A few days ago, the state of Ohio began imposing increased penalties for DUI (known in Ohio as OVI). The increased penalties are part of House Bill 388, commonly known as “Annie’s Law”*. The legislation is not really one law but a revision of nearly 20 statutes and creation of one new one. Effective April 6, 2017, “Annie’s Law” provides for longer driver license suspensions, encourages increased use of ignition interlock devices, and results in more defendants being punished as ‘repeat offenders’.

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Ohio DUI / OVI Driver License Suspensions Just Got Longer
If a person pleads guilty to OVI or is found guilty of OVI, the court must impose a driver license suspension. The length of the license suspension is chosen by the judge from a range mandated by legislation. The range mandated by legislation increased with Annie’s Law. The following table summarizes license suspension lengths for Ohio OVI convictions:

Offense in ten years Old license suspension New license suspension
First 6 months to 3 years 1 year to 3 years
Second 1 year to 5 years 1 year to 7 years
Third 2 years to 10 years 2 years to 12 years
Fourth or Fifth 3 years to life 3 years to life

 

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In Ohio, and throughout the United States, we have a Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  In Ohio OVI cases, that means an officer can only arrest a suspect if the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect operated a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.  In the recent case of State v. Bracken, the Court of Appeals concluded the arrest was not justified.

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The Officer Reportedly Observed Signs Of Intoxication
In the early morning hours, a police officer stopped Cody Bracken for driving 61 mph in a 45 mph zone.  The officer noticed a moderate odor of alcohol coming from Cody’s vehicle.  The officer also noticed Cody’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy, and his face was flushed.  The officer asked Cody about drinking alcohol, and Cody said he drank two beers.

Based on the officer’s observations, he administered field sobriety tests.  On the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, the officer reportedly observed six clues out of six possible clues.  On the Walk And Turn (WAT) test, the officer allegedly observed five out of eight possible clues.  On the One Leg Stand (OLS) test, the officer purportedly observed three of four possible clues.  On the partial alphabet test, Cody skipped a letter.  The officer arrested Cody and charged him with OVI ‘impaired’ in the Franklin County Municipal Court.

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Lawyers sometimes learn through trial and error;  literally.  Education at the school of hard knocks can be valuable, but learning from the experience of others has its own value.  One way attorneys can shorten the learning curve is by attending high quality continuing education seminars.  One outstanding annual seminar for DUI/OVI lawyers is ‘The Premiere Ohio DUI Defense Seminar’ sponsored by the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (OACDL).

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The focus of this year’s seminar, held last week, was drugged driving.  Ohio has seen an increase in the number of drivers charged with OVI for being under the influence of drugs.  With medical marijuana on the horizon, it’s likely the numbers of drugged driving cases will continue to increase.  With that in mind, the presentations addressed the science, the law and the litigation involved in drugged driving cases.

The Science Of Drugged Driving
Pharmacologist James O’Donnel taught the basics of pharmacokinetics.  He described, in terms understandable by non-scientists, the absorption, distribution and elimination of drugs in the human body.  Interestingly, he explained why retrograde extrapolation cannot accurately calculate the concentration of a drug in a person’s system at a particular point in the past;  like when the person was operating the vehicle.

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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.

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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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A smartphone app for breath-alcohol-testing was so promising that all five investors on Shark Tank collaborated on a deal for the first time.  In 2013, Charles Yim went on the show and pitched his app to the Sharks.  The Sharks collectively invested $1 million in Yim’s company Breathometer, Inc. for 30% of the company’s equity.  Three years later, the company was the subject of an FTC complaint, and the complaint was recently settled.

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The History-Making Shark Tank Pitch
The pitch to the Sharks sounded great.  People regularly drink alcohol and then drive, and nobody knows when they are over .08.  By downloading the app and plugging in a small piece of hardware to a smartphone audio jack, consumers could blow into the hardware and know their blood alcohol concentration in seconds.  In addition, the app would tell them how much time it would take to sober up, and it could even call a cab with one push of a button.

