at meaningful time.  The most meaningful time for the hearing would be before the license suspension is imposed.  However, the Ohio Supreme Court held the A.L.S., with a post-suspension hearing, is not unconstitutional.

What keeps the A.L.S. from being unconstitutional is mainly the procedures found in Ohio Revised Code (O.R.C.) section 4511.192.  That statute includes the following requirements:

•    The officer must advise the individual of the consequences of taking or refusing a chemical test, using a form (BMV form 2255).
•    The officer’s advice must be witnessed, and the witness must sign the form.
•    The officer must write on the form the officer’s reasonable grounds to believe the individual was under the influence.
•    The officer must notify the individual of the suspension and the individual’s right to appeal the suspension.
•    The officer must sign the form, and the form must be sworn.
•    The officer must give a sworn copy of the form to the individual.
•    The officer must send copies of the form to the court and the BMV within 48 hours of the individual’s arrest.

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Practicing law is an art, not a science, and there are various methods to develop skill at the art of lawyering. One method is to learn the hard way. In a recent Ohio OVI case, the defense lawyer learned the hard way lesson number one for appealing an Administrative License Suspension (A.L.S.). Hopefully, others will learn from this example.

In Ohio, an A.L.S. is separate from the underlying charge of O.V.I. An A.L.S. is imposed if a suspect is arrested for O.V.I. and either refuses a chemical test for alcohol/drugs or tests ‘over the limit’. The length of the A.L.S. and the suspect’s eligibility for limited driving privileges depend on whether the suspect has prior O.V.I. convictions and/or prior test refusals.

Woody Allen with quote

The A.L.S. can be appealed. Although the A.L.S. is separate from the O.V.I. case, a defendant may appeal the A.L.S., and/or seek limited driving privileges, in the context of the O.V.I. case. The A.L.S. appeal is filed with the court in which the O.V.I. case is being held, and the A.L.S. appeal is typically heard by the same judge who hears the O.V.I. case.

The A.L.S. was appealed in the case of State v. Schertzer.  In that case, the defendant was arrested for O.V.I., and his breath test result was .303.  As a result, Schertzer was subjected to a 90-day A.L.S.  The defendant was arrested on June 6 and went to his initial court appearance on June 8.  On September 2, 86 days after his initial appearance in court, the defense lawyer filed an appeal of the A.L.S.

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At some point, the exception becomes the rule.  To discourage police from violating individual rights, we developed the exclusionary rule.  If evidence is obtained as a result of an unreasonable search or seizure, or other Constitutional violation, the evidence is excluded from trial.  That’s the general rule.  Courts, however, have created exceptions to this rule.  One exception to the exclusionary rule was the subject of a recent case before the United States Supreme Court.  The outcome of that case could affect DUI/OVI cases in Ohio.

Arrested

The case is Utah v. Strieff.  Edward Strieff walked out of a residence in Salt Lake City and was stopped by a narcotics detective.  The detective had been conducting intermittent surveillance on the residence and suspected the occupants were dealing drugs there.  Strieff was not an occupant.  At the time he stopped Strieff, the detective had not seen Strieff engage in any activity resembling a drug deal, and the detective did not know how long Strieff had been in the residence.  Nevertheless the detective stopped Strieff and obtained his identification.

The detective ran a check on Strieff and learned there was a warrant for Strieff’s arrest for a minor traffic offense.  The detective arrested Strieff and conducted a search of Strieff’s person incident to the arrest.  During the search, the detective found methamphetamine in Strieff’s pocket.  Strieff was charged with drug possession, and he filed a motion to suppress the evidence based on the illegal stop.  The trial court overruled Strieff’s motion, and the case was ultimately appealed through the Utah state courts to the United States Supreme Court.

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Carrie Underwood’s plea, “Jesus, take the wheel” is being replaced with the hands free command, “Siri, take the wheel”. According to a recent forecast by Business Insider, there will be 10 million self-driving vehicles on the road by 2020. With that in mind, I have been asked several times, “Are you concerned driverless cars will hurt your business as a DUI lawyer?”

Driverless car interior with champaign bottles

I’m not. First, I do not expect a large number of completely self-driving cars on the road before my career ends. Second, a drunk in a driverless car can still be charged with DUI/OVI in Ohio. Third, if self-driving cars put an end to drunk driving, I will gladly transition to another career.

I do not expect driverless cars to take over the roads during my lifetime. By “driverless”, I mean cars which are fully autonomous. There is a distinction between semi-autonomous cars and fully autonomous cars. Semi-autonomous cars have auto-pilot-like features to control steering, accelerating, and braking. Fully autonomous cars transport passengers from one point to another with no intervention from the passengers. There are currently no fully autonomous cars for sale in the United States.

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Last week, the United States Supreme Court released a decision in a trio of cases involving DUI refusal laws.  A previous article in this blog gives a preview of the cases.  To decide the outcomes of those cases, the court analyzes whether search warrants are required before law enforcement officers can administer breath tests and blood tests.  Based on that analysis, the Court decides whether states can make it illegal to refuse chemical tests in DUI cases.  The Court’s decision will impact Ohio DUI/OVI cases.

US Supreme Court Interior

After considering 13 cases involving criminal refusal laws, the Court chose these three cases:  Beylund v. Levi, Bernard v. Minnesota, and Birchfield v. North Dakota.  These three cases were apparently chosen because they have three varying scenarios.  Beylund claimed his consent to a blood test was coerced because he was told he would be punished for refusing the test.  Bernard challenged his conviction for refusing a breath test.  Birchfield argued his conviction for refusing a blood test was unconstitutional.  The Court issued one opinion for all three cases under the caption of Birchfield v. North Dakota.

The Birchfield opinion analyzes the Fourth Amendment issues.  The Court confirms that both breath tests and blood tests are ‘searches’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.  Fourth Amendment law presumes a warrantless search is unreasonable.  Accordingly, for a law enforcement officer to administer a blood test or a breath test, there must be a search warrant or a recognized exception to the search warrant requirement.

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