Articles Posted in DUI/OVI lawyering

It Seems Like A Good Defense On Television
Television and movies would have us believe ‘circumstantial evidence’ is a viable defense in court.  You can picture the dramatic scene in which a defense lawyer tells a prosecutor the prosecutor’s case is ‘merely circumstantial’.  In a real courtroom, however, there is no defense of ‘circumstantial evidence’.  In fact, Ohio OVI convictions are almost always based on circumstantial evidence, as demonstrated by a recent Ohio appellate case.

Lawyer-giving-closing-argument-300x237

The recent case is State v. Foos.  Foos crashed his car into a concreate barrier wall.  Police officers responded to the accident scene observed that Foos seemed very intoxicated.  The officers smelled the strong odor of alcohol coming from Foos, heard Foos talking with slurred speech, and saw Foos was wearing a wrist band which appeared to be from a bar.  Foos had difficulty balancing, refused to perform field sobriety tests, and declined to take a breath test.

Foos’s friends testified that Foos only had one beer while they played pool at the bar, and Foos did not drink any alcohol while they were at the strip club.  A jury found Foos guilty of OVI, and Foos appealed to the Ninth District Court of Appeals.

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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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Hangover-man-after-party-300x210‘Tis the season for holiday parties. ’Tis also the season for DUI/OVI arrests (in Ohio, it’s called OVI). From Thanksgiving Eve (‘blackout Wednesday’) to New Year’s Day, officers are particularly ambitious about enforcing Ohio’s drunk driving laws this time of year.

But OVI convictions can be avoided. The first five recommendations below may help you avoid getting arrested and charged with OVI. If you get arrested anyway, the second five recommendations may help you avoid getting convicted of OVI and having that OVI conviction on your permanent record.

If You Want To Avoid Getting Arrested
10. Make a plan and stick to it. I can’t tell you how many times a client has told me they were not planning on driving that night, but circumstances changed, and they ended-up driving home. If you know you are going to drink alcohol, plan to wait to drive until the alcohol won’t affect your driving, or arrange alternate transportation. If circumstances change, don’t ‘end-up driving home’: call a cab or use a ride-sharing program like Uber or Lyft.
Bonus tip: ‘I was the most sober one of the group’ is not a valid defense!

9. Avoid driving during ‘drunk time’. In the minds of many police officers, the only people driving between 1:00 am and 3:00 am are police officers and drunks. If you are not driving a cruiser, some officers are going to presume you’ve been drinking and look for a reason to pull you over.

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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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Yes, I saw Carlos Santana perform at the House of Blues.  It’s true, I rented a convertible Mustang.  I admit I hiked a breath-taking trail in Red Rock Canyon.  I also acknowledge I enjoyed the luxury of Bellagio and saw amazing views from the High Roller.  However:  the primary purpose of my trip to Vegas was to learn more about DUI/OVI defense.

Photo of NCDD seminar name tag at Bellagio

I recently attended the annual ‘DWI Means Defend With Integrity’ seminar.  The seminar is co-sponsored by the National College for DUI Defense and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  It’s held in Las Vegas each year at the end of September or beginning of October; not a bad time to be in Vegas.  The location has historically been Caesar’s Palace, but for the last two years, the seminar has been held at Bellagio.  This year marks the 20th anniversary for the seminar, and I have attended for about 15 years.

 

This is a great seminar.  The speakers are some of the best DUI lawyers and experts from around the nation.  I have been practicing since 1997, and I have been focusing on DUI/OVI defense since 2002.  I feel like I have developed a bit of expertise in this area.  When I attend this seminar, however, I always learn more.  Hearing from the seminar faculty helps me avoid the limiting comparisons of my local market and allows me to benchmark against world class attorneys.  It also adds to my box of tools for winning.

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Practicing law is an art, not a science, and there are various methods to develop skill at the art of lawyering. One method is to learn the hard way. In a recent Ohio OVI case, the defense lawyer learned the hard way lesson number one for appealing an Administrative License Suspension (A.L.S.). Hopefully, others will learn from this example.

In Ohio, an A.L.S. is separate from the underlying charge of O.V.I. An A.L.S. is imposed if a suspect is arrested for O.V.I. and either refuses a chemical test for alcohol/drugs or tests ‘over the limit’. The length of the A.L.S. and the suspect’s eligibility for limited driving privileges depend on whether the suspect has prior O.V.I. convictions and/or prior test refusals.