The Sharks were intrigued.  Yim was asking for one Shark to invest $250,000 for ten percent of the company’s equity.  Mark Cuban quickly offered to invest $500,000 for 20% equity.  Yim then invited the other Sharks to join, and they did:  all five of them.  Ultimately, Cuban put up $500,000 for 15%, and the other four Sharks together put up $500,000 for another 15%.

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Bad Facts Make Bad Law
If a police officer says a driver was under the influence of a drug, there is no need for testimony from an expert regarding whether the drug actually impairs driving. That is, essentially, the conclusion of the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Richardson. There is a saying among lawyers: “bad facts make bad law”. The precedent created by this case may qualify as ‘bad law’, and the circumstances of the case definitely qualifiy as ‘bad facts’.

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These are the facts. The defendant rear-ended another car and had a child with him in his truck. He then nudged the other car repeatedly because he left his truck in gear. His speech was slurred, he slid out of the truck, he dropped all his cards on the ground, he singed his hair trying to light a cigarette, he ‘failed’ all the field sobriety tests, and he refused a blood test. The defendant told the officer he was on pain medication and took hydrocodone (at some undetermined time).

The defendant was charged with Child Endangering and felony OVI. This was his second felony OVI. That means, before this incident, he already had four OVI convictions in the last six years or six OVI convictions in the last 20 years. The defendant was convicted, and the case ultimately was heard by the Ohio Supreme Court.

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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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When a celebrity is accused of DUI/OVI in Ohio, the celebrity’s cruiser video is often on the local news the next day. News outlets obtain cruiser videos by making public records requests with the arresting law enforcement agency. Those public records requests are routinely processed quickly. Sometimes, however, law enforcement agencies decline or delay release of the public records. A recent case decided by the Ohio Supreme Court addresses the details of releasing cruiser videos as public records.

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The case is State ex rel Cincinnati Enquirer v. Ohio Department of Public Safety. In that case, two cruisers from the Ohio State Highway Patrol were involved in a pursuit. The pursuit ended with the suspect crashing into a guardrail and being arrested. The suspect was charged with multiple felony offenses, including Fleeing And Eluding and Carrying a Concealed Weapon.

The Cincinnati Enquirer made a public records request for the ‘dash cam’ video from the two cruisers. The Ohio State Highway Patrol declined to provide the videos, claiming the videos were not subject to public records requests because the videos were confidential law enforcement investigatory records. The Enquirer filed a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court asking the Court to issue a writ of mandamus ordering the Highway Patrol to provide the cruiser videos.

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In Ohio DUI / OVI cases, mandatory minimum penalties are increased based on prior OVI convictions.  One issue faced by Ohio courts is whether a person’s OVI adjudication (‘conviction’) as a juvenile can be used to enhance a subsequent OVI sentence as an adult.  The Ohio Supreme Court recently issued an opinion which settles the issue.

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The case of State v. Hand did not involve an OVI, but the decision will apply to OVI convictions.  Hand was convicted of Aggravated Burglary, Aggravated Robbery, Kidnapping and Felonious Assault.  Those offenses are categorized as first degree felonies and second degree felonies.  Ohio Revised Code section 2929.13(F)(6) says the judge must impose a mandatory prison term for first and second degree felonies if the defendant has a prior conviction for a first or second degree felony.  Ohio Revised Code section 2901.08(A) says a juvenile adjudication for a criminal offense or traffic offense is a ‘conviction’ for purposes of determining the sentence in a later conviction.  Relying on those two Ohio Revised Code sections, the judge imposed a mandatory prison term.

Hand appealed the judge’s sentence, and the case was ultimately heard by the Ohio Supreme Court.  The Court noted the juvenile justice system is different than the adult criminal justice system.  Juvenile case dispositions are intended to be “civil and rehabilitative”, while adult sentencing is “criminal and punitive”.  The court also noted that, while juveniles are afforded most of the same Constitutional rights as adults, there is one right not required in juvenile court proceedings:  trial by jury.

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