About Annie

This site is dedicated to Annie Rooney, who was killed by a drunk driver on July 4, 2013 in Chillicothe, Ohio.

Annie, a graduate of Western Reserve Academy, Brown University, and the Lewis and Clark Law School, was just 36 years old.

Below is her obituary, followed by newspaper articles and links that look into the circumstances that permitted this catastrophe as well as information about “Annie’s Law”, Ohio House Bill 469.

Annie’s Obituary

Published on July 6, 2013:

Anna Louise Rooney

April 14, 1977 – July 4, 2013

Anna Louise Rooney, always known as Annie, of Chillicothe, Ohio was killed by a drunk driver on on July 4, 2013, at around 9pm.  Annie was travelling home after borrowing a bike for an upcoming race when an oncoming driver crossed into her lane on US Rte 50, just outside of Chillicothe.  Annie’s bikes had been stolen the previous weekend in Columbus, Ohio, outside German Village.

Annie was born in Chillicothe, Ohio on April 14, 1977 to Dr. Richard C. Rooney and Carole Mayer Rooney of Chillicothe, Ohio; Annie was 36 years old.  She graduated from Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio in 1995, where she was a star athlete. Annie graduated from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in 1999 and the Law School of Lewis and Clark in Portland, Oregon in 2007.

Prior to returning home to Chillicothe, Annie was a prosecuting attorney in Bozeman, Montana, where she served her community by aggressively prosecuting domestic violence and DUI cases. She recently opened her own law practice in Chillicothe, Ohio.  A separate Montana memorial service was held for Annie  which can be read about below.

Annie was passionate about adventure and recently began a mountain bike racing career.  She traveled and lived all over the world, including every continent except Antarctica, which was on her list.   She also lived and worked in New York City and San Francisco on various start-up ventures.

Annie was beloved by many for her charm, her sense of humor, her courage, her unique ability to make others feel loved, and her generous smile. Her most memorable characteristic was her boundless energy with unending optimism.  Professionally Annie was a tireless advocate for crime victims and a very successful prosecutor.

Annie was an inspiration to all who knew her.  A recent quote captures her essence: “You wanted to be like her, but you couldn’t figure out how”.

She is survived by her parents, Dr. Richard and Carole Rooney of Chillicothe, Ohio, her sister Kate (Rooney) Lyaker (Dr. Michael Lyaker) of Columbus, Ohio, and her brothers Dr. Craig Rooney (Dr. Angie Song) and Dr. Walt Rooney (Adrienne) of Seattle, Washington, and many aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Thank you all for being her friends.

Please share your photos and experiences of Annie so we will never forget how wonderful she was.

Her Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/annie.rooney.50

Annie Rooney

 Memorial contributions may be made to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Rooney Family
2422 Plyley’s Lane
Chillicothe, Ohio, 45601

This entry was posted on July 4, 2013.

Ohio bill aims to curb drunken driving with ignition interlock

Annie Rooney

By Jim Siegel
The Columbus Dispatch
July 14, 2014

A bill requiring first-time DUI offenders in Ohio to use an ignition interlock device on their vehicles should see legislative action this fall.

But concerns about due process linger and could lead to some changes to the bill.

Current law allows judges to order use of the ignition interlocks, which require drivers to blow into a device that measures blood-alcohol levels before starting a vehicle. House Bill 469 would make it mandatory for first-time offenders, same as is now required for those convicted of DUI twice in six years.

Supporters, including the National Transportation Safety Board, gathered last week to encourage action on the bill, which would make Ohio the 23rd state to require the devices for first-time offenders. They call it a better option than a license suspension that is all too often ignored by violators.

Two decades of research has found that the devices reduce recidivism among DUI offenders by up to 75 percent, said Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The bill has had a few committee hearings, and Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, a joint sponsor, said he is disappointed it did not pass before the summer break. But movement could come quickly when lawmakers return this fall.

“This is a great bill,” said Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, adding he’s optimistic the committee will move it. “Some members of the committee have concerns, and I’ve been meeting with them and will continue throughout the summer to arrive at a place where everybody is comfortable.”

