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Court News Ohio

Second District: Slurred Speech, Medications Not Enough Evidence to Convict Man for OVI and Child Endangerment

A Montgomery County man convicted of OVI and child endangerment after he caused a car accident had his sentence overturned by the Second District Court of Appeals.

In October 2012, Clinton Richardson rear-ended a car in Dayton. The driver got out of her vehicle to talk to Richardson. While she didn’t smell alcohol, she noticed that Richardson’s speech was slurred and that there was a child in his car so she called police.

A Dayton police officer responded to the accident and asked Richardson if he’d been drinking or was on any medication. Richardson said he was taking the pain medication hydrocodone. The officer noticed that Richardson had difficulty understanding his questions and gave incoherent answers.  The officer administered several sobriety tests and determined that Richardson was under the influence of “some type of possibly narcotics,” and arrested Richardson. Richardson refused to provide a blood sample.

Richardson was previously convicted of an OVI in 2006, so his OVI charge from this arrest was upgraded to a third-degree felony. During Richardson’s trial, it was stated that he ran out of his pain killers used for a previous injury and had been going through an opiate withdrawal during the time of his car accident. A doctor testified at trial that there was a possibility Richardson was going through a withdrawal, but he wasn’t certain. A judge sentenced Richardson to one year in prison for his OVI charge, of which 120 days were mandatory, and six months in jail for endangering a child.

Richardson appealed his sentence to the Second District and said there wasn’t enough evidence for his OVI conviction. The court used State v. May (2014), a case previously decided by Second District, to help determine what evidence was required to prove a violation based on medication use.

In State v. May the Second District determined, “The State must do more than simply present evidence that the defendant has taken the medication and shows signs of impairment… The State must also present some evidence (1) of how the particular medication actually affects the defendant, and/or (2) that the particular mediation has the potential to impair a person’s judgment or reflexes. Without that information, the jury has no means to evaluate whether the defendant’s apparent impairment was due to his or her being under the influence of that medication.”

Writing for the court’s majority opinion, Judge Jeffrey E. Froelich wrote that in Richardson’s case that “although there was substantial evidence of impairment, there was no evidence linking that impairment to any ‘drug of abuse.’”

The court determined that there was enough evidence that Richardson was driving while impaired, but there was no testimony that Richardson’s medication caused that impairment. “In the absence of evidence that Richardson’s medication could have caused the impairment he displayed, there was insufficient evidence to convict him,” Judge Froelich wrote.

Judge Mike Fain concurred in the decision.

In his dissent, Judge Michael T. Hall said the state shouldn’t have to show evidence of how a particular drug affects a defendant. Taking what he wrote in State v. May, Judge Hall reiterated, “In my view, all that is necessary is evidence that the offender consumed a drug and that his or her faculties were appreciably impaired.”

Going from the trial transcript, Judge Hall wrote that because Richardson was so disoriented that he couldn’t understand the police officer’s questions, it was more than sufficient to have found him guilty.

State v. Richardson, 2015-Ohio-757
Criminal Appeal From: Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas
Judgment Appealed From Is: Reversed and Remanded
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: March 4, 2015

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