Ohio Supreme Court Reviews Police DUI Procedures

The Supreme Court of Ohio is reviewing legislation that allows police officers to stray from strict guidelines for way sobriety tests are administered to suspected drunk drivers. Field sobriety tests are commonly used during a suspected DUI/OVI traffic stop to determine a reasonable suspicion of intoxication.

The tests can include making the motorist show an ability to walk and turn without stumbling and watching the smoothness of eye movement. The most common standards for administering and scoring such tests come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Previously, the High Court established that those federal standards must be adhered to by police officers when making a DUI arrest. In 2002, the Ohio General Assembly passed a law that loosened the rules. The law allows for the introduction of the results of a field sobriety test in court if the officer simply conducts the tests in ‘substantial compliance’ with the federal rules. The law was written in response to the dismissal of a DUI conviction in 2000 because the arresting officers did not follow the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards.

At issue is whether the Supreme Court of Ohio thinks lawmakers erred when making it acceptable to be in ‘substantial compliance’ with the rules rather than following them precisely. The law does not establish what ‘substantial’ means. Opponents, especially Ohio DUI defense attorneys, feel the looseness of the law shifts the rules of evidence from the court to the legislature. Proponents say it gives the judge room for allowing an arresting officer’s testimony.

The General Assembly sponsors of the law said it was needed because the NHTSA standards for field sobriety tests are too strict, making it relatively easy to get the results dismissed or barred during an Ohio DUI trial.

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