What is Sufficient Proof of Drugged Driving in Ohio?

Pills-with-blue-background-300x225When a driver is prosecuted for operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs (called ‘OVI’ in Ohio), what evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction?  The prosecution must prove the defendant operated a vehicle under the influence of a drug of abuse.  That requires the prosecution to prove the defendant was impaired while operating the vehicle, identify the specific drug which was ingested, and link the drug’s ingestion to the defendant’s impairment.

Three Elements of OVI the Prosecution Must Prove
In Ohio OVI cases, there are three essential elements of the offense which the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

  1. The defendant operated a vehicle. Operate means to move or cause movement of the vehicle.
  2. The defendant was under the influence while operating the vehicle. Under the influence means the drug adversely affected and noticeably impaired the defendant’s actions, reactions, or mental processes and affected the nervous system, brain, or muscles to impair, to a noticeable degree, his/her ability to operate the vehicle
  3. The impairment was caused by a drug of abuse. Drug of abuse means any controlled substance, dangerous drug, as defined in section 4729.01 of the Ohio Revised Code, or over-the-counter medication that, when taken in quantities exceeding the recommended dosage, can result in impairment of judgment or reflexes.

The Drug of Abuse Must Be Identified
Ohio law requires that the prosecution’s evidence identify the specific drug which allegedly caused the defendant’s impairment.  In some cases, identifying the specific drug is easy for the prosecution.  For example, a blood or urine test may show the presence of a specific drug of abuse.  Alternatively, the defendant may tell the officer what drug was ingested.

In other cases, the prosecution is unable to identify the specific drug.  In the case of State v. Husted, the defendant was impaired and said he had snorted drugs.  However, the defendant did not say what drugs he snorted, and the defendant refused to consent to a urine test.  The Court of Appeals concluded there was insufficient evidence for an OVI conviction because there was no proof the snorted drug was a drug of abuse.

There Must be a Nexus Between the Drug and Impairment
The prosecution must prove the drug of abuse ingested by the defendant caused the defendant’s impairment.  That means there must be evidence the drug causes impairing effects.  That evidence may come from the testimony of a witness who knows how the defendant is affected by the drug, or an expert witness may testify the drug has side effects which would impair a person’s ability to operate a vehicle.

Expert testimony is not required to link the ingestion of an identified drug with impairment.  In State v. Richardson, the defendant was clearly driving while impaired.  The officer testified, based on his training and experience, he believed Richardson was under the influence of a narcotic.  Richardson told the officer he took hydrocodone.  The Court found the evidence proved the nexus between the hydrocodone ingestion and impairment, so the evidence was sufficient to convict Richardson of OVI.

Conversely, in the case of State v. May, the Court found the state failed to prove a nexus between the defendant’s impairment and a drug of abuse.  May was driving while impaired and told the officer he ingested Cymbalta, a drug used to treat pain and anxiety (he also drank beer with the medication).  The prosecution did not present evidence showing Cymbalta has impairing effects, so the Court found the evidence was insufficient to convict the defendant of OVI.

Ohio OVI defense lawyers who represent clients for drugged driving must know what evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction and must recognize when the prosecution is unable to prove the essential elements of OVI beyond aeaso rnable doubt.

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