Articles Posted in DUI/OVI laws and cases

You may be more of a target than you think. When you think about people arrested for drunk driving, do you picture a car driving erratically all over the road? That’s a common misconception. Most stops resulting in DUI/OVI charges are for minor offenses: failing to signal, driving a little over the speed limit, crossing a lane line one time. Some are even for non-moving violations: burned-out headlight, no license plate light, expired registration. A case decided last week by the Ohio Supreme Court illustrates how a minor violation can lead to more serious charges.

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Is That Vehicle Black Or White?
The case is State v. Hawkins. Hawkins drove past a police officer, and the officer ran the vehicle’s plate. It was registered to a white 2001 GMC SUV, but it was on a black 2001 GMC SUV. The officer stopped Hawkins and asked for identification. Hawkins did not have identification but provided his name, date of birth, and social security number. In the meantime, the officer verified the vehicle’s identification number matched the number registered with the Ohio B.M.V.

The officer learned there was an active arrest warrant for Hawkins and informed Hawkins of this. Hawkins sped away, crashed the vehicle, and fled on foot. The officer apprehended Hawkins and charged him with Failing to Comply with the Order or Signal of a Police Officer. Hawkins was found guilty of the charge and appealed his conviction to the 12th District Court of Appeals. The 12th District affirmed the conviction, and Hawkins appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

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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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Anyone who has been charged with an OVI / DUI in Ohio has had the pleasure of listening to an officer read several paragraphs from the back of a form provided by the Ohio BMV. This often droll recitation is required by Ohio’s implied consent law, which says that anyone who operates a vehicle in the state implicitly consents to takes a blood/breath/urine test for drugs and/or alcohol if arrested for OVI. An implied consent law similar to Ohio’s was recently found to be unconstitutional by the Georgia Supreme Court.

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The Georgia Case
That recent case is Elliot v. Georgia. In that case, the Supreme Court of Georgia reviewed the state’s implied consent notice. Georgia’s notice is very similar to Ohio’s in form, with one major difference: Georgia’s includes a sentence stating “Your refusal to submit to the required testing may be offered into evidence against you at trial.” It was this sentence which led to the Georgia Supreme Court evaluating their implied consent law.

As part of their evaluation, the Court reviewed the history of case law in their state, as well as the evolution of their ten (yes, 10) different state constitutions. Based on this review, the Georgia Supreme Court held the provision allowing the prosecution to use an OVI defendant’s test refusal against them in court is unconstitutional. The Court ruled that using a defendant’s refusal as evidence against them violated the right against self-incrimination as provided by the Georgia State Constitution.

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The credibility of a law enforcement officer makes a difference in court. Judges seem to presume officers are credible. Officers, however, can ruin their credibility with unprofessional conduct, uncorroborated claims, and unconfirmed clues. The trooper in a recent Franklin County case did just that, and it resulted in the court of appeals concluding the trooper’s arrest of the defendant was unlawful.

The case is State v. Simmons. The trooper clocked Simmons driving 57 mph in a 35 mph zone. The trooper did a U-turn, accelerated hard, and approached Simmons rapidly, without activating the cruiser lights or siren. In response, Simmons accelerated. The trooper chased Simmons at speeds exceeding 90 mph in a hilly area, and both crossed the center line or veered into the turn lane several times. The pursuit continued for over 30 seconds before the trooper activated the cruiser lights and siren.

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No problem with Lack Of Convergence (LOC)

Simmons pulled over safely in a school driveway and stopped. The trooper had Simmons sit in the cruiser. The trooper observed that Simmons’ movements and speech were normal, but the trooper questioned Simmons about using alcohol and drugs.   Simmons denied using alcohol but admitted he smoked marijuana a couple days before the incident.

The trooper administered several field sobriety tests. On the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test (involuntary jerking of eyes), which troopers always say is the best because “the eyes don’t lie”, there were no clues. However, the trooper observed Simmons’ eyes didn’t cross on the Lack of Convergence test (failure of eyes to cross).

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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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In this space, we typically discuss issues related to OVI/DUI law. Today, however, we’re going to take a brief detour and discuss a growing issue: distracted driving. With the near ubiquity of cell phones, instances of fatal car accidents caused by distracted drivers have approached 3,500 nationally in recent years. This year, the State of Ohio passed a new law in an effort to combat this problem.

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The new law is not the first Ohio statute to combat distracted driving. Ohio has had a law against texting while driving on the books since 2012. The Ohio General Assembly now addresses the reality that smart phones present numerous distractions beyond simply texting. Effective October 29, 2018, ORC 4511.991 gives police and prosecutors the ability to enhance the sentence for a traffic offense committed while distracted if the distracting activity is a contributing factor to the commission of the offense. If this enhancement is proven, courts can assess up to an additional $100 in fines on top of any fines levied for the underlying traffic offense. Defendants can then choose to either pay the additional fines or take an online distracted driving safety course.

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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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