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.
Texting is arguably more dangerous than drunk driving. According to a study conducted by Car And Driver, a driver’s reaction time is worse while texting than while intoxicated. With nearly all drivers in possession of a cell phone, it seems likely many more people are driving while texting than driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. For decades, law enforcement has developed methods to detect drunk driving. Officers now need a way to detect texting while driving without violating individuals’ right to privacy. Is the new “Textalyzer” the answer?
I’m traveling to another state for a seminar next week. It just so happens the state is Nevada, and the seminar is in Las Vegas. For me, there is no risk of being convicted of DUI in Nevada because the trip is all about education! Sometimes, however, an Ohio driver comes home with the unwanted souvenir of an out-of-state DUI conviction. When it comes to DUI, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas: there are consequences in Ohio for a DUI conviction in another state.
The consequence in Ohio for an out-of-state DUI conviction is suspension of the person’s Ohio driver license. Another state cannot suspend an Ohio driver’s license. Instead, if that state is part of the Interstate Driver License Compact, that state transmits to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) information that the Ohio driver was convicted of DUI in the other state. The Ohio BMV then takes action against the person’s Ohio driver’s license according to Ohio law.
Ohio law instructs the Ohio BMV to impose a license suspension on any person who is convicted of DUI in another state. Ohio Revised Code 4510.17 states the suspension shall be a ‘Class D’ suspension, which means the suspension is six months. When the BMV receives the report from the other state, the BMV sends a notice to the driver indicating his or her driver license will be suspended beginning 21 days after the day the notice was issued.
When authorities found Donna Wardell in her Chevrolet Impala, the car was upside-down, held in the air by part of the utility pole she just hit (see the story at app.com). Medics pulled her out of the car through the windshield and rushed her to the hospital. The medical team determined the crash was the result of a seizure caused by a brain tumor. Wardell did not know about the tumor: she learned of it in the hospital. She later learned something else: she was being charged with DWI because, when the medics removed Wardell from her car, they observed the odor of alcohol.
The odor of alcohol. Based on that evidence alone, a police officer charged Wardell with DWI (called OVI in Ohio). It was the only evidence suggesting Wardell might be under the influence of alcohol. Upon closer examination, however, the odor of alcohol really is not evidence she was under the influence. At most, it’s evidence she consumed alcohol. There is no way to tell from the odor how much alcohol she consumed and whether that alcohol was affecting her ability to drive.
Her ability to drive was not affected by alcohol, as there was essentially no alcohol in her blood. A toxicology report showed her blood alcohol concentration was .001. At that level, the alcohol did not cause the crash. Another hospital record concluded the crash was the result of a medical accident: a seizure caused by the tumor.
It’s Independence Day. We’re celebrating our freedom, and we’re celebrating everything which makes the U.S.A. a great nation. One thing which makes this nation great is it’s ultimately governed by laws, not people. The framework for our laws is the Constitution, and the part of the Constitution which guarantees much of the freedom we’re celebrating today is the Bill Of Rights. The founders of this nation put their lives on the line for that freedom. Soldiers in our military protect the country and preserve our freedom from foreign oppression. But who is protecting our freedom from domestic oppression and preserving the liberties promised by the Bill Of Rights?
We enjoy our individual rights. We don’t want law enforcement breaking into our homes and seizing our possessions without a warrant: we want the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. We don’t want officers beating suspects until they confess: we want the freedom from self-incrimination. We don’t want the government summarily convicting people of crimes in a one-sided secret proceeding: we want a public trial by jury in which the process is fair.
To deter the government from violating Constitutional rights, we use the exclusionary rule. If officers break into a defendant’s house and seize the murder weapon without a warrant, testimony regarding that murder weapon is excluded from trial. If an officer beats a suspect until he confesses, that confession is excluded from trial. The immediate result may be the defendant whose rights were violated is acquitted of a crime he committed. The long-term result is law enforcement is generally deterred from violating citizens’ individual rights.
Suppose you are driving around Columbus on I-270 and an officer pulls you over for speeding. The officer gets out of his cruiser and walks up to your car. When the officer reaches your window, you see on his uniform he is from the Cincinnati Police Department. ‘That’s odd’, you think, ‘why is an officer from Cincinnati making a traffic stop in Columbus?’ Good question. A better question is this: does that traffic stop violate your Constitutional rights?
An officer from the Cincinnati Police Department does not have statutory authority to make a traffic stop for a minor misdemeanor in Columbus. According to Ohio statutory law, an officer only has such authority within the geographic boundaries of the political subdivision employing the officer. Therefore, the Cincinnati officer’s stop for a minor traffic offense in Columbus violates Ohio law. The question still remains whether the officer’s violation of the law is also a violation of the driver’s Constitutional rights.
The answer is ‘yes’, according to the Ohio Supreme Court. In a decision released a few days ago, the Court held a traffic stop for a minor misdemeanor offense made without statutory authority to do so violates Article I, Section 14 of the Ohio Constitution. While the stop may not violate the United States Constitution, it violates the Ohio Constitution.
