The last entry in this blog discussed the movement to decrease distracted driving in the United States.  Using cell phones while driving appears to be increasingly problematic.  In response, states are criminalizing the behavior, and groups like the Partnership For Distraction-Free Driving and the Distracted Driving Project are mounting campaigns which encourage drivers to not multi-task while driving.  Another idea to combat distracted driving is use of the ‘Textalyzer’.

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What Is A Textalyzer?
The Textalyzer is computer program developed by Cellebrite.  Cellebrite sells software which enables investigators to unlock digital evidence from cell phones and other devices.  The Textalyzer is a relatively lean application which analyzes cells phone and provides reports regarding how and when the phones were used.

The Textalyzer could be used in various traffic law enforcement scenarios.  For example, it may be used if an officer is dispatched to an accident scene, makes a traffic stop, or responds to a report of a reckless driver.  In any of those situations, the officer could obtain the cell phone(s) of the driver(s) involved.  The officer would then run a cable from the driver’s phone to the officer’s laptop.  The Textalyzer program on the officer’s laptop would then examine the cell phone on-the-spot and report the findings to the officer.

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How many times have you seen someone obviously texting while driving?  I recently drove by a guy who was operating his phone with both hands while he steered his car with his knees.  I’m sensitive to the danger posed by distracted driving, both as a lawyer who represents clients charged with traffic offenses and as a father of a child approaching driving age.  The more we learn about the danger of distracted driving, the more we understand it may be as hazardous as drunk driving.  Consequently, driving while texting may someday carry penalties like those for DUI (known as OVI in Ohio).

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Matt Richtel‘s recent article in the New York Times presents a good discussion of this issue.  According to the article, the problem of driving while distracted by a cell phone is getting worse.  Surveys show Americans not only continue to text but also take selfies, use Snapchat and post on Facebook while driving.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), 3,477 people in the United States were killed by distracted driving in 2015, and another 391,000 were injured.  NHSTA chief Mark Rosekind says it’s increasing, and “radical change requires radical ideas”.

The Movement To Decrease Distracted Driving
One idea for change comes from Candace Lightner, founder of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving.  Lightner has formed a new group:  Partnership For Distraction-Free Driving.  That group is gathering signatures on a petition for social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to discourage drivers from multi-tasking.

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There are few instances when the government can take our property without first holding a hearing.  An Ohio Administrative License Suspension (A.L.S.) is one of those instances.  If a driver refuses a chemical test or tests ‘over the limit’, an officer takes the driver’s license on-the-spot.  Accordingly, to protect drivers’ rights to due process of law, Ohio has rules which must be followed for an A.L.S to be imposed.  A recent A.L.S. case in an Ohio Court of Appeals demonstrates what happens when the rules are not followed.

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There Are Rules For Imposing License Suspensions
The case is Toledo v. Ferguson.  Ferguson was stopped and given field sobriety tests.  The police officer charged Ferguson with OVI and imposed an A.L.S.  For the A.L.S., the officer completed a BMV 2255 report and sent a copy to the court.  However, the report was sent to the court six days after the arrest, and Ohio Revised Code section 4511.192(E) requires that the report be sent “as soon as possible, but not later than 48 hours after the arrest.”  Ferguson’s lawyer filed an appeal of the A.L.S. on the ground the BMV 2255 report was not timely filed.  The trial court refused to terminate the A.L.S., so Ferguson appealed to the Sixth District Court of Appeals.

Government Claims There Is No Remedy For Violating Rules
The prosecution argued the officer’s violation of the 48-hour requirement is not a ground for terminating the A.L.S.  Ohio Revised Code section 4511.197 establishes the parameters for A.L.S. appeals.  That section establishes four bases for appealing the A.L.S.  In Ferguson, the prosecution argued that, because the 48-hour rule is not one of those four bases, violation of the 48-hour rule cannot result in termination of the A.L.S.  The trial court agreed with the prosecution.

