Ohio Dui

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Futility of Appeal

A recent Ohio Supreme Court case demonstrates the futility felt by many Defendants and their attorneys even when the higher court sustains the Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence that is fundamental to the prosecution of one accused of OVI in Ohio.

The case, O'Neill v. Mayberry, 2010 Ohio 1707, involved a defendant charged with (1) aggravated vehicular assault in violation of R.C. 2903.08(A)(1)(a), a third degree felony; (2) failure to stop after an accident in violation of R.C. 4549.02(A) and (B), a third degree felony; (3) aggravated vehicular homicide in violation of R.C. 2903.06(A)(1)(a), a second degree felony; (4) operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol in violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a), a first degree misdemeanor; and (5) operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol in violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(f), a first degree misdemeanor. A conviction of the more serious charges had to be predicated on a successful prosecution of one of the charges under R.C. 4511.19.

The trial court denied O'Neill's motion to suppress the results of his blood alcohol tests performed after his arrest. Pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement, O'Neill entered pleas of no contest to Counts 1, 2, 3, and 5, Count 5 being the OVI charge. In exchange, the state dismissed Count 4, the per se violation, and O'Neill was sentenced on his no contest pleas. The Defendant appealed his convictions and the Supreme Court sustained his motion to suppress. resulting in the dismissal of the per se violation. It is important to note that the court in its opinion stated that “...O'Neill's convictions for aggravated vehicular homicide and aggravated vehicular assault depended upon a violation of R.C. 4511.19.”

Nonetheless, the state re-instituted prosecution of O’Neill on the original charges. O’Neill attempted to have these charges dismissed by filing a Writ of Prohibition with the Supreme Court claiming the lower court no longer had jurisdiction to try the charges.

The Ohio Supreme Court disagreed saying, “[i]n the absence of a patent and unambiguous lack of jurisdiction, a court having general subject-matter jurisdiction can determine its own jurisdiction, and a party challenging that jurisdiction has an adequate remedy by appeal,” State ex rel. Shimko v. McMonagle (2001), 92 Ohio St.3d 426, 428-429...Upon remand from an appellate court, the lower court is required to proceed from the point at which the error occurred...Accordingly, when we remanded the case to the trial court following our determination that the trial court should have granted the motion to suppress, respondent was required to proceed from the point at which the error occurred, that is, after he denied the motion to suppress but before the plea agreement in which the state dismissed the general DUI charge.”

So, while the per se violation was dismissed, the state was permitted to go forward on the OVI charge, thus predicating a conviction of the more serious offenses based upon a conviction of that OVI case.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Searches Incident to Arrest

The Gant decision may be a bit afield of the issue of DUI, but it is important that anyone being arrested for a traffic offense be aware of their rights against illegal searches. To summarize Gant, the US Supreme Court limited an arresting officer’s right to search the vehicle when 1) the occupants are outside the vehicle and no longer have access to the vehicle and 2) there is no indication that the search was initiated to preserve evidence of the offense for which the offender was arrested.

A recent Ohio decision used the Gant decision in determining an officer’s right to search even if the subject of the arrest was other than a traffic violation. The case, State v. Gilbert, 184 Ohio App.3d 642 involved the arrest of the driver and his passengers. The automobile was stopped for a traffic offense. A warrant search found that the driver was driving under a suspended license and the front-seat passenger had an outstanding warrant for robbery. All three occupants were vacated from the car and the arresting officer proceeded to make a search of the vehicle.

The syllabus stated the following:

“Police may search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant's arrest only when the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search. Circumstances unique to the vehicle context justify a search incident to a lawful arrest when it is reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle.”

The court’s opinion expanded on this point by stating:

“...the search is not justified under either branch of the standard established in Gant. When the search occurred...and all occupants of the car had been removed and were under police control. Thus, at the time of the search, no occupant had access to, or was within reaching distance of, the vehicle's passenger compartment. There is also no indication that the search was initiated to discover evidence relevant either to the crime that had been committed by the driver, or the crime for which there was an outstanding warrant to arrest the front-seat passenger. A passenger in the front seat had also been arrested on an outstanding warrant for robbery, but there is no indication that the officers were searching for evidence relevant to that crime, or that evidence was likely to be present relevant to that crime, which would have occurred some time in the past, since a warrant had been issued.”

A major debate is raging in Ohio relative to the right of an officer to search the vehicle after an arrest as a result of the Gant decision. The Gilbert case, I believe, further defines the limits of a police office’s right to search a vehicle for ANY reason. It appears Gilbert estops the officer from conducting an “inventory” search subsequent to arrest. Unless the search can be justified in furtherance of a search to accumulate evidence of the crime for which the accused is being charged, a search warrant must be obtained prior to any search.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Your Constitutional Right Against Self-Incrimination Now has a 14 Day Warranty!

