I have been attending this DUI / OVI seminar since its modern inception in 2002. For five years before that, I practiced all varieties of criminal defense, with a focus on serious felonies. I didn’t think OVI defense was as complex as cases like murder, robbery and burglary. The seminar in 2002 showed me I was wrong. Shortly after that seminar, I decided to make OVI the focus of my practice. Fast forward 16 years, and I co-chaired this year’s two-day seminar presented by the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (OACDL). I was primarily responsible for the first day, which means my job was to introduce the speakers without drooling or stuttering.


The seminar got off to a great start with a presentation by Mimi Coffey from Texas. Mimi is board certified in DUI Defense, has twice completed the Borkenstein course at Indiana University, and is a regent with the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD). She discussed how to win an OVI case involving a breath test. Her discussion included favorable case law, important scientific principles and helpful litigation strategies.

The next speaker was Lauren Stuckert from Wisconsin. Lauren is the nation’s youngest lawyer to become board certified in DUI Defense. She discussed the analysis of blood and urine. The first part of her lecture focused on the analysis of alcohol, and the second part focused on the analysis of other drugs. Lauren included a spotlight on marijuana, as there is a growing number of Ohio OVI cases involving marijuana which will only increase with the legalization of medical marijuana.

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I recently went on a whale-watching trip in Mexico. Wherever I went, there was no shortage of tequila and cervezas. There was also no shortage of people driving cars. That prompted me to wonder how the drunk driving laws in Mexico compare to those in Ohio. It appears there are some similarities and some differences.


‘Legal Limit’ For Blood Alcohol Concentration
One similarity between the laws in Mexico and Ohio is the ‘legal limit’: the blood alcohol concentration at which driving is ‘per se’ illegal. The national limit in Mexico is .08:  the same as Ohio.

Many states in Mexico have created their own limits, and most of them are lower than .08. For example, the states of Chiapas, Hidalgo and Veracruz all have limits of .04. We stayed in the state of Baja California Sur, which has a ‘per se’ limit of .08. Interestingly, I asked a few different locals about drunk driving, and none of them knew the ‘limite legal’.

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Jamie was driving down the highway with her boyfriend when a police officer stopped Jamie for speeding. It turned out Jamie did not have a driver license, and there was an active warrant for her arrest. The officer put Jamie in the back of his cruiser and placed her under arrest.


Jamie’s purse was still in the car with her boyfriend, and her boyfriend owned the car. The officer decided to retrieve Jamie’s purse from the car and search it. The officer found drugs and drug paraphernalia in the purse, and Jamie was charged with crimes for possessing those items. In this case, State v. Banks-Harvey, the Ohio Supreme Court had to decide whether the officer’s search of Jamie’s purse violated Jamie’s right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Both the federal Constitution and the Ohio Constitution protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures. A search conducted without a search warrant, like this one, is presumed to be unreasonable, unless it fits within a recognized exception to the search warrant requirement. In this case, the prosecution argued the search was justified as an inventory search.


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Clean hands is an obsession for some people.  In addition to frequent hand-washing, many people also use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Aside from the potential issues with dry skin and weakened immune system (not to mention OCD!), use of hand sanitizers can also affect the results of a breath alcohol test.


The impact of hand sanitizers on breath testing was the subject of a recent article in the Journal Of Forensic Sciences. A previous study concluded the absorption of alcohol from hand sanitizers has virtually no effect on blood alcohol concentration. The current study answered a different question: what if the hand sanitizer is on the hands of the breath test operator?

To answer the question, the researchers had breath test operators apply hand sanitizer, rub their hands until dry, and then administer breath tests to subjects who had consumed no alcohol. Part of administering the breath test is removing the disposable mouthpiece from its package and inserting it in the breath tube for the test.

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The abominable snowman was arrested for drunk driving. The ‘arrest’ of the snowman was part of a campaign by the St. Helens Police Department to crackdown on drunk driving during the holidays. Although the arrest was fake, the message was real: DUI/OVI enforcement is increased during the holiday season.


The holidays bring an increased volume of driving. According to AAA, holiday travel has increased consistently over the last nine years, and this year looks to be record-setting. In Ohio, nearly 4.5 million people are traveling for the holidays, and 90% of those are driving.

The holidays also bring an increase in accidents related to operating under the influence. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that, over the last five years, an average of 300 people died in drunk driving crashes during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. In Ohio last year, ten OVI-related crashes resulted in 13 deaths during the Christmas holiday, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

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During a recent OVI jury trial, the judge and I disagreed about the function of standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs). During a sidebar, I argued the tests do not measure driving impairment; they predict blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The judge’s opinion was SFSTs measure impairment of driving ability. The judge’s opinion prevailed, despite being wrong, because the judge’s opinion always prevails in the judge’s courtroom (unless and until an appellate court says otherwise). This particular judge is intelligent, well-intentioned, and better educated on DUI/OVI issues than most judges and lawyers. If this judge misunderstands the purpose of SFSTs, it’s a topic worth addressing.


