A recent case from the Ohio Supreme Court concluded that a police officer who conducts a traffic stop can be qualified as an expert witness to determine a driver’s drug impairment. There does not need to be an expert witness to testify as to the effects of the drug or laboratory testing. Instead, the prosecution only needs the word of the police officer that you were impaired while operating your vehicle.
The case, State v. Richardson, began when Clinton Richardson rear-ended at slow speed a car stopped ahead of him. The driver of the rear-ended vehicle approached Richardson, but found his speech to be slurred and incomprehensible. After the driver returned to her vehicle, she felt it move a couple of times, as though nudged by Richardson’s vehicle. She then called the police because Richardson had a child in his vehicle.
Police responded to the scene and had to put Richardson’s vehicle in park because he failed to do so. The officer administered DUI / OVI field sobriety tests, which Richardson failed. Richardson refused a blood test and was placed under arrest for DUI / OVI.
Richardson had a prior felony DUI / OVI conviction and, thus, was indicted for 3rd degree felony DUI / OVI. He was also indicted for child endangering. At trial, the prosecution relied on the testimony of the woman whose car Richardson rear-ended and the officer. The defense called an expert who specializes in chemical dependency, who testified that Richardson’s behavior at the time of the accident was consistent with the effects of withdrawal from hydrocodone, which Richardson had a prescription for and was taking. However, the trial court found Richardson guilty.
On appeal, a divided Second District vacated the conviction, finding insufficient evidence to support Richardson’s conviction. Specifically, there was no evidence linking Richardson’s use of hydrocodone with his impairment. However, this ruling conflicted with another case, State v. Stephenson, and was certified to the Ohio Supreme Court.
DUI / OVI Analysis by the Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court began by defining several critical terms. First, R.C. 4511.19(A)(2) prohibits individuals with a DUI / OVI conviction in the past 20 years from operating a vehicle “while under the influence of alcohol, drug of abuse, or a combination of them.” “Drug of abuse” is defined as any controlled substance, dangerous drug as defined in R.C. 4729.01, or over-the-counter medication that, when taken in quantities exceeding the recommended dosage, can result in impairment of judgment or reflexes.
Thus, the Court found that hydrocodone is a drug of abuse. If the prosecution proved that Richardson had ingested hydrocodone and it impaired his driving, the evidence would be sufficient to convict Richardson.
The Court held that the State presented sufficient evidence to convict Richardson. The officer who responded to the accident had training on impaired-driving detection. The officer testified that Richardson admitted to ingesting hydrocodone, and Richardson testified to the same. In addition, the prosecution presented sufficient evidence of Richardson’s impairment – specifically, that Richardson rear-ended another vehicle, had slurred speech, and failed field sobriety tests.
The Court held that when the effects of a drug are sufficiently well known, expert testimony linking ingestion of the drug with indicia of impairment is unnecessary. Moreover, there was testimony that connected Richardson’s impairment to hydrocodone, i.e., the testimony of the officer.
What This Means for Those Charged With DUI / OVI in Ohio?
The effect of this ruling is to give an extraordinary amount of power to law enforcement. The testimony of an officer who is not an expert can now outweigh the testimony of an actual expert as to whether a person is impaired or suffering from withdrawal. The Supreme Court of Ohio made the officer an Ohio DUI/ OVI expert, even though the officer had no formal training in this area.
The Ohio Supreme Court’s DUI / OVI Analysis is Wrong
Justice O’Neill wrote a dissent for this case. Justice O’Neill began his analysis by stating the obvious – for a person to be found guilty of DUI / OVI, there must be evidence that the person was under the influence of a drug of abuse AND that the effects of that drug are consistent with the behavior of the person at the time of the alleged offense.
By the plain meaning of R.C. 4511.19(A), causation must exist between use of a drug and impairment. No evidence was presented by the prosecution to suggest that it was the drug of abuse that caused the observed indications of impairment. Impairment alone is not a crime. Based on the evidence, there were numerous possible causes of Richardson’s impairment, including the withdrawal argument offered by Richardson’s defense.
R.C. 4511.19(A) is intended to prevent impaired individuals from operating a vehicle for the safety of the public. It is not intended to “blindly prohibit or criminalize the operation of a motor vehicle by someone who takes routine over-the-counter medications that do no negatively affect a person’s ability to safely drive a vehicle.”
Moreover, Justice O’Neill argued that the Ohio Supreme Court was violating its own jurisprudence by permitting a lay person to give an expert opinion without any qualifications. The officer could testify as to what he observed, but cannot testify as to how hydrocodone affected Richardson. If this case involved alcohol, the majority’s ruling would affirm a DUI / OVI conviction based on the officer’s testifying that “well, he looked like he was over the legal limit to me.”
Columbus and Delaware, Ohio DUI / OVI Attorney
If you have been arrested for DUI / OVI in the Columbus or Delaware, Ohio areas, contact Johnson Legal, LLC to discuss your case. Attorney David Johnson is an experienced Columbus and Delaware, Ohio DUI / OVI attorney who will speak with you about the facts of your case and vigorously defend you and your ability to drive. Don’t face the serious consequences and repercussions of a DUI / OVI charge alone. Contact Johnson Legal, LLC at (614) 987-0192 or send an email to schedule a consultation.
Johnson Legal, LLC serves the following cities in the central Ohio area for DUI / OVI Defense:
Westerville, Worthington, Columbus, Polaris, Reynoldsburg, Grandview Heights, Shawnee Hills, Bexley, Pickerington, Gahanna, Sunbury, Powell, Upper Arlington, New Albany, Dublin, Hilliard, Lewis Center, Galena, Clintonville, Huber Ridge, Blacklick, Grove City, Delaware, Marysville, Groveport, Newark, Canal Winchester, Obetz, Marion, Mt. Gilead, Pataskala, Granville, Whitehall, Franklin County, Morrow County, Licking County, Union County, Madison County and Delaware County