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

Defense attorneys and forensic experts have claimed for years breath-testing machines are unreliable. Those claims tend to fall on deaf ears due to the inherent bias of the source: defense attorneys are advocates for clients accused of crimes based on the results of the machines. Recently, however, more objective sources investigated the reliability of alcohol breath testers and concluded they are often unreliable.

Intoxilyzer-8000-I-Make-Mistakes-300x263The Investigative Report
The objective sources are Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver Greenberg. They are newspaper reporters who investigated breath-testing for an article in the New York Times. They interviewed more than 100 people for the investigation, including scientists, police officers, lawyers and executives. They also reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents, such as court records, corporate filings and contracts.

The investigation revealed some interesting facts. For example, in the past 12 months, more than 30,000 breath tests were thrown out. The investigation cited many defects with breath testing, including programming mistakes in software, improper calibration, and human error. What I found especially interesting was the investigation uncovered problems with portable breath-testers, evidential breath-testing devices, and one particular device which has created controversy in Ohio.

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The ever-growing number of states which have legalized either medical marijuana or recreational marijuana has created a number of issues for law enforcement and the justice system. Chief among those issues is the challenge of enforcing laws against operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana. In an effort to overcome this challenge, the Norwegian company Drauger developed the DrugTest 5000. This system uses a mouth swab, taken roadside, to help determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana or other drugs. The DrugTest 5000 has been in use in Norway since 2015 and has seen growing use in the United States. This test, however, is probably not the solution for law enforcement’s problems.

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Specific Problems With The Roadside Marijauana Test
While many hope the DrugTest 5000 will be to drugged driving what a breath test is to drunk driving, there are reasons to be skeptical. The first is the DrugTest 5000 can only detect the presence of drugs in a sample, not the amount. This means the DrugTest 5000 operates like a breath testing machine that can’t differentiate between a driver who had one beer and a driver who had 12.

The second reason to be skeptical is found in a 2018 joint study between the Oslo University Hospital and the Norwegian Mobile Police Service. The researchers found the DrugTest 5000 isn’t able to accurately identify drugs in a driver’s saliva. Over the course of the study, the DrugTest 5000 was found to have a false positive result for THC 14.5% of the time and a false negative result 13.4% of the time.

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As discussed previously in this space, we have been eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in Mitchell v. Wisconsin. The Court set out to determine whether Wisconsin’s Implied Consent statute requires police to obtain a search warrant before getting a blood sample from an unconscious DUI suspect. The state of Wisconsin argued that Mitchell, through the state’s Implied Consent statute, had already consented to the blood draw, thereby removing the requirement for a warrant. Alternatively, they argued this should simply be viewed as an exercise of the State’s power to imposes conditions on a person’s privilege to operate a vehicle on Wisconsin’s roads.

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In a 5-4 plurality decision, the Supreme Court disregarded both of these arguments and held the warrantless blood draw from an unconscious DUI suspect typically falls within the ‘exigent circumstances’ exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, so a search warrant is typically not required.

The Court’s Plurality Decision
Justice Alito wrote the opinion for himself, Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Breyer and Justice Kavanaugh. The opinion first acknowledges that the Court held in the past the dissipation of alcohol in blood does not, in and of itself, trigger the exigent circumstances exception, so a search warrant is typically necessary for a blood test. However, the opinion then states the presence of other factors could put additional time constraints on the police. Based on this logic, Justice Alito created a new two-prong test to determine if a blood draw from a DUI suspect would fall within the exigency exception:

1) The alcohol in the suspect’s blood is dissipating; and
2) Some other factors create pressing health, safety, or law enforcement needs that take priority over a search warrant application.

The court also determined that, if a defendant shows their blood would not have been drawn but for the police collecting BAC evidence, the exigent circumstances exception would no longer apply, so a search warrant would be required. Because Mitchell was never able to make such a showing, the Court remanded the case back to Wisconsin state court to apply this new two-part test.