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A few days ago, the state of Ohio began imposing increased penalties for DUI (known in Ohio as OVI). The increased penalties are part of House Bill 388, commonly known as “Annie’s Law”*. The legislation is not really one law but a revision of nearly 20 statutes and creation of one new one. Effective April 6, 2017, “Annie’s Law” provides for longer driver license suspensions, encourages increased use of ignition interlock devices, and results in more defendants being punished as ‘repeat offenders’.

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Ohio DUI / OVI Driver License Suspensions Just Got Longer
If a person pleads guilty to OVI or is found guilty of OVI, the court must impose a driver license suspension. The length of the license suspension is chosen by the judge from a range mandated by legislation. The range mandated by legislation increased with Annie’s Law. The following table summarizes license suspension lengths for Ohio OVI convictions:

Offense in ten years Old license suspension New license suspension
First 6 months to 3 years 1 year to 3 years
Second 1 year to 5 years 1 year to 7 years
Third 2 years to 10 years 2 years to 12 years
Fourth or Fifth 3 years to life 3 years to life

 

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In Ohio, and throughout the United States, we have a Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  In Ohio OVI cases, that means an officer can only arrest a suspect if the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect operated a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.  In the recent case of State v. Bracken, the Court of Appeals concluded the arrest was not justified.

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The Officer Reportedly Observed Signs Of Intoxication
In the early morning hours, a police officer stopped Cody Bracken for driving 61 mph in a 45 mph zone.  The officer noticed a moderate odor of alcohol coming from Cody’s vehicle.  The officer also noticed Cody’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy, and his face was flushed.  The officer asked Cody about drinking alcohol, and Cody said he drank two beers.

Based on the officer’s observations, he administered field sobriety tests.  On the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, the officer reportedly observed six clues out of six possible clues.  On the Walk And Turn (WAT) test, the officer allegedly observed five out of eight possible clues.  On the One Leg Stand (OLS) test, the officer purportedly observed three of four possible clues.  On the partial alphabet test, Cody skipped a letter.  The officer arrested Cody and charged him with OVI ‘impaired’ in the Franklin County Municipal Court.

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Lawyers sometimes learn through trial and error;  literally.  Education at the school of hard knocks can be valuable, but learning from the experience of others has its own value.  One way attorneys can shorten the learning curve is by attending high quality continuing education seminars.  One outstanding annual seminar for DUI/OVI lawyers is ‘The Premiere Ohio DUI Defense Seminar’ sponsored by the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (OACDL).

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The focus of this year’s seminar, held last week, was drugged driving.  Ohio has seen an increase in the number of drivers charged with OVI for being under the influence of drugs.  With medical marijuana on the horizon, it’s likely the numbers of drugged driving cases will continue to increase.  With that in mind, the presentations addressed the science, the law and the litigation involved in drugged driving cases.

The Science Of Drugged Driving
Pharmacologist James O’Donnel taught the basics of pharmacokinetics.  He described, in terms understandable by non-scientists, the absorption, distribution and elimination of drugs in the human body.  Interestingly, he explained why retrograde extrapolation cannot accurately calculate the concentration of a drug in a person’s system at a particular point in the past;  like when the person was operating the vehicle.

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It Seems Like A Good Defense On Television
Television and movies would have us believe ‘circumstantial evidence’ is a viable defense in court.  You can picture the dramatic scene in which a defense lawyer tells a prosecutor the prosecutor’s case is ‘merely circumstantial’.  In a real courtroom, however, there is no defense of ‘circumstantial evidence’.  In fact, Ohio OVI convictions are almost always based on circumstantial evidence, as demonstrated by a recent Ohio appellate case.

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The recent case is State v. Foos.  Foos crashed his car into a concreate barrier wall.  Police officers responded to the accident scene observed that Foos seemed very intoxicated.  The officers smelled the strong odor of alcohol coming from Foos, heard Foos talking with slurred speech, and saw Foos was wearing a wrist band which appeared to be from a bar.  Foos had difficulty balancing, refused to perform field sobriety tests, and declined to take a breath test.

