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Can Slurred Speech and Medications Be Enough to Convict for OVI?

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The Second District Court of Appeals ruled last week that slurred speech and pain medications were not enough evidence to convict a Montgomery County man of OVI and child endangerment, reversing the lower court's ruling to convict. The case stems from an October 2012 rear end accident. The defendant rear ended a woman and when she exited her vehicle to exchange information, she noticed that the driver's speech was slurred and a child was in the car with him. This prompted her to call police.

When police arrived at the scene, they asked the man if he had been drinking or took any medications. The man responded that he was on the prescription painkiller hydrocodone. The officer observed that the man was struggling to answer questions and speak in clear sentences, so he asked the driver to submit to some sobriety tests. The officer determined, after observing the driver perform the sobriety tests, that he was under the influence of "possibly narcotics." After the driver was arrested, police asked him for a blood sample. He refused.

Because the driver had a prior drunk driving arrest (six years prior), this OVI was charged as a felony of the third degree.

During trial, the prosecution asserted that at the time of the rear end accident, the defendant was going through withdrawals of his pain medication. The prosecution was able to get expert testimony from a doctor. However, while the doctor did say it was a possibility the driver was going through withdrawals at the time of the crash, there was not enough evidence to assert that as fact.

The defendant was convicted at trial and sentenced to a year imprisonment for the OVI.

State v. May: Evidence Needed to Convict for OVI Involving Medication Use

State v. May was a case ruled on in 2014 by the Second District Court of Appeals. In it, the appeals court determined that in order to convict for OVI involving mediation use, the state must supply more evidence than just medication use and observable signs of impairment. In order to make a conviction for OVI involving medications, the state must:

  1. Supply evidence of how the medication affected the defendant, and/or
  2. Supply evidence that the medication has the ability to impair.

In this case, there was signs of impairment and there was medication use, but no evidence to link the two together. To convict for OVI involving medication, the state needs to show evidence of cause and effect.

View the opinion here: State v. Richardson, 2015-Ohio-757