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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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. Continue Reading
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.