Foos’s friends testified that Foos only had one beer while they played pool at the bar, and Foos did not drink any alcohol while they were at the strip club.  A jury found Foos guilty of OVI, and Foos appealed to the Ninth District Court of Appeals.

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Joe was arrested for DUI / OVI, and the officer had Joe take a breath test and a urine test.  The breath test showed an alcohol level under Ohio’s limit, and the urine test showed an alcohol level over Ohio’s limit.  Based on the urine test result, Joe was prosecuted for operating a vehicle with a prohibited concentration of alcohol in his system.  Should Joe be found guilty of OVI?

Test-results-300x220This scenario is not hypothetical:  “Joe” was my client.

Joe came to the attention of the officer because one of Joe’s headlights was out.  The officer turned around to follow Joe and reportedly observed Joe’s tire go over the lane line one time.  The ‘marked lanes’ violation was not recorded on video, although the remainder of the incident was.

The officer stopped Joe and noticed the odor of alcohol.  When asked, Joe explained he went to a wings restaurant and had a few beers with dinner.  The officer administered field sobriety tests, and Joe’s performance on the tests was good but not great.  The officer arrested Joe and took him to the police station.

A Tale Of Two Tests
At the police station, the officer asked Joe to submit to a breath alcohol test.  Joe gave a sample of his breath, and the breath-testing-machine produced a result of .069 (grams per 210 liters of breath);  under Ohio’s limit of .080.  The officer had Joe provide a urine sample because the officer had a hunch Joe smoked marijuana.

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A smartphone app for breath-alcohol-testing was so promising that all five investors on Shark Tank collaborated on a deal for the first time.  In 2013, Charles Yim went on the show and pitched his app to the Sharks.  The Sharks collectively invested $1 million in Yim’s company Breathometer, Inc. for 30% of the company’s equity.  Three years later, the company was the subject of an FTC complaint, and the complaint was recently settled.

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The History-Making Shark Tank Pitch
The pitch to the Sharks sounded great.  People regularly drink alcohol and then drive, and nobody knows when they are over .08.  By downloading the app and plugging in a small piece of hardware to a smartphone audio jack, consumers could blow into the hardware and know their blood alcohol concentration in seconds.  In addition, the app would tell them how much time it would take to sober up, and it could even call a cab with one push of a button.

The Sharks were intrigued.  Yim was asking for one Shark to invest $250,000 for ten percent of the company’s equity.  Mark Cuban quickly offered to invest $500,000 for 20% equity.  Yim then invited the other Sharks to join, and they did:  all five of them.  Ultimately, Cuban put up $500,000 for 15%, and the other four Sharks together put up $500,000 for another 15%.

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Bad Facts Make Bad Law
If a police officer says a driver was under the influence of a drug, there is no need for testimony from an expert regarding whether the drug actually impairs driving. That is, essentially, the conclusion of the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Richardson. There is a saying among lawyers: “bad facts make bad law”. The precedent created by this case may qualify as ‘bad law’, and the circumstances of the case definitely qualifiy as ‘bad facts’.

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These are the facts. The defendant rear-ended another car and had a child with him in his truck. He then nudged the other car repeatedly because he left his truck in gear. His speech was slurred, he slid out of the truck, he dropped all his cards on the ground, he singed his hair trying to light a cigarette, he ‘failed’ all the field sobriety tests, and he refused a blood test. The defendant told the officer he was on pain medication and took hydrocodone (at some undetermined time).

The defendant was charged with Child Endangering and felony OVI. This was his second felony OVI. That means, before this incident, he already had four OVI convictions in the last six years or six OVI convictions in the last 20 years. The defendant was convicted, and the case ultimately was heard by the Ohio Supreme Court.

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