Articles Posted in DUI/OVI laws and cases

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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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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