The devices would be used for first-time DUI offenders instead of prohibiting them from driving for 15 days and then obtaining limited driving privileges for work, school and medical appointments.

Jon Saia, a Columbus defense attorney specializing in DUI cases, likes that part of the bill. But he thinks the legislation has a major problem in that it would allow judges to impose ignition locks when a defendant charged with DUI ultimately pleads to a reduced charge. That, he said, would impose an alcohol-related punishment for a non-alcohol-related conviction.

“There is no way that’s going to pass muster,” he said.

And if a defendant is facing the possibility of paying $80 a month for the ignition lock device over six to 12 months even with a reduced charge, Saia thinks it will push more cases to trial.

Asked about concerns, Johnson said the bill would save lives.

“You can think something as complicated as this bill and what it will do into the ground…and lose sight of the simplicity of what it actually does,” he said.

Rep. Michael Stinziano, D-Columbus, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, backs the bill but acknowledges there are due process concerns that may require some changes.

“The safety outweighs the due process for me,” Stinziano said. “I continue to look to other states where it’s been successful.”

The roughly $80-a-month cost of the device covers the cost of calibration. Saia also questions how much it would cost the state’s indigent defense fund for low-income defendants, though the state would qualify for a $688,000 federal grant to help pay for the law.

A driver must register a blood-alcohol content of less than .025 — less than half the .08 limit at which one is considered too intoxicated to drive — to turn the ignition.

The legislation has been named “Annie’s Law,” for 36-year-old Annie Rooney of Chillicothe, a prosecuting attorney who was killed in July 2013 by a drunken driver who had been arrested three times, with one conviction for DUI and two plea deals for lesser charges.

Her father, Dr. Richard Rooney, has pushed hard for the bill in an effort, he said, to ensure that his daughter did not die in vain. He points to statistics showing that as usage of ignition devices has risen, DUI fatalities have fallen.

“Our lives were shattered,” he said. “Annie’s memory has moved us to strengthen the law.”

Original article: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/07/13/DUI_ignition.html

This entry was posted on July 14, 2014.

‘Annie’s Law’ pushed to prevent DUIs

Acting Chairman Hart was in Ohio this week to speak in support of House Bill 469, known as ‘Annie’s Law’. If passed, Annie’s Law would mandate ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders in Ohio. While there, he met with members of Annie Rooney’s family.

National safety chairman touts ignition interlock requirements

Written by Jona Ison
CentralOhio.com
Jul. 11, 2014

COLUMBUS — A proposed law that would require an ignition interlock device for all OVI offenders got a push Thursday from the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Chairman Christopher Hart flew into Columbus to offer support to Annie’s Law, which was inspired by the July 4, 2013, death of Chillicothe attorney Annie Rooney.

“Most Americans think we’ve solved the drunk driving problem. The fact is, we haven’t come close,” Hart said during a news conference at the statehouse.

In 2012, the National Traffic Safety Board recommended that all states adopt legislation to require ignition interlock devices for first-time drunken driving offenders. Ignition interlock devices require a person to exhale into it and it tests the breath for alcohol content. If it is above the device’s programmed limit, it prevents the vehicle from being started.

Annie Rooney was 36 when she was killed in the head-on crash by a woman who had prior drunken driving convictions. Annie’s family thinks that, if all convicted drunken drivers in Ohio were required to use an ignition interlock device, the crash wouldn’t have happened. The family has made it their goal to turn their tragedy into something meaningful.

Annie’s father, Dr. Rick Rooney, thinks Hart personally endorsing the bill is a turning point in the legislation and he, as well as co-sponsors Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, and Gary Scherer, R-Circleville, believe it will be pushed through to law during the lame duck session this fall.

“All the major players, all the organizations have come together in the same room and have expressed their enthusiastic endorsement (of Annie’s Law),” Rooney said. “For (Chris Hart) to come here and endorse this in a personal way, I find incredible.”

Between Hart’s endorsement and the Ohio State Neurosurgical Society’s endorsement, Rick Rooney thinks the Ohio State Medical Association also will back the bill.

