Columbus OVI/DUI Attorney Blog

Imagine you are driving home on a central Ohio freeway after a late dinner and you are pulled over by a police officer. The officer says you were stopped for failing to use your turn signal when you changed lanes. The officer announces he smells the odor of alcohol and asks if you have been drinking. You did have a glass of wine with dinner. The officer then asks you to get out of the car for some field sobriety tests to “make sure you’re okay to drive”. Under what circumstances is the officer justified in doing this?

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-traffic-stop-sobriety-test-image5432615

This entry is a follow-up to the last entry in this blog, which discussed the case of Rodriguez v. United States.  Rodriguez involved a motorist stopped for a minor traffic violation and detained for a drug dog to arrive. The United States Supreme Court concluded the duration of the stop must not exceed the time necessary to address the traffic violation. The rule clarified in the Rodriguez case is this: any further detention is unlawful unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion the motorist is violating the law.

The rule clarified in Rodriguez is followed in Ohio DUI/OVI cases. If an officer stops a driver for a traffic violation, further detention of the driver for field sobriety testing is unlawful unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion the driver is under the influence. The issue often litigated is what constitutes a “reasonable suspicion”.

Continue Reading

If a police officer stops you for a minor traffic violation, how long should the officer be permitted to detain you? Suppose the officer issues you a ticket or a warning for the minor traffic violation and then says he wants you to wait while he has a drug dog sniff your car? What do you say? If you say no, can the officer do it anyway?

These are the questions answered by the United States Supreme Court in the recent case of Rodriguez v. United States. Rodriguez was driving on a Nebraska road when he was stopped by Officer Struble for drifting onto the shoulder of the road for a couple seconds. Officer Struble checked the driver’s license of Rodriguez, then checked the driver’s license of his passenger, then issued a warning for the minor traffic offense. After issuing the warning, Officer Struble asked Rodriguez for permission to walk the police dog around the vehicle. Rodriguez declined.

WP_20140508_004

This is no police drug dog, it’s my dog Rex. He could be a police dog…if he weren’t so spoiled.

Officer Struble further detained Rodriguez until a backup officer arrived. Struble then walked his K-9 around the vehicle of Rodriquez, and the dog alerted the presence of drugs in the vehicle. This occurred approximately seven or eight minutes after the officer issued the warning for the traffic violation. The officers searched the vehicle and found methamphetamine. Rodriguez’ motion to suppress that evidence was overruled by the trial court, and the trial court’s decision was upheld by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Rodriguez appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Continue Reading

Steven Anderson was drunk when he passed out on a rural highway. He was wearing dark clothing and went to sleep on the dark road around 1:00 am. There were no street lights in the area, and he was lying where there is a bend in the road. Darryl Saunders was drunk when he came driving around that bend. When he finally saw Anderson lying in the road, Saunders swerved to avoid him, but it was too late. He ran over Anderson, and Anderson died. Saunders’ blood alcohol concentration was tested at .150. Is Saunders criminally responsible for killing Anderson?

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-night-driving-image15634465

No, according to the judge who heard this case in Manitoba, Canada. The prosecutor argued Saunders could have avoided the collision if he were sober, so his intoxication was a significant cause of Anderson’s death. In addition, the prosecutor claimed, police testified it was not uncommon for intoxicated people to pass out on the street, so Saunders should have been on guard for drunks sleeping on the road.

The judge disagreed. He said, “On the contrary, one can easily imagine a scenario where just such an accident may occur in these circumstances without any impairment of the driver.” The Judge went on to say, “Ultimately, while I believe Mr Saunders’ impairment…likely or probably was a contributing cause to the accident, I cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that it in fact was a contributing cause, let alone a significant cause.” The judge found Saunders not guilty of causing Anderson’s death but convicted Saunders of drunk driving. A report of the case is on the website for the Winnipeg Sun.

Continue Reading

Sometimes rules are not made to be broken. When it comes to cases of alleged driving under the influence, there are rules for drivers, and there are rules for the government. When a driver breaks the rules, there are consequences. There are also consequences when the government breaks the rules. When the broken rules relate to blood tests, the blood tests cannot be used as evidence.

The rules for DUI/OVI blood testing are found in the Ohio Revised Code and the Ohio Administrative Code. Section 4511.19 of the Ohio Revised Code states blood tests must be analyzed in accordance with methods approved by the Department of Health. The methods approved by the Department of Health, the ‘rules’, are regulations in chapter 3701-53 of the Ohio Administrative Code. For a blood test to be admissible, law enforcement must substantially comply with the Department of Health regulations. Two recent appellate cases illustrate law enforcement’s failure to comply with the regulations.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-blood-test-hand-latex-glove-holding-sample-vial-front-form-image37079485The first case is State v. McCall. The regulation at issue in McCall requires blood specimens to be collected in a container which contains a solid anticoagulant. The arresting officer checked a box on a checklist indicating the container had a solid anticoagulant. When questioned, however, the officer admitted he did not know if there was anything in the container. In addition, the phlebotomist who performed the blood draw testified she did not observe anything in the container and just assumed there was an anticoagulant in it. The trial court suppressed the blood test, and the court’s decision was upheld by the Court of Appeals because the prosecution failed to prove substantial compliance with the regulation requiring a solid anticoagulant.

