Columbus OVI/DUI Attorney Blog

Articles Posted in DUI/OVI blood/breath/urine tests

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.

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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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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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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 “marijuana”.  There will never be Ohio OVI cases with blood or urine tests showing a concentration of “marijuana” because blood and urine tests do not identify or measure “marijuana”.  Instead, they identify and measure THC metabolites.

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I thought they were all drunk: they were driving on the wrong side of the road. But they weren’t drunk, they were just driving in Scotland. And so was I. I drove on the left, sat on the right, and shifted with my left on the endless roundabouts and turns. I navigated all the sheep, stone walls, and cliffs as I drove from the English countryside to the Scottish highlands, so I consider my recent holiday a driving success. The trip prompted me to compare the drunk driving laws of Ohio to the ‘drink driving’ laws of Scotland.

My rental car, brilliantly parked outside our B&B in Portree on the Scottish Isle Of Skye.

Scotland has a lower ‘per se’ alcohol limit than Ohio. In Ohio, it is illegal to drive at or above an alcohol level of .08%. In Scotland, where the drinking age is 18, the prohibited alcohol level changed in December of 2014 to .05%. That limit is lower than the rest of the United Kingdom, which remains at .08%, but higher than some countries, like Sweden which is .02%. A comparison of the drunk driving laws of several nations is available on the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There are differences in sentencing between Ohio and Scotland. For a first OVI offense in Ohio, the license suspension is a minimum of six months. For a first offense of driving whilst above the legal limit in Scotland, the license disqualification is a minimum of 12 months, and that disqualification period may be reduced by completing a 16-hour ‘drink driver’s rehabilitation course’. The fine in Ohio is a maximum of $1,000, but the fine in Scotland is a maximum of 5,000 pounds: about $7,600 with the current exchange rate. Both Ohio and Scotland have a maximum jail sentence of six months, but Ohio has a minimum of three days while Scotland has no minimum jail term. Both Ohio and Scotland increase penalties for subsequent offenses: Ohio has a six-year look-back period, and Scotland’s is ten years.

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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.

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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.

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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 American 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.

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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.

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Most states acknowledge urine testing is not an accurate way to measure blood alcohol concentration, and Ohio is one of the few states which still uses urine alcohol testing for DUI/OVI cases. Ohio law makes urine tests admissible in court so long as law enforcement agencies follow state regulations. Some of those regulations address scientific reliability, and some of those regulations address administrative issues. As a result, urine tests are often inadmissible, not because they are scientifically unreliable, but because the government did not follow its own rules.

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Ohio law makes urine tests admissible in DUI/OVI cases. Ohio Revised Code section 4511.19(D) states urine tests may be admitted as evidence if the urine sample is analyzed in accordance with regulations approved by the Ohio Director Of Health. The regulations approved by the Director Of Health (DOH) are found in chapter 3701-53 of the Ohio Administrative Code.

Some Ohio regulations for urine testing promote reliable test results. For example, the regulations establish what testing methods are acceptable (e.g., gas chromatography and immunoassay) and require confirmatory testing by an additional method. The regulations also require that testing methods have documented sensitivity, specificity, accuracy, precision and linearity.

Some Ohio regulations for urine testing are more administrative in nature. For example, the regulations require that urine specimens are collected in a certain type of container with a certain type of lid. The regulations further require that the container have a label which contains certain information. The regulations also contain requirements for record keeping, laboratory accreditation, and laboratory personnel permits.

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