Although there are several agencies coming behind the bill, news conference organizers MADD and Nationwide Insurance, Johnson and Rooney said they have had some push back and a lot of questions from the judiciary committee.

The two major issues Rooney said have been raised during MADD’s past attempts to get similar laws in place are views that the device is punishment and that judges are concerned about losing judicial discretion in sentencing. He relates the requirements to those he followed as a surgeon or that pilots follow to ensure public health and safety.

“Annie’s Law is about prevention, safety if you will, not punishing or shaming. … When it’s a safety issue, there shouldn’t be judicial discretion,” Rooney said.

Another concern is the workarounds to the device, such as it’s impossible for the current device to know for a fact the right person is blowing into it.

The device is made to be difficult to use without an hour of training, and it can come with a camera to snap a photo that is downloaded during monthly device checks, said Elizabeth Fink, regional public policy director for interlock company LifeSafer. The device also does random retesting after the vehicle has started.

Johnson acknowledged that the interlock device isn’t a “silver bullet” to removing all drunken drivers from Ohio’s roads, but pointed to statistics that show a reduction in both repeat offenders and reduced fatalities in states where they’ve been made mandatory.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported people using interlock devices were 67 percent less likely to be rearrested for drunken driving than those who only had a license suspension.

Link to article: http://www.newarkadvocate.com/article/20140710/NEWS01/307100025/-Annie-s-Law-pushed-prevent-DUIs

Link to NTSB: http://www.ntsb.gov/index.html

This entry was posted on July 11, 2014.

Representative Johnson and Scherer speak at Annie’s Law Press Conference.

Legislation Seeks to Reduce Drunk Driving Re-Arrests, Save Lives

July 10, 2014

COLUMBUS—State Representatives Gary Scherer (R-Circleville) and Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) today held a press conference to discuss House Bill 469, also known as Annie’s Law, which works to prevent drunk driving re-arrests through the use of ignition interlock devices (IIDs).

Annie’s Law, introduced in March, is sponsored by Representative Johnson and it would expand the use of ignition interlocks for first-time offenders, with an illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or greater, who seek driving privileges during a license suspension for a period of six months. Drivers must breathe into the breathalyzer system before attempting to drive in order to check blood-alcohol concentration.  The goal of the legislation is to decrease drunk driving re-arrest rates in the state and in turn reduce alcohol-related traffic accidents and fatalities.

The legislation is named after Annie Rooney, Representative Scherer’s constituent, who was killed by a drunk driver on July 4, 2013. Annie was traveling home when a drunken driver crossed into her lane on U.S. Route 50. Annie was 36-years-old and had served as a prosecuting attorney, even recently opening her own practice in Chillicothe.

“Annie lived a meaningful life. Although this legislation does not bring her back, it can make a meaningful and beneficial change in Ohio that Annie would be proud of,” Rep. Scherer said.

“Sadly stories similar to Annie happen far too often, “ Rep. Johnson said. “With this legislation in her name we have the opportunity to make Ohio’s roads a safer place to travel on.”

Additional participants in the press conference included Christopher Hart, Acting Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Doug Scoles, MADD Ohio State Executive Director, William “Bill” Windsor of Nationwide Insurance and Dr. Richard Rooney, Annie’s father.

Link here: http://www.ohiohouse.gov/terry-johnson/press/reps-johnson-and-scherer-discuss-annies-law-in-press-conference

This entry was posted on July 10, 2014.

All drunken drivers may be subject to in-car breathalyzer

By Randy Ludlow
The Columbus Dispatch
Saturday June 14, 2014

Ohio lawmakers are considering requiring first-time drunken-driving offenders to have an ignition breathalyzer installed on their cars to confirm their sobriety during a six-month penalty period.

The law now allows judges to order the ignition interlocks, but the House bill would make their use mandatory. Offenders convicted twice within six years must use the devices.

The bill sponsor, Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott, cites federal figures that ignition-interlock devices reduce DUI re-arrest rates by 67 percent. About 25,000 first-time offenders are convicted each year in Ohio.

The devices would replace a system in which first-time DUI offenders are not allowed to drive for 15 days and then can obtain limited driving privileges to travel to work, school and medical appointments.

