Columbus OVI/DUI Attorney Blog

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

Somewhere between ten percent and twenty percent of Americans have GERD: Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease. While the advertisements by pharmaceutical companies have made GERD common knowledge, it is no so commonly known that this medical condition can inflate the result of an alcohol breath test. When the defendant in an OVI case has GERD, lawyers and judges find themselves at the intersection of law and science.

Science was not my best academic subject. In high school, I was one of only two people in the chemistry class not invited to the take physics. In college, I was required to take a few science courses, and I studied diligently…to find out which courses were the easiest! As a criminal defense lawyer, I was not thrilled to realize that developing expertise in DUI/OVI defense requires at least some comprehension of anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and pharmacokinetics. Although I am far from being a scientist, I have learned enough about the scientific aspect of DUI/OVI cases that I was recently asked to speak at a seminar on the topic of “Presenting A GERD Defense: Law And Science”.

GERD-ethanol exchange in the lungs

Recognizing how GERD affects alcohol breath tests requires understanding how alcohol reaches human breath. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, mostly in the intestines and some in the stomach. Blood carries the alcohol to different parts of the body, including the lungs. In the lungs, small blood vessels wrap around the ends of the bronchial trees; the alveolar sacs. At the alveolar sacs, gases from the blood, including alcohol, go into the lungs. Those gases, including alcohol, are then exhaled. If a person is taking a breath test, those gases are exhaled into the mouthpiece of a breath-testing machine.

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For three decades, lawyers and judges have been misinterpreting the case of State v. Vega. In Vega, the Ohio Supreme Court held defendants in DUI/OVI cases may not attack the general reliability of breath-testing machines. Some lawyers and judges interpret Vega as if it says defendants are not permitted to make any challenge to the breath test result. This misinterpretation of the Vega decision may exist in part because most people have not actually read the decision. It’s like the telephone game where the statement made by the first person in the game is modified drastically by the time the statement is repeated by the last person in the game. A few days ago, the Ohio Supreme Court clarified the holding of Vega in a case which will hopefully end the abuse of defendants’ rights resulting from the misinterpretation of Vega.

Pass-It-On.jpgThe recent case is Cincinnati v. Ilg. In Ilg, the defendant took a breath test on an Intoxilyzer 8000, blew over .080, and was charged with OVI. The defense attorney filed a Demand For Discovery requesting that the prosecution provide records for the specific Intoxilyzer 8000 used for his client’s breath test. When the prosecution did not provide the records, the defense subpoenaed the records from the Ohio Department of Health, the agency responsible for maintaining those records. The program administrator for the Department of Health’s alcohol and drug testing program told the Court the Department of Health did not have the personnel or technology to provide the requested records. The records were not provided.

The trial court excluded the breath test results from evidence, concluding the defendant had the right to challenge the reliability of his breath test and could not do so without the requested records. The prosecution appealed to the First District Court of Appeals, and the appellate court affirmed the decision of the trial court. The prosecution then appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. The prosecution’s primary argument was this: a defendant cannot compel the State to produce information that is to be used for the purpose of attacking the reliability of the breath-testing instrument because State v. Vega prohibits defendants from making attacks on the reliability of breath-testing instruments.

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It won’t win a Pulitzer Prize, it will not be mentioned with the New York Times best sellers, and it will not be at the top of readers’ ‘wish lists’. In fact, most people may not find it very interesting. If you are charged with a DUI/OVI in Ohio, however, this book suddenly becomes a must-read. I’m talking about the new book: I Was Charged With DUI/OVI, Now What?!

I wrote the book to answer the questions most commonly asked by people charged with OVI.Cover image from book.jpg After answering those questions for 17 years, I recently came to the realization there was not a published book designed for individuals charged with OVI in Ohio. I thought it would be helpful to create a book which explains ‘what you need to know before going to court and before hiring an attorney for DUI/OVI in Ohio‘.

The book, published a couple weeks ago, is divided into four parts. The first part reveals what prosecutors need to prove for a person to be found guilty of OVI and outlines the potential consequences of an OVI conviction. The second part addresses the evidence used in OVI cases, including field sobriety tests and blood/breath/urine tests. The third part discusses the court process and its various stages. The fourth part addresses how to find a good OVI lawyer.

The book is available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The suggested retail price of the paperback is $9.95, and the e-book costs about half that. With the percentage I receive in royalties, I may buy a few cups of coffee…. The book is obviously not designed to be a money-maker for me. In fact, I will email a pdf version of the book to anyone who requests it, and I intend to make the paperback available in central Ohio libraries.

The book is designed to help people charged with OVI. People in that position need help, and one way I can help is providing this book. I can’t represent every person who contacts me after being charged with OVI: I typically only accept one new client per week. I certainly can’t field calls from every person who has questions about Ohio OVI laws. I can, however, answer those questions in the form of this low-cost book. I hope the book provides valuable information which is helpful to many people charged with DUI/OVI in Ohio.

Imagine that you are arrested for DUI (called OVI in Ohio), and the officer takes you to a police station to take a urine test. You want to comply, because you’re sure the test will prove you are under the legal limit, but you don’t need to go. In fact, you can’t go. You drink a bunch of water and wait a while, but you still can’t go. The officer then says you refused the urine test, so your driver’s license is suspended for one year.