Woody Allen with quote

The A.L.S. can be appealed. Although the A.L.S. is separate from the O.V.I. case, a defendant may appeal the A.L.S., and/or seek limited driving privileges, in the context of the O.V.I. case. The A.L.S. appeal is filed with the court in which the O.V.I. case is being held, and the A.L.S. appeal is typically heard by the same judge who hears the O.V.I. case.

The A.L.S. was appealed in the case of State v. Schertzer.  In that case, the defendant was arrested for O.V.I., and his breath test result was .303.  As a result, Schertzer was subjected to a 90-day A.L.S.  The defendant was arrested on June 6 and went to his initial court appearance on June 8.  On September 2, 86 days after his initial appearance in court, the defense lawyer filed an appeal of the A.L.S.

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Carrie Underwood’s plea, “Jesus, take the wheel” is being replaced with the hands free command, “Siri, take the wheel”. According to a recent forecast by Business Insider, there will be 10 million self-driving vehicles on the road by 2020. With that in mind, I have been asked several times, “Are you concerned driverless cars will hurt your business as a DUI lawyer?”

Driverless car interior with champaign bottles

I’m not. First, I do not expect a large number of completely self-driving cars on the road before my career ends. Second, a drunk in a driverless car can still be charged with DUI/OVI in Ohio. Third, if self-driving cars put an end to drunk driving, I will gladly transition to another career.

I do not expect driverless cars to take over the roads during my lifetime. By “driverless”, I mean cars which are fully autonomous. There is a distinction between semi-autonomous cars and fully autonomous cars. Semi-autonomous cars have auto-pilot-like features to control steering, accelerating, and braking. Fully autonomous cars transport passengers from one point to another with no intervention from the passengers. There are currently no fully autonomous cars for sale in the United States.

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Officer Richard Fiorito was a DUI supercop.  He was honored by Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for his efforts to combat DUI, and he was named a ‘top cop’ by the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM).  According to Inthesetimes.com, Fiorito averaged one DUI arrest each day he worked.  He was like a superhero fighting to keep the Chicago streets safe:  it was almost too good to be true.

Actually, it was too good to be true.  It turns out Fiorito falsely arrested dozens of people for DUI.  A typical scenario would look like this:  Fiorito would stop a driver for a minor traffic violation and administer field sobriety tests.  No matter how well the person performed on the tests, the officer would score them as ‘failing’.  He would then arrest them and charge them with DUI.  In court, most people would simply plead guilty at the first court appearance, and others would accept favorable plea bargains rather than go to trial.

Under arrest

There were a couple exceptions:  Steve Lopez and James Dean, Jr.  Steve Lopez was a commercial driver and had just earned his CDL.  To protect his future career, he could not plead guilty.  James Dean, Jr. had good witnesses to contradict Fiorito’s allegations:  other officers.  When Fiorito charged Dean with DUI, Dean had just left the police station where he encountered multiple police officers who did not believe he was under the influence.  Neither Dean nor Lopez was convicted.

Dean and Lopez each filed suit against the city of Chicago for false arrest and malicious prosecution.  They eventually settled with the city for $100,000 each.  The city also agreed to pay legal fees of about $250,000, according to a Chicago Tribune article. *

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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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Last week was the annual DUI/OVI seminar presented by the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (OACDL).  One of the slogans now attached to the seminar is ‘The Premiere Ohio DUI Defense Seminar’.  When I hear that slogan, two questions come to mind:
1.  Are there any other Ohio DUI defense seminars?
2.  If so, what makes this one the ‘premiere’ seminar?

Page one from Brochure for OACDL DUI seminar March 10-12 2016

Full disclosure:  I co-chaired the seminar this year, so my opinion is probably not unbiased.

With that said, my answers are:
1.  Yes, there are, in fact, several other seminars focused on Ohio DUI/OVI, and
2.  What makes this one the ‘premiere’ seminar is the topic of this blog entry.

One factor which makes the OACDL seminar impressive is the sheer volume of information.  The seminar lasts for about 20 hours.  During that time, about 35 speakers give presentations on topics relevant to DUI/OVI in Ohio.  No other Ohio DUI/OVI seminar comes close to providing that amount of information.  For some, such a long seminar may sound like a nightmare.  For me, it’s time well spent.

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