Imagine you are driving home on a central Ohio freeway after a late dinner and you are pulled over by a police officer. The officer says you were stopped for failing to use your turn signal when you changed lanes. The officer announces he smells the odor of alcohol and asks if you have been drinking. You did have a glass of wine with dinner. The officer then asks you to get out of the car for some field sobriety tests to “make sure you’re okay to drive”. Under what circumstances is the officer justified in doing this?
This entry is a follow-up to the last entry in this blog, which discussed the case of Rodriguez v. United States. Rodriguez involved a motorist stopped for a minor traffic violation and detained for a drug dog to arrive. The United States Supreme Court concluded the duration of the stop must not exceed the time necessary to address the traffic violation. The rule clarified in the Rodriguez case is this: any further detention is unlawful unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion the motorist is violating the law.
The rule clarified in Rodriguez is followed in Ohio DUI/OVI cases. If an officer stops a driver for a traffic violation, further detention of the driver for field sobriety testing is unlawful unless the officer has a reasonable suspicion the driver is under the influence. The issue often litigated is what constitutes a “reasonable suspicion”.
If a police officer stops you for a minor traffic violation, how long should the officer be permitted to detain you? Suppose the officer issues you a ticket or a warning for the minor traffic violation and then says he wants you to wait while he has a drug dog sniff your car? What do you say? If you say no, can the officer do it anyway?
These are the questions answered by the United States Supreme Court in the recent case of Rodriguez v. United States. Rodriguez was driving on a Nebraska road when he was stopped by Officer Struble for drifting onto the shoulder of the road for a couple seconds. Officer Struble checked the driver’s license of Rodriguez, then checked the driver’s license of his passenger, then issued a warning for the minor traffic offense. After issuing the warning, Officer Struble asked Rodriguez for permission to walk the police dog around the vehicle. Rodriguez declined.
Officer Struble further detained Rodriguez until a backup officer arrived. Struble then walked his K-9 around the vehicle of Rodriquez, and the dog alerted the presence of drugs in the vehicle. This occurred approximately seven or eight minutes after the officer issued the warning for the traffic violation. The officers searched the vehicle and found methamphetamine. Rodriguez’ motion to suppress that evidence was overruled by the trial court, and the trial court’s decision was upheld by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Rodriguez appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
Steven Anderson was drunk when he passed out on a rural highway. He was wearing dark clothing and went to sleep on the dark road around 1:00 am. There were no street lights in the area, and he was lying where there is a bend in the road. Darryl Saunders was drunk when he came driving around that bend. When he finally saw Anderson lying in the road, Saunders swerved to avoid him, but it was too late. He ran over Anderson, and Anderson died. Saunders’ blood alcohol concentration was tested at .150. Is Saunders criminally responsible for killing Anderson?
No, according to the judge who heard this case in Manitoba, Canada. The prosecutor argued Saunders could have avoided the collision if he were sober, so his intoxication was a significant cause of Anderson’s death. In addition, the prosecutor claimed, police testified it was not uncommon for intoxicated people to pass out on the street, so Saunders should have been on guard for drunks sleeping on the road.
The judge disagreed. He said, “On the contrary, one can easily imagine a scenario where just such an accident may occur in these circumstances without any impairment of the driver.” The Judge went on to say, “Ultimately, while I believe Mr Saunders’ impairment…likely or probably was a contributing cause to the accident, I cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that it in fact was a contributing cause, let alone a significant cause.” The judge found Saunders not guilty of causing Anderson’s death but convicted Saunders of drunk driving. A report of the case is on the website for the Winnipeg Sun.
Sometimes rules are not made to be broken. When it comes to cases of alleged driving under the influence, there are rules for drivers, and there are rules for the government. When a driver breaks the rules, there are consequences. There are also consequences when the government breaks the rules. When the broken rules relate to blood tests, the blood tests cannot be used as evidence.
The rules for DUI/OVI blood testing are found in the Ohio Revised Code and the Ohio Administrative Code. Section 4511.19 of the Ohio Revised Code states blood tests must be analyzed in accordance with methods approved by the Department of Health. The methods approved by the Department of Health, the ‘rules’, are regulations in chapter 3701-53 of the Ohio Administrative Code. For a blood test to be admissible, law enforcement must substantially comply with the Department of Health regulations. Two recent appellate cases illustrate law enforcement’s failure to comply with the regulations.
The first case is State v. McCall. The regulation at issue in McCall requires blood specimens to be collected in a container which contains a solid anticoagulant. The arresting officer checked a box on a checklist indicating the container had a solid anticoagulant. When questioned, however, the officer admitted he did not know if there was anything in the container. In addition, the phlebotomist who performed the blood draw testified she did not observe anything in the container and just assumed there was an anticoagulant in it. The trial court suppressed the blood test, and the court’s decision was upheld by the Court of Appeals because the prosecution failed to prove substantial compliance with the regulation requiring a solid anticoagulant.