A recent US Supreme Court case dealt a serious blow to your right against self-incrimination. Historically, “Miranda” rights included the rule that once the police were aware the accused was represented by counsel, they could not interrogate the accused without having the accused’s attorney present. This rule applied to any interrogation whether during initial or subsequent interviews of the accused.

The case, Maryland v. Shatzer, 2010 U.S. LEXIS 1899, established new, more lenient rules for police when interrogating an accused for a second time after the accused has invoked their “Miranda” right to counsel. The court ruled that confessions are admissible when there is a “break in custody” between the first and second interrogation.

The opinion, written by Justice Scalia, stated that the right against self-incrimination should not act as an “eternal” bar against further interrogation. To produce a clear definition of “break in custody,” Justice Scalia said that a 14-day separation between interrogations is sufficient before the police may question the accused again without fear of any resulting confession being inadmissible.

Therefore, if you are stopped and interrogated relating to a possible OVI investigation and invoke your right to counsel, the police may interrogate you 14 days later in an attempt to extract incriminating statements without fear of these statements will be suppressed even though they know you are represented by counsel.

So, although the US Constitution specifically guarantees you the right against self-incrimination, this “guarantee” only has a 14-day limited warranty.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Intoxilyzer 8000 - Your Tax Dollars at Work

In December, 2008, the State of Ohio used a federal grant of $7 million for the purchase of 710 portable breath test (PBT) machines in spite of warnings that the machines were unreliable and subject to legal challenge.

The machines have proven to be vulnerable to errors based on environmental factors including heat and cold, as well as variable such as the length of time a suspect blows into the device.

Undaunted, The Ohio Department of Health began distributing the machines to rural counties hoping to avoid legal challenges by having the machines used in areas of Ohio having less than 3% of the state’s population.

Lawyers in several other states have gotten thousands of convictions thrown out because the manufacturer of the machine, CMI, Inc. of Kentucky refuses to turn over details of the machine’s operations.

But in Ohio, it appears the device will need to be challenged on other grounds due to the fact that a 1984 ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court barred defendants from attacking the reliability of breath tests once they’ve been certified by The Ohio Department of Health. On the other hand, no device may be used in Ohio unless it appears on the Federal List of Approved Breath Evidential Instruments and the ISP approved list of Devices. PBT’s are generally not on the list.

Meanwhile the state continues to put more instruments in the field - slowly. Just 17 out the of 714 original purchased have been used.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Can Political Subdivisions be Liable When the Actions of Their Police Officers Permit an OVI Offender to Drive?

A recent Ohio Supreme Court case has opened a Pandora’s box. In the case of Estate of Graves v. City of Circleville, 2010 Ohio 168, the court let stand a lawsuit filed against a city and its police officers resulting from the death of an individual killed by a drunk driver.

In the case, a multiple OVI offender names Copley was arrested, once again, for OVI. The next afternoon Copley was released. Finding no “hold” on the vehicle, the police released the vehicle to Copley. The next morning Copley drove his vehicle while intoxicated and caused a collision killing both he and Graves.

The estate filed suit against the officers, alleging that they had breached their duty to Graves by failing to remove Copley's license plates from his vehicle and by releasing the vehicle to him. More specifically, the estate claimed that (1) R.C. 4507.38 required that Copley's vehicle be held until his initial court appearance because he had been charged with driving on a suspended license and (2) R.C. 4511.195 required that Copley's vehicle remain impounded because he had been convicted of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol ("OMVI") within the prior six-year period. The estate alleged that the officers were aware that Copley was a recidivist drunk driver who was driving on a suspended license and that the officers violated the law by allowing Copley to obtain his vehicle from the impound lot. The estate further alleged that the officers acted wantonly, recklessly, and with complete disregard for the foreseeable consequences of their actions.

The city and officers defended themselves based upon Ohio’s Sovereign Immunity Statute contained in O.R.C. Chapter 2744. That statute bars any suit against any political subdivision of the state and/or its employees in the performance of their duties. However, the one exception is when the employee acts in a wanton and reckless manner (O.R.C. 2744.03(A)(6)(b)). The city asked the lower court to dismiss the case on that basis.

In its ruling, the court acknowledged the sovereign immunity statute but alluded to the Plaintiff’s claim of wanton and reckless behavior. Therefore, it remanded the case back to the lower court to determine the culpability of the officer’s behavior.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Consequences of Refusing a Chemical Test

Recently, I received my new telephone books and glued to the front of the book was an advertisement from a local attorney with his “Advise When Stopped for a DUI.” One of his prominent pieces of advise was “Never....Never Agree to take a Breathalyzer Test.” Is this blanket advise sound? In some instances yes. In most instances no. Like most advise, the surrounding circumstances play a major role in the decision. This blog discusses the consequences of one’s refusal.