Urination handstand.jpgThat’s what happened in State v. Brown, a case decided last week in an Ohio Court of Appeals. In that case, Brown first took a breath test, and the result was 0.00. The officer likely suspected that Brown was under the influence of a drug other than alcohol, so the officer asked Brown to submit a urine sample. Brown agreed, drank several glasses of water, and attempted to provide a urine specimen four or five times but was unable. The officer seized Brown’s license and placed him under a one-year driver’s license suspension for ‘refusing’ the urine test.

Officers are authorized to suspend a driver’s license, on behalf of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, if a driver is arrested for DUI/OVI and refuses to submit to a breath/blood/urine test. A driver’s license can also be suspended if a driver submits to the test and the result is over the legal limit. These suspensions are called ‘Administrative License Suspensions‘ (A.L.S.) and are separate from the sentence that is imposed if the driver is found guilty of DUI/OVI. The A.L.S. can be appealed, and the trial court has the authority to terminate the A.L.S.

Brown did appeal his A.L.S., and the trial court held a hearing on his appeal. For this type of hearing, the burden is on the defendant to prove he did not refuse the test. At the hearing, the arresting officer acknowledged that Brown apparently “was not refusing the urine specimen”, and “it was very apparent to me that he was trying but just could not produce.” Nevertheless, the trial court concluded that Brown failed to prove he did not refuse the test, so the one-year suspension remained.

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From your bathroom scale to a police officer’s laser gun, every measurement device has a margin of error. For a device to be considered reliable, the margin of error must be known (and should be small!). In a recent Ohio DUI / OVI case, the court decided the admissibility of test results from a device with an unknown margin of error.

The case is State v. Butler. Gas chromatograph.jpgA police officer arrested Butler for DUI / OVI, and Butler provided a urine sample for an alcohol test. The urine sample was tested on a gas chromatograph (pictured) at the county crime lab, and the result was .113. For the defendant to be found guilty of DUI / OVI ‘per se’ in Ohio, the prosecutor has to prove the defendant’s urine alcohol concentration was at or over .110. That means Butler’s alcohol level was four one-thousandths of one gram too high, so the accuracy of the test result is critical.

Butler’s attorney filed a motion to suppress the urine test based on its lack of scientific reliability, and the attorney asked the crime lab analyst a good question: What is the scientific accuracy of the urine test? The lab analyst said, “There is no method in place to calculate any type of uncertainty of the results.” The analyst went on to testify that it is possible to determine the “degree of uncertainty” in the urine test results, but the crime lab just doesn’t do it.

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Intoxilyzer 8000 Declared Unreliable In Ohio DUI/OVI Case
This blog has discussed Intoxilyzer 8000 litigation in many previous posts. One of those posts (November 18, 2012) mentioned the case of State v. Lancaster in the Marietta Municipal Court. I was asked to help with that litigation as counsel for Lancaster. Like many of the I-8000 cases throughout Ohio, the Lancaster case involves the reliability of the I-8000. Unlike most of the other cases, however, the Lancaster case includes testimony of expert witnesses for the prosecution and defense. After five days of testimony, the verdict is in, and the breath test is out! The decision has already been appealed and is staged to possibly change the interpretation of breath-testing law in Ohio.

The Intoxilyzer 8000 And Ohio DUI/OVI Cases
In 2009, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) purchased about 700 Intoxilyzer 8000s for a cost of approximately $6.5 million. The transaction was facilitated by the head of the ODH Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Testing, Dean Ward. Soon thereafter, Ward began working for the I-8000 manufacturer, C.M.I. Use of the machines began in 2010 and gradually increased.

Intoxilyzer 8000 I Make Mistakes.jpg
As law enforcement increasingly used the machines, defense attorneys increasingly challenged their reliability. In State v. Gerome, an Athens County judge heard expert testimony and found the I-8000 is prone to errors. The judge concluded that evidence from the I-8000 is admissible, but defendants may challenge the test results based on circumstances that may make the results inaccurate.

Courts throughout Ohio have ruled that I-8000 test results are not admissible, but most of those rulings have been overturned on appeal. For example, in State v. Reid, a Circleville judge excluded evidence from the I-8000 because the prosecution did not demonstrate that the I-8000 is accurate and reliable. Reid was overturned by the Fourth District Court of Appeals, which reasoned that State v. Vega prohibits a general attack on the reliability of breath testing instruments, including the I-8000.

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But for a technical legal issue that may only be interesting to an Ohio DUI/OVI lawyer, the case of State v. McMahon would be pretty generic. An officer pulled him over for speeding, noticed the odor of alcohol, administered field sobriety tests, arrested him, gave him a breath test on an Intoxilyzer 8000, and charged him with O.V.I. McMahon filed a motion to suppress the results of the breath test, claiming the Department of Health was required to make rules for obtaining ‘operator access cards’ (to operate the I-8000) and never did. The trial court agreed with McMahon and threw out the breath test.

