Articles Tagged with Ohio DUI/OVI cases

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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The last post in this blog described how crime lab reports are used in Ohio DUI / OVI cases. In a nutshell: a lab technician issues a report identifying the quantity of alcohol or drugs in a person’s blood or urine, and that report is given to the prosecutor. Ohio legislation requires the prosecutor to provide the report to the defense attorney. Ohio legislation, however, is not the only law impacting the use of these reports. The Constitutions of Ohio and the United States also provide limitations on the use of crime lab reports in Ohio DUI / OVI cases.

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Defendants’ Confrontation Rights
In a criminal prosecution, defendants have the right to confront the witnesses against them. This right is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution. Confrontation rights clearly apply to statements a witness makes during a trial:  the defendant cross-examines that witness at the trial. But what about statements made by a witness before the trial?

The United States Supreme Court addressed this question in Crawford v. Washington (2004). In this case, the Court held confrontation rights apply to out-of-court statements which are “testimonial” in nature. A statement is “testimonial” if an objective person would reasonably believe the statement would be available for use at a later trial. For example, if a person makes a report to the police, that person’s statements to the police would be considered “testimonial”. According to Crawford, testimonial statements cannot be used in a criminal trial unless the accused has the opportunity to cross-examine the person who made the testimonial statement.

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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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Jamie was driving down the highway with her boyfriend when a police officer stopped Jamie for speeding. It turned out Jamie did not have a driver license, and there was an active warrant for her arrest. The officer put Jamie in the back of his cruiser and placed her under arrest.

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Jamie’s purse was still in the car with her boyfriend, and her boyfriend owned the car. The officer decided to retrieve Jamie’s purse from the car and search it. The officer found drugs and drug paraphernalia in the purse, and Jamie was charged with crimes for possessing those items. In this case, State v. Banks-Harvey, the Ohio Supreme Court had to decide whether the officer’s search of Jamie’s purse violated Jamie’s right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Both the federal Constitution and the Ohio Constitution protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures. A search conducted without a search warrant, like this one, is presumed to be unreasonable, unless it fits within a recognized exception to the search warrant requirement. In this case, the prosecution argued the search was justified as an inventory search.

 

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When a machine is given the power to convict a person of a crime, we should be absolutely certain the machine is working properly. In Ohio, machines are used to measure the concentration of alcohol in the breath of drivers. A driver who operates a vehicle with a breath alcohol concentration of .080 or more is guilty of OVI, even if that person’s ability to drive was not impaired by the alcohol. As breath-testing machines have that much power, the accuracy and precision of the machines is critical, so they are subjected to a weekly instrument check. A recent case by an Ohio appellate court downplays the importance of those weekly instrument checks.

The case is State v. Hicks. In that case, Hicks was arrested for OVI and taken to a police station for a breath test. The result of the breath test was over .080, so Hicks was charged with OVI ‘per se’. The defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the breath test, and the judge held a hearing on that motion.

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Breath Testing Machines Must ‘Pass The Test’ Each Week
For a breath test result to be admissible as evidence, the prosecution must prove, among other things, at least two critical facts: (1) the machine was working properly at the time of the defendant’s test; and (2) the machine was maintained in substantial compliance with the regulations in the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC).

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The reasonable person. Courts make many decisions using the test of what ‘a reasonable person’ would do/think/feel under certain circumstances. Older cases used the ‘reasonable man’ standard, but newer cased have modernized the test with gender neutrality. In the recent case of Cleveland v. Oles, the Ohio Supreme Court concluded a reasonable person stopped by a police officer and placed in a cruiser would not necessarily believe he or she is ‘in custody’, so Miranda warnings are not required.

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To properly understand the Oles decision, one must first understand the Miranda warnings. Everyone seems to be familiar with the warnings from movies and television (iTunes and Netflix for those born after 1999). Few people, however, seem to understand their origin, development and interpretation.

The United States Constitution and the Ohio Constitution both protect our right against self-incrimination. The the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution contain essentially the same language: ‘no person ‘shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself’.

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Fourth amendment law does not lend itself to mathematical formulas. Rather than using equations to decide Constitutional issues, courts look at the totality of the circumstances and make decisions on a case-by-case basis. This is particularly true when it comes to the issue of whether an officer had probable cause to justify an arrest. However, one theorem illustrated by a recent Ohio OVI case is this: clues on Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) does not equal Probable Cause (PC).

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The case is State v. Kopp. An officer observed the rear license plate was not functioning on Kopp’s vehicle. The officer ran the vehicle’s license plate, which he could read even without the license plate light, and learned the owner of the vehicle had an expired driver license from the state of Ohio. The officer stopped the vehicle. Before stopping the vehicle, the officer had not observed any evidence the driver may be under the influence.

After stopping the vehicle, the officer learned the driver, Kopp, had a valid driver license from the state of Georgia. During the stop, the officer observed the odor of fresh marijuana, as well as the odor of alcohol, and Kopp admitted to smoking marijuana. The officer also noted Kopp’s eyes were very glassy and somewhat bloodshot. The officer asked Kopp to get out of the vehicle for field sobriety testing.

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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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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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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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