“There is nothing to ensure compliance and nothing to ensure sobriety unless they happen to get caught again,” Johnson said. “This allows the offender to continue working and to minimize disruption to his life while ensuring public safety to the extent we are reasonably able to do so.”

A change in the bill last week also would require those charged with DUI but convicted of lesser offenses, such as physical control of a vehicle while intoxicated, to install the machines in their cars.

Motorists convicted of DUI would lease the interlock devices, which cost $70 to $150 to install. A $60 to $90 monthly fee includes downloading data to see if a failed breath test prevented the car from starting.

Indigent drivers would be eligible for a free or discounted device from county alcohol-treatment funds.

Only about 5,000 Ohioans, including repeat DUI offenders, are required each year to use ignition interlocks, said Doug Scoles, executive director of Ohio MADD.

Twenty states now require their use by first-time offenders. “Requiring the use of ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers will help prevent repeat offenses and, in so doing, save lives,” Scoles said.

The State Highway Patrol reports 341 people died in drunken-driving crashes last year. Seventy-seven people have been killed so far this year, 38 fewer that at the same time in 2012.

The bill is dubbed “Annie’s Law” in memory of Chillicothe lawyer Annie Rooney, who was killed last year by a drunken driver now serving eight years in prison. Her family has campaigned for passage of the bill.

Lara Baker-Morrish, chief prosecutor for the city of Columbus, calls the legislation “a very good idea.”

“It does curb the behavior we’re trying to get at, and it has been proven to save lives,” she said.

Courts would have to find ways to monitor the increase in ignition-interlock reports on drivers and find funding to ensure devices are made available to those who can’t afford installation and monitoring, she said.

rludlow@dispatch.com
@RandyLudlow

Original article: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/06/14/all-drunken-drivers-may-be-subject-to-safeguard.html

This entry was posted on June 14, 2014.

Annie’s Law won’t see vote until after Nov. election

Changes would expand breath-testing device in vehicles

By Jessie Balmert
CentralOhio.com
June 4, 2014
Gannett News Service

Changes to a bill that would require breath-testing devices on certain drunken drivers’ vehicles made the proposal more strict but also delayed a vote until after the Nov. 4 election.

Annie Rooney

As introduced earlier this year, the bill would require ignition interlock devices be installed for first-time operating a vehicle while under the influence offenders. The devices require drivers to blow into a breath-tester, which calculates blood-alcohol concentration, and will prevent the vehicle from starting if the driver tests higher than the preset limit, usually 0.025.

People using ignition interlock devices were about 67 percent less likely to be rearrested than drivers with suspended licenses, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention review of 15 studies.

The devices are a deterrent for the more than 50 percent of convicted drunken drivers who continue to drive even with suspended licenses, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Current state law requires devices be installed for repeat drunken drivers. If approved, the bill would bring Ohio’s law in line with 22 other states, according to MADD.

Changes approved by committee Tuesday would require ignition interlock devices for people arrested on a charge of operating a vehicle while under the influence while they await trial. A judge also could request a device for people who received plea deals for lesser offenses, such as reckless operation, if the judge believed the person would be at risk of another operating a vehicle while under the influence charge.

The judiciary committee accepted the changes Tuesday but will not vote on the bill before the Ohio House of Representatives’ summer break, said Steven Alexander, legislative aide for the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott. That means the bill won’t see action until after the Nov. 4 election.

The proposed legislation is called Annie’s Law in memory of 36-year-old Annie Rooney, a Chillicothe attorney who died after a head-on collision with a drunken driver on July 4, 2013. The drunken driver, Shira Seymour, was sentenced to the maximum eight years in prison for Rooney’s death.

jbalmert@centralohio.com
740-328-8548
Twitter: @jbalmert

Original article: http://www.mansfieldnewsjournal.com/story/news/2014/06/04/annies-law-wont-see-vote-until-after-nov-election/9993273/

Link to Mothers Against Drunk Driving: MADD: http://www.madd.org/

This entry was posted on June 4, 2014.