Thumbnail image for Intoxilyer 8000 photo with sign saying do not use.jpgThe history of Ohio regulations regarding breath testing shed light on the significance of this issue. Before the regulations were changed in 2009, Ohio had two approved breath-testing machines; the BAC Datamaster and the Intoxilyzer 5000. The regulations contained requirements for obtaining a ‘permit’ to operate those machines. In 2009, the regulations were changed to add the Intoxilyzer 8000 to the category of approved machines. The regulations for the Intoxiyzer 8000 require an ‘operator access card’ but do not contain requirements for obtaining an access card.

In State v. McMahon, the prosecution appealed the trial court’s ruling to the First District Court Of Appeals. The reasoning of the appellate court was essentially this: (1) the breath test must be conducted by a person with an operator permit; (2) the Department of Health is responsible for issuing operator permits to qualified persons; (3) the qualifications to obtain an operator permit are listed in section 3701-53-07 of the Ohio Administrative Code; and (3) an operator access card is a type of permit. The Court relied on the testimony of Mary Martin, head of the Department of Health’s Alcohol and Drug Testing program, who testified that an operator access card is a type of permit. Consequently, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling, and the breath test is now admissible in McMahon’s case.

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In a previous post, this blog questioned whether police should be able to draw blood against your will without a search warrant. At that time, oral arguments had recently been held in the case of Missouri v. McNeely. A few days ago, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in the McNeely case. Based on that decision, the Constitutionality of the law for forced blood tests in Ohio O.V.I. cases is questionable.

In McNeely, the defendant was arrested for D.U.I. and taken to a hospital. When McNeely declined to give a blood sample, his blood was drawn without his consent and without a warrant. The trial judge suppressed the blood test, and the case was appealed through the Missouri state courts to the United States Supreme Court. The Court framed the issue as follows: “The question presented here is whether the natural metabolization of alcohol in the bloodstream presents a per se exigency that justifies an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement for nonconsensual blood testing in all drunk-driving cases.”

The Supreme Court analyzed the search and seizure issue. A blood draw is invasion of the suspect’s bodily integrity that implicates the most personal expectations of privacy. Blood draw.jpg A warrantless search of a person’s body is only reasonable if conducted pursuant to a warrant or a recognized exception to warrant requirement. One recognized exception to the warrant requirement is ‘exigent circumstances’, times when “there is a compelling need for official action and no time to secure a warrant”. One situation involving exigent circumstances is preventing imminent destruction of evidence. In drunk driving cases, the evidence is being destroyed because blood alcohol concentration decreases by .015% to .02% per hour once the alcohol is fully absorbed. The question is, therefore, whether that dissipation of evidence creates ‘exigent circumstances’.

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For the first time, an appellate court in Central Ohio addressed whether evidence from an Intoxilyzer 8000 is admissible in an O.V.I./D.U.I. trial. The court of appeals ultimately decided that the defendant is prohibited from challenging the general reliability of the Intoxilyzer 8000, so the results of that machine’s breath tests are admissible. The court’s opinion, however, contained language questioning whether that prohibition should continue to be the law in Ohio O.V.I. cases.

The case is State v. Reid. Intoxilyer 8000 photo with sign saying do not use.jpgA previous post in this blog (June 11, 2011) discussed the ruling of the trial court. The trial judge concluded that breath test results from the Intoxilyzer 8000 are not reliable enough to be admitted as evidence. The trial judge wrote, “Having heard the testimony presented in the above cases, the court finds that the Intoxilyzer 8000 has not been demonstrated by expert testimony by the Ohio Department of Health to be an accurate and reliable instrument for breath testing in O.V.I. cases.” Because the breath test result was not reliable, the judge excluded breath test evidence from the defendant’s trial. Without the breath test evidence, the defendant took the case to trial and was found not guilty. The prosecution appealed the trial judge’s decision to the Fourth District Court of Appeals.

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Trooper Mark Winder stopped Tyler McNeely for speeding and observed the usual trilogy of intoxication signs: odor of alcohol, bloodshot eyes, and slurred speech. Winder gave McNeely field sobriety tests and arrested him for driving while intoxicated. The trooper drove McNeely to a hospital and asked McNeely to give a blood sample. McNeely declined. Without obtaining or even seeking a warrant, the trooper had a lab technician take a blood sample from McNeely while McNeely was restrained. The blood sample was later analyzed, and it was determined that the concentration of alcohol in the blood was .154.

The trial court suppressed the results of the blood test, and the case made its way through the Missouri Court of Appeals and the Missouri Supreme Court to the United States Supreme Court. The question before the Supreme Court is: whether a law enforcement officer may obtain a nonconsensual and warrantless blood sample from a drunk driver under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement based upon the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream. The McNeely oral argument was held earlier this month and can be heard here.
1336409_syringe.jpg The prosecution in McNeely argues that involuntary warrantless blood tests are necessary to effectively enforce D.U.I. laws. The prosecution points out that alcohol in a suspect’s blood dissipates with time, so the blood alcohol evidence is destroyed if time is taken to obtain a warrant. Due to those “exigent circumstances”, the prosecution states, officers should be permitted to draw blood without a warrant.