Ohio Supreme Court says Testimony of Experienced Police Officer Sufficient
to Prove Drugged Driving Impairment

In State v. Richardson, the Court ruled that the testimony of an experienced police officer that a defendant appeared to be under the influence of pain medication can support an operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI) conviction. The court stated that, the officer’s experience is sufficient to prove impaired driving when the effects of the drug – in this instance hydrocodone – are sufficiently well-known. The Court reversed an appellate court judgment that held there was insufficient evidence to support Clinton Richardson’s OVI conviction. In a dissenting opinion, Justice William O’Neill said the state didn’t prove that the defendant was under the influence of a drug of abuse that impaired his safe driving ability. He said the decision violated “200 years of jurisprudence by permitting a lay person to give an expert opinion” without qualification as an expert. “In an OVI case involving alcohol, would the majority affirm an OVI conviction based on a responding officer’s testimony that ‘Well, he looked like he was over the limit to me,’ based only on behavior observed by the officer? No,” O’Neill wrote.

Medical Marijuana Patients Given Some DUI Protections

Medical marijuana users in Arizona cannot be convicted of driving while under the influence of the drug absent proof that they were actually impaired, the state Court of Appeals ruled Dec. 22, 2016. In what can be seen as a major setback for prosecutors, the judges pointed out that Arizona, unlike some other states, has no law that spells out that at a certain level of THC in the blood a person is presumed to be impaired. “And, according to evidence here, there is no scientific consensus about the concentration of THC that generally is sufficient to impair a human being,” appellate Judge Diane Johnsen wrote. Presumably this means every case where prosecutors charge a medical marijuana user with breaking the law will require expert testimony to show that particular individual was impaired at that particular level of THC. In the decision, Judge Johnsen also wrote that the defendant was also denied a fair case because a city court judge prohibited him at trial from letting jurors know he possessed a state-issue medical marijuana card at the time of his arrest. Not only does the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act authorize patients such as the defendant to have marijuana in their system, but the state Supreme Court decided in 2015 that patients charged with DUI can argue “that the concentration of marijuana or its impairing metabolite in [his or her body] was insufficient to cause impairment,” the appeals court ruled.

2016 Statistics on Impaired Driving

This fact sheet provided by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) summarizes the national results of the 2016 USA Road Safety Monitor on alcohol impaired driving. This survey of 5,050 US drivers provides a general overview of the choices made by drivers as relates to drinking and driving, as well as current statistics on impaired driving.  Their conclusions and recommendations are available here.

Upcoming Traffic Seminar in Savannah, Ga. March 6-8, 2017

Judge Mary Celeste would like to share with you an exciting Traffic Seminar sponsored by the ABA National Conference of Specialized Court Judges to be held in Savannah, Ga. March 6-8, 2017. This Seminar will bring many topics of interest including but not limited to Fourth Amendment Issues in Traffic Related Cases; A Closer Look at Research and DUI Investigations; The Legal History, Neuroscience and Toxicology of Marijuana; Seven Drug Categories of the World; and, Innovation in the Courtroom: How Problem-Solving Courts Impact Impaired Driving. Please share this e-mail with all of judges on your bench and your judicial district who may work with impaired driving or traffic cases. There are some scholarships available. If you have any questions or need more information feel free to contact Judge Mary Celeste at attcel@aol.com or Judge Mary Jane Knisely, (maryjaneknisely@gmail.com). Please visit the website for more details at: www.ambar.org/2017trafficseminar.

Upcoming Courses at the National Judicial College

The following courses are offered by the NJC in Reno, Nevada in the coming months. A limited number of scholarships are available through generous funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Please contact Katheryn Yetter at yetter@judges.org or 775-327-8269 for more information.

Impaired Driving Case Essentials (May 8-11; Reno, NV) This course provides you with an overview of sentencing practices and evidence-based options for impaired driving traffic offenses including those committed by younger drivers, older drivers, and hardcore DUI defendants. After this course, you will be able to analyze circumstances providing a legal basis for stops, searches, seizures, arrests, and the admissibility of testimonial or physical evidence.

Drugs in America Today: What Every Judge Needs to Know (May 17-19; Atlanta, GA) With opiate addiction at epidemic levels in both urban and rural America, the NJC has crafted a new course that focuses on the neurology of addiction with an emphasis on heroin and painkillers. This course will provide an in-depth analysis of the science behind addiction and will offer practical solutions for the judge to manage all case types affected by drug use.

Behind the Wheel: Today’s Traffic Offender (Oct 23-26; Reno, NV)  The arena of traffic-related offenses is constantly evolving. Statistically, driving while under the influence of drugs as well as alcohol will be an issue that will appear with more frequency in traffic courts around the country. This course will delve into several issues that judges who hear traffic cases will experience this year, as well as offer insight into case issues and strategies from the prospective of the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the law enforcement officer, and the treatment provider. The course will also offer in- depth insight on how roadside drug detection is done as well as how the 12-step DRE protocol is conducted. Additionally, the course will offer a demonstration on the various types of drug and alcohol detection equipment that is available and the reliability of the instruments.

Properly and Effectively Adjudicating Drugged Drivers starting October 30 and finishing up December 8 (online course) Unlike alcohol-impaired driving, drugged driving has fewer tools in the field to detect impairment and concentration levels in the body. Drugged driving cases require a judge to utilize a variety of judicial tools to effectively adjudicate these cases. In addition to the ability to determine which kinds of drugs an individual may be using, it is important to know how these drugs affect the individual and their ability to operate a vehicle. It is also imperative that a judge knows how to effectively craft sentences, which include treatment options, in order to provide a participant with the most beneficial mode of recovery.

NCSC Traffic Resource Center

The Traffic Resource Center is a cooperative effort between the Department of Transportation and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to establish a resource for judges, court administrators, court clerks, and other court staff on issues related to traffic adjudication. It is an integrated clearinghouse of information as well as a training and technical assistance resource to improve court decision-making and processing of traffic cases involving impaired driving, drugged driving, distracted driving, and commercial driving. The purpose of the Traffic Resource Center website is to provide a useful, ready reference for judges new to the bench or recently assigned to traffic cases, who may need quick access to accurate and timely information until they can receive more formal, structured education.

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