Columbus OVI/DUI Attorney Blog

Officer Richard Fiorito was a DUI supercop.  He was honored by Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for his efforts to combat DUI, and he was named a ‘top cop’ by the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM).  According to Inthesetimes.com, Fiorito averaged one DUI arrest each day he worked.  He was like a superhero fighting to keep the Chicago streets safe:  it was almost too good to be true.

Actually, it was too good to be true.  It turns out Fiorito falsely arrested dozens of people for DUI.  A typical scenario would look like this:  Fiorito would stop a driver for a minor traffic violation and administer field sobriety tests.  No matter how well the person performed on the tests, the officer would score them as ‘failing’.  He would then arrest them and charge them with DUI.  In court, most people would simply plead guilty at the first court appearance, and others would accept favorable plea bargains rather than go to trial.

Under arrest

There were a couple exceptions:  Steve Lopez and James Dean, Jr.  Steve Lopez was a commercial driver and had just earned his CDL.  To protect his future career, he could not plead guilty.  James Dean, Jr. had good witnesses to contradict Fiorito’s allegations:  other officers.  When Fiorito charged Dean with DUI, Dean had just left the police station where he encountered multiple police officers who did not believe he was under the influence.  Neither Dean nor Lopez was convicted.

Dean and Lopez each filed suit against the city of Chicago for false arrest and malicious prosecution.  They eventually settled with the city for $100,000 each.  The city also agreed to pay legal fees of about $250,000, according to a Chicago Tribune article. *

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Suppose a police officer comes to your home tonight without a warrant and wants you to consent to a search of your residence. If you are like most people, you would say ‘no’: you would assert your Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Now suppose the government makes it a crime for you to refuse to consent to the search. That’s what Ohio and several other states have done with DUI laws which criminalize refusing a breath/blood/urine test. Those laws are the subject of cases currently before the United States Supreme Court.

Refusal talk to the hand

The cases are Birchfield v. North Dakota, Bernard v. Minnesota, and Beylund v. Levi. In those cases, state laws make it a criminal offense for a motorist arrested for driving under the influence to refuse to consent to a chemical test of the motorist’s blood, breath or urine. Motorists convicted of those laws appealed their convictions to the Supreme Courts of North Dakota and Minnesota, claiming the refusal laws are unconstitutional. In each case, the state supreme court upheld the constitutionality of the law. In each case, the defendant appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court held oral arguments for these cases on April 20, 2016.

 

Ohio has a law similar to the laws which are the subject of the Supreme Court cases. Ohio’s law (R.C. 4511.19[A][2]) makes it illegal to refuse a breath/blood/urine test for a person who is arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI) and has a prior OVI conviction within the last 20 years. The punishment for this offense includes a minimum mandatory jail sentence which is double the minimum mandatory jail sentence for OVI. Although Ohio’s law is slightly different –it has the added element of a prior conviction – it has the same unconstitutional flaw as the laws in North Dakota and Minnesota.

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A judge in Columbus, Ohio found a man to be in violation of probation because the man was unable to urinate upon request.  The judge was aware the defendant, Mr. Hand, had medical problems which caused urinary difficulties and was taking medication designed to increase his urination.  Nevertheless, the judge concluded Mr. Hand’s inability to urinate constituted a “refusal” to submit to a urine test.  Individuals placed on probation for DUI/OVI in Ohio do not have this kind of experience, ordinarily.  But this was no ordinary case.

dreamstime_m_7554688

Ordinarily, probation (also called “community control” in Ohio) is imposed by a judge for two reasons.  First, probation is imposed so somebody has the responsibility of monitoring the defendant’s compliance with court orders.  That somebody is the probation officer.  Second, probation is imposed to give the defendant incentive to comply with court orders.  If a probationer does not comply with court orders, judges can impose more restrictive probation conditions, lengthen the duration of probation, and impose jail time.

Before a judge can sentence a person for violating probation, the judge must hold a hearing.  At the hearing, the judge first determines if there is probable cause to believe the defendant violated probation.  The judge then determines whether the defendant did, in fact, violate probation.  If the judge concludes the defendant violated probation, the judge imposes a sentence:  more restrictive conditions, additional probation time, and/or jail time.

In the case of Mr. Hand, the judge ordered pretty common probation conditions:  Mr. Hand was ordered to complete a driver intervention program, complete any follow-up counseling recommended by that program, and complete 80 hours of community service.  He was also required to submit to alcohol/drug screens and not refuse any tests (for alcohol/drugs).

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Last week was the annual DUI/OVI seminar presented by the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (OACDL).  One of the slogans now attached to the seminar is ‘The Premiere Ohio DUI Defense Seminar’.  When I hear that slogan, two questions come to mind:
1.  Are there any other Ohio DUI defense seminars?
2.  If so, what makes this one the ‘premiere’ seminar?

Page one from Brochure for OACDL DUI seminar March 10-12 2016

Full disclosure:  I co-chaired the seminar this year, so my opinion is probably not unbiased.

With that said, my answers are:
1.  Yes, there are, in fact, several other seminars focused on Ohio DUI/OVI, and
2.  What makes this one the ‘premiere’ seminar is the topic of this blog entry.

One factor which makes the OACDL seminar impressive is the sheer volume of information.  The seminar lasts for about 20 hours.  During that time, about 35 speakers give presentations on topics relevant to DUI/OVI in Ohio.  No other Ohio DUI/OVI seminar comes close to providing that amount of information.  For some, such a long seminar may sound like a nightmare.  For me, it’s time well spent.

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Ohio takes drivers’ licenses before a person is found guilty of DUI/OVI.  If a person is arrested for DUI/OVI and tests over the limit, or refuses to test, that person’s license is suspended immediately.  No judge reviews the circumstances beforehand to determine if the suspension should be imposed.  Instead, the executive branch of the government takes the driver’s license automatically.

It’s called an Administrative License Suspension (ALS).  The suspension is considered a ‘civil’ (not criminal) action, and it is imposed independent of the traffic ticket charging the person with OVI.  Ohio’s administrative license suspension is similar to other states’, including Florida.

Handing driver license to officer
Florida’s administrative license suspension is currently the subject of a class action lawsuit which alleges the ALS is unconstitutional.  The plaintiff seeks damages exceeding $50 million from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, according to this report from Click Orlando.  The plaintiff claims the failure to have a judicial officer review the propriety of the license suspension violates the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment.

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When a person is arrested for DUI/OVI in Ohio, the arresting officer typically asks the person to submit to a breath, blood or urine test. For a test result to be admissible in court, the test must be administered in compliance with regulations issued by the Ohio Department of Health. One regulation requires refrigeration of blood and urine samples, and that regulation was the subject of a recent case decided by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Evidence bagThe case is State v. Baker. In Baker, the defendant was driving a vehicle and was involved in an accident with a pedestrian. A police officer administered field sobriety tests and obtained a sample of the defendant’s blood. The blood sample was placed in the officer’s cruiser for four hours and ten minutes and then mailed to a crime lab. At the crime lab, the blood sample was tested, and the result was .095 grams of alcohol per one hundred milliliters of blood.

 

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the blood test result because the blood sample was not refrigerated in accordance with the Ohio Department of Health regulations. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision. The prosecution appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

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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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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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