First, one’s refusal to agree to take a test is a violation of Ohio’s “implied consent” statute. That statute, O.R.C. 4511.191, sets forth the law that the right to drive in Ohio implies the driver’s agreement to submit to a chemical test when requested. They may refuse, but that refusal will result in a one year suspension of their driving privileges in Ohio.

In addition to one’s violation of the implied consent statute, that refusal will trigger the new twenty year “look back” rule. Ordinarily, the enhancement provisions of Ohio’s OVI laws depend upon the number of OVI convictions within the prior six years. As a result of a refusal, the enhancement provision are triggered for any prior OVI violations in the last TWENTY years.

Finally, a recent Ohio Supreme Court decisions permitted courts to increase a violator’s penalties for refusing a chemical test. Historically, Ohio courts held to the rule that while a person’s refusal to take a test violated Ohio’s implied consent law, that person did have a constitutional right to refuse. As such, courts rarely increased a person’s penalties for their refusal to take a test. The Ohio Supreme court’s ruling changed that. The court ruled that the right to drive in Ohio is a privilege and not an inherent constitutional right. Therefore, a court is permitted to increase penalties for refusing without violating the person’s constitutional rights.

Allow me to provide you an example of the hornet’s nest that can result from one’s refusal to take a test. This was true case. My client was driving home from his girlfriend’s house where they were watching a football game. While watching the game, they had a pizza and a “couple of beers.” At one time my client was a heavy drinker and had several violations for OVI earlier in his life. But he had reformed and had no violations for OVI in the last six years. On the way home, he crossed the center line and was stopped by the local police. When asked to take a test, he refused.

Let’s assume he had taken the breathalyzer and been convicted. As a first time offender in six years, he would have faced a first degree misdemeanor carrying the following possible sentence:
Three days in jail or a three day driver’s intervention program, a $375-$1075 fine, a license suspension for six months to one year, and the right to request limited driving privileges for work, medical, etc after fifteen days.

So what were the consequences of his refusal?

First, he received a suspension of his driving privileges for one year. But, that wasn’t the worst of it. His refusal triggered the twenty year look back rule. While he had no violations in the last six years. He had five others in the prior twenty years. Therefore, under Ohio law, he faced a forth degree felony OVI conviction as it was his sixth violation in twenty years. He faced the following penalties: Actual incarceration for a minimum of 120 days (four months) up to 1 year, a $1350-$10,500 fine, a mandatory alcohol addiction program, license suspension for three years to life with no privileges for three years, an alcohol interlock on any car he drove, and a forfeiture of his car to the State of Ohio (he had just purchased, for cash, a new Jeep Cherokee).

So should he have agreed to take the breathalyzer? Of course. Even if convicted, the consequences were minimal compared to what he faced as a result of his refusal.

Knowing the accused’s background is critical in properly advising them. Offering blanket advise against submitting to a test can have dire consequences.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Expansion of an Investigatory Stop Violates Individual’s Right Against Illegal Searches and Seizures

A recent Ohio case demonstrates the illegality of an expanded investigatory stop. As any reader of this blog knows, a police officer may stop a vehicle for a brief investigatory stop if that officer has probable cause to believe the vehicle is engaged in or is about to engage in some criminal act or traffic violation. The Forth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. A “Seizure” occurs when an office restrains an individual’s freedom for an investigatory stop.

But, short of being able to point to specific and articuable facts, which , under the totality of the circumstances, warrant a reasonable belief that criminal behavior has occurred or is imminent, the officer can not seize the individual or expand the investigation.

In the case of State v. Brown, 183 Ohio App.3d 337, the court stopped an officer’s “fishing expedition.” In that case, the defendant was stopped for following too close, a minor traffic violation. The police officer than began asking irrelevant questions unrelated to the purpose of the stop. Questions included the specific reasons for the defendant’s travel, details of the reasons given, and whether they were carrying drugs or large amounts of cash.

The court stated, “The scope of a detention, to be consistent with Fourth Amendment protections, must be carefully tailored to its underlying justification and last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop. The lawfulness of an initial stop will not support, under the Fourth Amendment, a fishing expedition for evidence of a crime.”

The Woods County Appellate Court went on to say, “When conducting the stop of a motor vehicle for a traffic violation, an officer may detain the vehicle for a time sufficient to investigate the reasonable, articuable suspicion for which the vehicle was initially stopped...”

The reader is cautioned that if the car itself is seized in the event of a OVI arrest, for instance, the police could initiate a legal inventory search of the vehicle and, if contraband is found, could charge the driver accordingly.

But, for an ordinary traffic stop, the officer can not go any further than the initial investigation of the traffic violation. Individuals should be aware that the officer is not permitted to go beyond the scope of their initial traffic investigation and are under no obligation to respond to any questions that go beyond the scope of the traffic investigation.