A Very Brief History Of Standardized Field Sobriety Testing
Before the introduction of SFSTs, law enforcement officers used a variety of non-standardized tests to help them decide whether to arrest a person for drunk driving. Beginning in 1975, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), sponsored research which resulted in the development of standardized field sobriety tests. That research also led to the NHTSA manual: “DWI Detection And Standardized Field Sobriety Testing”.

Subsequent to the original publication of the manual, NHTSA conducted multiple validation studies. Those studies have evaluated the SFSTs in various environments and have examined multiple factors affecting the tests. The reports from the studies are clear: what’s being evaluated is the effectiveness of the SFSTs to predict BAC, not driving impairment.

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Vegas-2017-strip-closed-300x201A few hours before the Las Vegas shooting, I checked-in at the Monte Carlo, four ‘doors’ down from Mandalay Bay. I was there to attend the DUI defense seminar presented by the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD). The desk clerk said the Monte Carlo was being renovated (no pool, no spa, nearly no restaurants), and she offered to move me to Mandalay Bay. I decided to stay at the Monte Carlo and just use the pool at Mandalay Bay. My body was still on Ohio time, so I was going to bed when the shooting started. I was aware there was a lot of noise (apparently, the Monte Carlo was locked-down), so I put in earplugs and went to sleep.

Vegas-2017-news-reporter-300x225The next morning, I woke up and learned the nation’s largest mass shooting took place just down the Strip. Still on Ohio time, and traveling with an Ohio police officer, I walked down to the area. Witnesses were returning from police interviews: draped in hotel towels, crying, and wearing outfits obviously selected for a country music concert. News reporters, like the one pictured here, were reporting on the incident from every angle.



And then there was the police presence. Law enforcement had Las Vegas Boulevard shut down south of Tropicana Avenue. Police cruisers and motorcycles lined Las Vegas Blvd. from one end of the Strip to the other. Groups of officers were stationed outside each resort.

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Lawyers disagree on what part of a trial is the most important. Some lawyers say the closing argument is the most important part because that’s when we tie everything together and persuade. Others say the closing doesn’t matter much: trials are lost or won during jury selection. Still others say the most critical phase of a trial is cross-examination.


Cross-examination was the subject of a recent workshop in Charleston, South Carolina (a couple days after Hurricane Irma hit!), and I was part of the faculty for the workshop. The workshop was part of a three-day seminar presented by the DUI Defense Lawyers Association (DUIDLA), and first two days of the seminar were lectures on various DUI/OVI topics. The third day was a trial skills workshop focused on improving the attendees’ cross examination skills.


In DUI/OVI cases, cross examination is very important. In all OVI trials, the defense attorney cross-examines the prosecution witnesses. In many OVI trials, there are no defense witnesses testifying, so all of the testimony comes from the prosecution witnesses. Therefore, it is critical for those prosecution witnesses to be effectively cross-examined.

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When a machine is given the power to convict a person of a crime, we should be absolutely certain the machine is working properly. In Ohio, machines are used to measure the concentration of alcohol in the breath of drivers. A driver who operates a vehicle with a breath alcohol concentration of .080 or more is guilty of OVI, even if that person’s ability to drive was not impaired by the alcohol. As breath-testing machines have that much power, the accuracy and precision of the machines is critical, so they are subjected to a weekly instrument check. A recent case by an Ohio appellate court downplays the importance of those weekly instrument checks.

The case is State v. Hicks. In that case, Hicks was arrested for OVI and taken to a police station for a breath test. The result of the breath test was over .080, so Hicks was charged with OVI ‘per se’. The defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the breath test, and the judge held a hearing on that motion.


Breath Testing Machines Must ‘Pass The Test’ Each Week
For a breath test result to be admissible as evidence, the prosecution must prove, among other things, at least two critical facts: (1) the machine was working properly at the time of the defendant’s test; and (2) the machine was maintained in substantial compliance with the regulations in the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC).

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The reasonable person. Courts make many decisions using the test of what ‘a reasonable person’ would do/think/feel under certain circumstances. Older cases used the ‘reasonable man’ standard, but newer cased have modernized the test with gender neutrality. In the recent case of Cleveland v. Oles, the Ohio Supreme Court concluded a reasonable person stopped by a police officer and placed in a cruiser would not necessarily believe he or she is ‘in custody’, so Miranda warnings are not required.


To properly understand the Oles decision, one must first understand the Miranda warnings. Everyone seems to be familiar with the warnings from movies and television (iTunes and Netflix for those born after 1999). Few people, however, seem to understand their origin, development and interpretation.

The United States Constitution and the Ohio Constitution both protect our right against self-incrimination. The the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution contain essentially the same language: ‘no person ‘shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself’.

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