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Ohio and Pennsylvania are two states which still prosecute drivers for DUI / OVI marijuana, even if the marijuana metabolites in the driver’s system are not affecting the person’s ability to drive. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office recently announced it will not prosecute cannabis DUIs unless the driver has amounts of psychoactive THC which affect driving. Ohio prosecutors should consider implementing this policy.

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Two Types Of DUI/OVI Laws In Ohio
Ohio’s two general types of OVI are OVI ‘impaired’ and OVI ‘per se’. For a charge of OVI ‘impaired’, the prosecution must prove that, at the time of operating the vehicle, the driver was ‘under the influence’ of alcohol and/or drugs. ‘Under the influence’ means the alcohol and/or drugs “affected the nervous system, brain or muscles of the defendant so as to impair, to a noticeable degree, his ability to operate the vehicle”.

For a charge of OVI ‘per se’ the prosecution must prove that, at the time of operating the vehicle, the driver had a prohibited concentration of alcohol or drugs in his breath, blood or urine. The prohibited concentration of alcohol is .08%. The prohibited concentration of marijuana metabolite is 35 nanograms per milliliter of urine or 50 nanograms per milliliter of blood.

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The United States Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the case of Mitchell v. Wisconsin. As this blog discussed previously, this the third case in a series of cases dealing with whether the police can take a DUI/OVI suspect’s blood without a search warrant. The questions and statements from the bench during the oral argument may telegraph how each justice views the issue. However, in our experience, it is difficult to predict the outcome of a case based on the oral arguments.

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The Trilogy of Cases Involving Warrantless Blood Draws
In Missouri v. McNeely, the Court concluded the dissipation of alcohol in blood does not necessarily create an exigent circumstance, meaning a warrant is generally required to obtain a blood sample from a DUI/OVI suspect. They followed that decision with Birchfield v. North Dakota, concluding a warrantless breath test can be administered as a ‘search incident to arrest’, but a blood test still generally requires a warrant.

That brings us to the third piece of the puzzle, Mitchell v. Wisconsin. In that case, the defendant passed out before the police were able to administer a breath test. Relying on Wisconsin’s Implied Consent statute, the police took the defendant to the hospital and had his blood drawn without a warrant. Mitchell was convicted of the DUI charge; and appealed his conviction on the ground the blood draw was an unconstitutional violation of his 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

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Brynn Campbell was involved in a head on-crash which killed the 83-year-old woman driving the other car. Campbell was taken to the hospital, and hospital staff performed a urine test. Although Campbell showed no obvious signs of impairment, a police officer went to the hospital and asked the nurse for the urine test results. The results showed Campbell’s alcohol level was well over the limit, according to the Global News. The officer then obtained a search warrant to obtain Campbell’s urine samples and have them tested. Campbell was charged with vehicular homicide. She was acquitted by the trial court, and the prosecution appealed.

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The issue for the appeal was whether the defendant’s rights were violated if the urine test results were introduced as evidence at the trial. The Court of Appeal ruled this was a breach of Campbell’s constitutional rights. The Court commented that the police conduct was serious and stated, “The police intentionally obtained information from hospital staff in breach of medical confidentiality and relied on that information to obtain a warrant that otherwise could not have been issued.” The Court of Appeal upheld Campbell’s acquittal.

What Would Ohio Do?
In Ohio, we have a pair of laws which address the issue of law enforcement officers obtaining alcohol/drug test results from health care providers. Ohio Revised Code section 2317.022 states an officer who wishes to obtain such records can make a written request to the health care facility. Ohio Revised Code section 2317.02 states that, if an officer makes such a request, the health care facility shall supply to requested records. That statute has an exception for situations in which providing the records is specifically prohibited by any Ohio or federal law.

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Just as Hollywood has produced some good movies in trilogies, the United States Supreme Court has produced some good case law in trilogies. The Court addressed the right to confront crime lab analysts with the trinity of Bullcoming, Melendez-Diaz and Williams. On the issue of the need for a warrant to draw blood from a DUI suspect, two-thirds of the triad have been completed: McNeely and Birchfield. The triumvirate is about to be consummated with Mitchell v. Wisconsin.