Continue Reading

Ohio has several variations of what is commonly known as vehicular homicide. Generally, vehicular homicide is causing the death of another person while operating a vehicle. In the Ohio Revised Code, there are actually three separate offenses: (1) Aggravated Vehicular Homicide; (2) Vehicular Homicide; and (3) Vehicular Manslaughter. The offenses defined in the Ohio Revised Code are distinguished by the driver’s conduct (actus reus) and the driver’s state of mind (mens rea). The particular offense with which a defendant is convicted makes a substantial difference in the sentence imposed by the court.

Defending DUI Vehicular Homicide Cases book cover

Aggravated Vehicular Homicide can be committed in one of three ways. The first way is causing the death of another person as a result of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The second way is causing the death of another person as a result of operating a vehicle recklessly. The third way is causing the death of another person as a result of committing a Reckless Operation offense in a construction zone.

The sentence for Aggravated Vehicular Homicide in Ohio depends on how the offense is committed. If a person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the offense is a second degree felony carrying a mandatory prison sentence of up to eight years and a mandatory lifetime driver’s license suspension. If a person is reckless or commits a Reckless Operation offense in a construction zone, the offense is a third degree felony carrying up to five years in prison and a driver’s license suspension from three years to life. If certain factors exist, the offense level and potential sentence are increased.

Continue Reading

‘Best in the Midwest’ has become one of the slogans associated with the annual DUI/OVI seminar presented by the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (OACDL). A speaker from another state poked fun at the slogan by asking, “isn’t this the only DUI seminar in the Midwest?” I’m sure there are plenty of other DUI seminars in the Midwest, but this is the only one I know of which is nationally recognized and approved for credit from the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD) and the national DUI Defense Lawyers Association (DUIDLA). The seminar is two-and-a-half days and draws speakers and attendees from around the country. Whether it’s the best or not, the seminar held last week in Columbus was outstanding.

OACDL 2015 DUI seminar brochure page 1The seminar’s theme this year was ‘trying cases post-Ilg’. State v. Ilg is the breath-testing case decided recently by the Ohio Supreme Court. In that case, the Court reiterated a defendant in an OVI case has the right to challenge the accuracy of the specific breath test result in his or her case. Ilg clarified the holding of State v. Vega, which had been subject to misinterpretation for the last 30 years.

Thursday’s presentations focused on scientific issues in OVI cases. Thomas Workman from Massachusetts discussed breath test data, explaining what data is maintained, what data is not being provided to defendants, and what should be done about it. Pharamacologist/statistician Robert Belloto and attorney Andrew Bucher presented a scientific and statistical assessment of the Drug Recognition Evaluation program. There was also a panel of judges discussing State v. Ilg and breath test challenges at trial. It was interesting to hear the different interpretations of Ilg and various predictions about the future of breath-testing litigation in Ohio OVI cases.

Continue Reading

In September of 2014, CW was driving his motorcycle in northwestern New York and collided with another motorcycle. A police officer responded to the accident scene and reportedly noticed the odor of alcohol on CW. The officer asked CW to take a breath test, and CW refused. The officer ultimately obtained a blood sample from CW and charged him with DWI (known as OVI in Ohio). The officer then sent the blood sample to be tested. The test revealed a blood alcohol content of 0.00. Last week, five months after CW was charged with DWI, the case was finally dismissed, as reported by the Genesee Sun.

Blood draw

If this case occurred in Ohio, it would have likely gone through the same process. When an officer in Ohio suspects a driver is under the influence, the officer requests a breath test, blood test, or urine test. In cases where a blood test or urine test is used, the results of the test are not immediately known to the officer. Despite not having the test results, officers routinely charge people with OVI immediately after the blood or urine sample is obtained. The blood or urine sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis, and the analysis typically is not completed until weeks or months after the person is charged.

In cases involving blood/urine tests, there are two types of OVI charges which may be filed. First, the suspect is charged with OVI ‘impaired’. The ‘impaired’ charge accuses the suspect of operating a vehicle with driving ability impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. The ‘impaired’ charge is not dependent on the results of a blood/urine/breath test. Second, if the test results show an alcohol or drug level at or above the prohibited concentration (the ‘legal limit’), the suspect is charged with OVI ‘per se’. The ‘per se’ charge accuses the suspect of operating a vehicle with a prohibited alcohol or drug level. The ‘per se’ charge does not depend on whether suspect’s ability to drive was impaired.

