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

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.

Simulator

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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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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Over 20,000 DWI cases in New Jersey are being called into question due to problems with the recalibration of breath-testing machines.  According to New Jersey 101.5, Sgt. Marc Dennis skipped a critical step each time he recalibrated the machines.  Plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit now seek to vacate thousands of convictions in which evidence was produced by those breath-testing machines.  Although this debacle occurred in New Jersey, it illustrates the importance of properly maintaining breath-testing machines in Ohio DUI/OVI cases.

Simulator

In Ohio DUI/OVI cases, there is a distinction between a calibration and a calibration check.  When breath-testing machines are built, the machines must be ‘taught’ to identify and quantify alcohol (ethanol).  That ‘teaching’ process is a calibration.  As a machine is being used by a law enforcement agency, the agency periodically runs a test to confirm the machine produces accurate results.  The test is done using a simulator like the one pictured here.  That periodic test is a calibration check.

Calibration checks, also referred to as ‘instrument checks’, are done at least once per week in Ohio.  The weekly instrument checks are conducted by the law enforcement agency which owns and/or operates the breath-testing machine.  Some agencies assign the responsibility to one officer, and, in other agencies, multiple officer share the responsibility of conducting weekly instrument checks.

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Today’s report regarding the conduct of a forensic scientist employed by the state of Ohio demonstrates the danger of the government enforcing laws without effective checks and balances.  Forensic scientist G. Michele Yezzo worked for over 30 years as a laboratory technician for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).  During that time, she analyzed evidence in criminal cases and testified in court regarding those analyses.  The feature story in The Columbus Dispatch says she now, “stands accused of slanting evidence to help cops and prosecutors build their cases.”

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-blood-test-hand-latex-glove-holding-sample-vial-front-form-image37079485According to the newspaper report, the BCI employee stretched the truth in her analyses to satisfy law enforcement.  She even reportedly went so far as asking police officers “What do you need the evidence to say?”  Her work as a government scientist led to hundreds of criminal convictions, including serious cases involving murder and rape.  This forensic scientist’s lack of credibility calls many of those convictions into question.  It also brings attention to the issue of forensic testing in Ohio DUI/OVI cases.

In Ohio OVI cases, forensic testing at crime labs is used to detect and measure alcohol and drugs in blood and urine samples.  If a driver is arrested and the officer suspects the driver is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs of abuse, the officer asks the driver to submit a sample of breath, blood or urine.  Breath samples are analyzed on-the-spot by a breath-testing machine.  Blood and urine samples are sent to a crime lab for analysis.

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Last week, the United States Supreme Court released a decision in a trio of cases involving DUI refusal laws.  A previous article in this blog gives a preview of the cases.  To decide the outcomes of those cases, the court analyzes whether search warrants are required before law enforcement officers can administer breath tests and blood tests.  Based on that analysis, the Court decides whether states can make it illegal to refuse chemical tests in DUI cases.  The Court’s decision will impact Ohio DUI/OVI cases.

US Supreme Court Interior

After considering 13 cases involving criminal refusal laws, the Court chose these three cases:  Beylund v. Levi, Bernard v. Minnesota, and Birchfield v. North Dakota.  These three cases were apparently chosen because they have three varying scenarios.  Beylund claimed his consent to a blood test was coerced because he was told he would be punished for refusing the test.  Bernard challenged his conviction for refusing a breath test.  Birchfield argued his conviction for refusing a blood test was unconstitutional.  The Court issued one opinion for all three cases under the caption of Birchfield v. North Dakota.

The Birchfield opinion analyzes the Fourth Amendment issues.  The Court confirms that both breath tests and blood tests are ‘searches’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.  Fourth Amendment law presumes a warrantless search is unreasonable.  Accordingly, for a law enforcement officer to administer a blood test or a breath test, there must be a search warrant or a recognized exception to the search warrant requirement.

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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.

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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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