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The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. The general rule is, for a search to be reasonable, there must be a search warrant issued by a judicial officer. There are many exceptions to that general rule. The question addressed by this tripod of cases is this: when is the government permitted to seize a DUI suspect’s bodily substances without a search warrant?

 

McNeely and Birchfield
One search warrant exception was analyzed in the first episode of this case law triumvirate: Missouri v. McNeely. McNeely dealt with the exception for searches based on ‘exigent circumstances’: when there is a compelling need for the search and not enough time to obtain a search warrant. The prosecution claimed DUI cases always involve exigent circumstances because the suspect’s blood alcohol concentration decreases with time. The Court concluded the dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not necessarily create exigent circumstances, so a warrant is generally necessary to obtain a DUI suspect’s blood.

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I thought it was dead. In the jurisdictions where I handle OVI cases, I had not seen the Intoxilyzer 8000 used for years. To my surprise, I recently received discovery materials which showed my client’s breath test was done on an I-8000. Given the challenges faced by this machine when it was first brought to life in Ohio, I thought the State may let it rest in peace.

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The Life And Death Of The Intoxilyzer 8000 In Ohio
In 2009, Ohio spent about $6.5 million to purchase hundreds of Intoxilyzer 8000 machines. The purchase of the machines was controversial, as the State chose to purchase those machines rather than the BAC Datamaster, which was manufactured in Ohio. Adding to the controversy was the fact that the head of the Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Testing (Dean Ward) was close friends with the manufacturer of the Intoxilyzer 8000: CMI. In fact, Dean Ward later retired and went to work for CMI.

As the new machines were rolled out in counties across Ohio, defense lawyers challenged their reliability. In the 2011 case of State v. Gerome, several expert witnesses testified for and against the I-8000. The judge ultimately decided the results of the tests on the I-8000 could be used as evidence, but that evidence could be challenged in various ways. In the wake of Gerome, the attacks on the reliability of the I-8000 continued throughout the state.

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The last post in this blog described how crime lab reports are used in Ohio DUI / OVI cases. In a nutshell: a lab technician issues a report identifying the quantity of alcohol or drugs in a person’s blood or urine, and that report is given to the prosecutor. Ohio legislation requires the prosecutor to provide the report to the defense attorney. Ohio legislation, however, is not the only law impacting the use of these reports. The Constitutions of Ohio and the United States also provide limitations on the use of crime lab reports in Ohio DUI / OVI cases.

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Defendants’ Confrontation Rights
In a criminal prosecution, defendants have the right to confront the witnesses against them. This right is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution. Confrontation rights clearly apply to statements a witness makes during a trial:  the defendant cross-examines that witness at the trial. But what about statements made by a witness before the trial?

The United States Supreme Court addressed this question in Crawford v. Washington (2004). In this case, the Court held confrontation rights apply to out-of-court statements which are “testimonial” in nature. A statement is “testimonial” if an objective person would reasonably believe the statement would be available for use at a later trial. For example, if a person makes a report to the police, that person’s statements to the police would be considered “testimonial”. According to Crawford, testimonial statements cannot be used in a criminal trial unless the accused has the opportunity to cross-examine the person who made the testimonial statement.

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Although Ohio courtrooms may not seem as dramatic and intriguing as those on C.S.I., crime laboratory tests are regularly a part of Ohio criminal cases. In Ohio DUI / OVI cases, and in drug-related cases, crime lab technicians use scientific tests to identify drugs. The lab techs write reports about the analyses and sometimes testify at trial about the tests. A recent case in an Ohio appellate court discusses the detailed procedure for using crime lab reports in Ohio DUI / OVI and criminal trials.

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The case is Kettering v. Maston. Maston was pulled over for a questionable marked lanes violation after leaving a known drug house. As one officer was writing a traffic ticket, another officer ran a drug dog around Maston’s vehicle. The drug dog alerted, and the officers searched Maston’s passenger compartment. The officers seized a container of pills which they suspected were controlled substances and charged Maston with Possessing Controlled Substances.

The officers sent the pills to the crime laboratory at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI). A laboratory technician analyzed the pills and wrote a report. The report identified the pills as Alprazolam (Xanax). The report was delivered to the prosecuting attorney.

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