Continue Reading

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) recently released its “2015 Report To The Nation”. The report rates the efforts of each of the 50 states to prevent drunk driving. In the report, MADD uses a five-star system of measures which can be undertaken to prevent drunk driving fatalities. Ohio receives four stars.

1. Ignition Interlock Devices. MADD recommends the use of ignition interlock devices (IID). If a vehicle is equipped with an IID, the driver must blow into the IID before starting the car, and the car will only start if the alcohol concentration in the driver’s breath is below a predetermined limit. The MADD report indicates “Ohio has the opportunity to stop drunk driving. In 2014, Annie’s Law requiring ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers was introduced. The legislation ran out of time and faced opposition from a fringe group of judges.” Although Ohio does not have mandatory ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers, Ohio does use ignition interlock devices in two ways. First, ignition interlock may be required as a condition of limited driving privileges on an Administrative License Suspension, and its use is mandatory on a third or subsequent offense. Second, ignition interlock may be required as part of a defendant’s sentence on a first conviction and is a mandatory part of the sentence on a second or subsequent conviction.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-drunk-driving-dui-check-point-anaheim-ca-image35502103

2. License Revocation. MADD endorses the implementation of the administrative license suspension: “a swift punishment for drunk driving through the immediate confiscation of an offender’s driver’s license by the arresting officer.” Ohio imposes immediate administrative license suspensions whenever an OVI suspect refuses a chemical test or submits to a chemical test and produces a result over .08. Administrative license suspensions for a first offender are 90 days (test over limit) or one year (test refusal). For subsequent administrative license suspensions, the duration of the suspension increases, up to five years.

3. Child Endangerment Laws. MADD suggests legislation crating child endangerment laws and views drunk driving with a child passenger as a form of child abuse. Ohio’s child endangerment law makes it illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence or over the limit with a child under 18 in the vehicle. That Ohio law is punishable by up to six months in jail and a license suspension for up to one year. If violation of that law results in serious physical harm to the child, or if the offender has a prior OVI conviction, violation of the law is a felony.

Continue Reading

Last week, I completed a short course in gas chromatography. Completing the course reminded me of what Stephen Covey used to say: “To know and not to do is really not to know.” He is so right. It’s one thing to know the law of blood and urine testing. It’s a very different thing to know the science of blood and urine testing. To know the science, you have to do the science, and lawyers typically do not have the opportunity to do the science. Now, however, lawyers get to do the science of gas chromatography in a short course presented by the Amercian Chemical Society.

The course, Forensic Chromatography Theory and Practice, is held in Chicago at the Axion Analytical Laboratories & Training Institute. Axion is the training arm for the American Chemical Society. The president of Axion, Lee Polite, Ph.D., is a leading authority in chromatography and serves as the primary instructor for the course.

WP_20150121_011

The 40-hour course consists of both lectures and labs. The lectures feature analogies which make chemistry understandable to even the least scientific lawyers. During the lectures, participants learn the scientific principles underlying the operation of the gas chromatograph. They also learn the parts of the instrument and the multitude of variables which must be set correctly for the instrument to produce an accurate result.

The labs are hands-on. Class participants run tests with known and unknown substances and learn to interpret the printed chromatograms. Students manipulate testing conditions to understand how those conditions affect results. Class participants also calibrate the instrument, use the associated software to program a calibration curve, and even take apart the injectors and columns.

Continue Reading

If an officer’s testimony about a traffic stop is not corroborated by the officer’s cruiser video, how do judges rule on the justification for a traffic stop? Once a judge makes a ruling, under what circumstances might that ruling be overturned by an appellate court?  A recent case decided by the Tenth District Court of Appeals in Columbus, Ohio illustrates the discretion judges are given regarding evidentiary issues in OVI motion hearings.

The case of State v. Comer was decided in December of 2014. In Comer, the defendant was charged with OVI and filed a motion to suppress evidence. The motion claimed all evidence obtained after the stop of the defendant’s vehicle should be suppressed because the traffic stop was unconstitutional. At the motion hearing, the officer testified she observed the defendant’s vehicle “weaving and crossing the lines” and “almost hit the concrete divider”.

Video camera in cruiser

The video from the officer’s cruiser did not clearly show the defendant’s vehicle crossing the lane line. The defendant argued the video undermined the credibility of the officer, so the judge should find there was no marked lanes violation and therefore no justification for the stop. The prosecution argued the video was inconclusive regarding the marked lanes violation (due to the glare from streetlights and the distance between the cruiser and the defendant’s vehicle), and the officer’s testimony alone was sufficient evidence the defendant crossed the lane line.

 

The trial judge found, based on the officer’s testimony, there was a marked lanes violation justifying the traffic stop. The defendant plead No Contest and appealed the trial court’s decision to the Tenth District Court of Appeals.

Continue Reading