Articles Posted in DUI/OVI laws and cases

We all remember learning in school the Fourth Amendment is the one which requires police to get a warrant to search your house or arrest you. That bullet point is great for helping kids learn the basics of their Constitutional rights; but, in practice, Fourth Amendment law is far more complex and far less certain. The complexity and uncertainty is illustrated by two recent Ohio DUI / OVI cases in which the same court looks at two very similar cases and comes to completely opposite conclusions.

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Before we get to the cases, we need to lay some ground work. Ohio courts have long held that a driver is seized for Fourth Amendment purposes when an officer asks the driver to perform Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). Normally, an officer must have probable cause to seize a person in the form of an arrest. However, detaining a driver for FSTs is a lesser type of seizure and therefore is subject to a lesser standard than probable cause: reasonable suspicion. To detain a driver for FSTs, an officer must have a reasonable suspicion the driver is under the influence.

This raises an interesting question: When does a police officer have the required reasonable suspicion to order you out of your vehicle and request that you complete FSTs? This is precisely the question the Fifth District Court of Appeals answered when deciding two recent cases.

 

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When a trooper’s DUI charge is dismissed, it may appear the trooper is getting special treatment. In the case of N.C. trooper Dennis Tafoya, the DUI charge was dismissed because the evidence didn’t prove he committed a crime. Although he may have been very intoxicated while sitting in his car, the car was not running. In North Carolina, that is not an offense. In Ohio, the law is different.

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According to the news report about the trooper’s case, officers found him passed out in the driver’s seat of his vehicle, parked near the courthouse. The officers ordered him out of the vehicle and asked him if the vehicle was on. He said yes. The officers determined the trooper was intoxicated, arrested him, and charged him with DUI (called “OVI” in Ohio).

Footage from the officers’ body cameras showed the trooper’s vehicle was not running. One of the officers went to move the car and learned the keys were not in the ignition. It turned out the keys were in the trooper’s pants pocket the entire time: they were not in the ignition when the officers arrived. Once the officer got the ignition key from the arrested trooper, the officer found the trooper’s vehicle was in gear. The vehicle was apparently a stick shift, so, if it was in gear, it could not have been running.

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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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Most police officers probably do not go to work hoping to witness a suspect provide a urine sample. It’s likely not one of those things they go home and share with their family and friends. But it’s one of those things Ohio law requires in OVI cases. If a suspect is arrested and asked to provide a urine sample, an Ohio Department of Health regulation states, “The collection of the urine specimen must be witnessed”. The precise meaning of “witnessed” was the subject of a recent case in an Ohio court of appeals.

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The case is State v. Woltz. The defendant, Woltz, was arrested for OVI and taken to a police station. At the station, Woltz was asked to submit to a urine test, and she consented. The defendant was a female, and the arresting officer was a male. Accordingly, the officer asked a female dispatcher to witness the collection of the urine specimen. The urine specimen was given to the officer and sent to a crime lab. The crime lab analyzed the urine specimen and determined it contained marijuana, cocaine, and MDMA. Woltz was charged with OVI.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the urine test. At the motion hearing, the female dispatcher did not testify. The officer testified that Woltz and the female dispatcher went into the women’s restroom with an empty vial and came out with a vial containing what appeared to be urine. The judge granted the motion to suppress because, without the testimony of the female dispatcher, the prosecution did not prove the urine sample was witnessed and authenticated. The prosecution appealed the judge’s ruling to the court of appeals.

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After years of working as a first officer for a commercial airline, Andrea is finally about to become a captain. To celebrate, she goes to dinner with friends and has a couple drinks. On the way home, she forgets to signal a right turn, and an officer stops her. The officer smells alcohol and has Andrea perform field sobriety tests. The officer says he notices ‘clues’ on the tests and arrests Andrea for DUI (called OVI in Ohio). As the cuffs go on, all she can think about is what will happen to her pilot’s license and her career.

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Legal Turbulence For The Pilot And Her Attorney
It seems logical that a pilot’s license would only be jeopardized if the pilot is convicted of OVI. What makes sense logically is not always what occurs with the federal government. And it is the federal government, specifically the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has responsibility for pilot (“airman”) licenses. The FAA will, in fact, impose sanctions for an OVI conviction. But there are other infractions, not obvious to attorneys, for which pilots could crash and burn.

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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.

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‘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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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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Fourth amendment law does not lend itself to mathematical formulas. Rather than using equations to decide Constitutional issues, courts look at the totality of the circumstances and make decisions on a case-by-case basis. This is particularly true when it comes to the issue of whether an officer had probable cause to justify an arrest. However, one theorem illustrated by a recent Ohio OVI case is this: clues on Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) does not equal Probable Cause (PC).

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The case is State v. Kopp. An officer observed the rear license plate was not functioning on Kopp’s vehicle. The officer ran the vehicle’s license plate, which he could read even without the license plate light, and learned the owner of the vehicle had an expired driver license from the state of Ohio. The officer stopped the vehicle. Before stopping the vehicle, the officer had not observed any evidence the driver may be under the influence.

After stopping the vehicle, the officer learned the driver, Kopp, had a valid driver license from the state of Georgia. During the stop, the officer observed the odor of fresh marijuana, as well as the odor of alcohol, and Kopp admitted to smoking marijuana. The officer also noted Kopp’s eyes were very glassy and somewhat bloodshot. The officer asked Kopp to get out of the vehicle for field sobriety testing.

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