Law will help stop repeat OVI drivers

Letter to the Editor
The Columbus Dispatch
Saturday, May 31

The May 11 Dispatch article “Repeat OVI arrests still can end in plea deal” painted a profound picture of the need for strengthened drunken-driving laws in Ohio.

As the grieving father of Annie Rooney, who was killed by a drunken driver on July 4, 2013 in Chillicothe, I find it to be outrageous that hard-core criminals are let free while I mourn.

My daughter’s killer had a record extending back to 1999 of repeated arrests for OVI, almost all of which were pled down.

Annie was  a vibrant 36-year-old who had been a prosecutor in Bozeman, Mont.

She had moved back to Ohio two years earlier to be closer to our family.

Annie was a gifted academic and athlete whose charisma had touched almost a thousand lives, and her loss has been catastrophic for our family and her friends.

We have worked for the past year to prevent further loss of life, suffering and the devastation that our family has had to shoulder. Our family is dedicated to changing the law so that another innocent person is not taken in such a reckless, preventable way.

We are pushing to get tougher legislation passed to reduce the number of drunken-driving deaths on Ohio’s road.

Joining forces with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), AAA, Nationwide and others, we are asking that all convicted drunken drivers, including first-time offenders, be required to install an ignition interlock on their vehicle if they want driving privileges.

This legislation, which we named Annie’s Law, addresses the problem of repeat offenders.

The use of ignition interlocks cuts recidivism by more than 67 percent and is more effective than license suspension. Similar legislation in 22 other states has been followed by a significant reduction in drunken-driving deaths.

The research is overwhelming that early intervention with an ignition-interlock device drastically reduces deaths.

One life lost is too many and in 2012, 385 of our neighbors in Ohio were killed in crashes involving drunken drivers, representing 34 percent of the traffic fatalities.

No father should feel such pain. Annie’s Law will protect the public and teach sober driving.

RICK ROONEY
Chillicothe

Link to article: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/editorials/2014/05/31/law-will-help-stop-repeat-ovi-drivers.html

This entry was posted on May 31, 2014.

Repeated OVI arrests still can end in plea deal

By John Futty & Jennifer Smith Richards
The Columbus Dispatch • Sunday May 11, 2014

SAM GREENE | DISPATCH Franklin County Deputy Sheriff Robert McKee checks the license and registration of a driver at a drunken-driving checkpoint near W. Broad Street and Norton Road in Prairie Township. The activity was on Friday night.

Some people are accused — and even convicted — of driving drunk over and over yet still are able to plead guilty to a lesser charge when they’re before a judge yet again.

The effect: Even people who prosecutors believe are chronic drunken drivers avoid piling up enough misdemeanor convictions for operating a vehicle while impaired to be hit with a felony charge.

So they avoid the possibility of prison time and a lifetime suspension of their driver’s license. Some avoid or delay being placed on the state’s list of habitual drunken drivers.

A Dispatch analysis of 11 years of charges in Franklin County Municipal Court found that people with recent drunken-driving arrests pleaded guilty to amended charges nearly as often as people with no recent drunken-driving history.

The data show that even people who have been charged with OVI five, six or seven times in the past decade were able to take a plea deal that resulted in less-serious charges. On average in recent years, nearly 1 in 5 of all OVI cases in the county ended with a plea deal.

Police arrested a Columbus woman three times on impaired-driving charges in 2012. Even though Katrina M. Delpercio already had two OVI convictions, two of her 2012 charges were reduced through plea deals. Had she been convicted of either of those OVI charges, she would have been labeled a felon.

Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys are surprised by how often people with past impaired-driving arrests or convictions get reductions on new OVI cases. It boils down to whether prosecutors think they have enough evidence.

“Every single case has to be tried on its own facts,” said Lara Baker-Morrish, the city’s chief prosecutor. “Not all arrests are equal. Some cases are very strong; some are weak.”

It appears that most are strong. About 80 percent of the roughly 6,000 OVI cases in Franklin County each year result in OVI convictions. Those cases are almost always resolved with a guilty plea to the original charge. The city attorney’s office took only 16 OVI cases to jury trials last year.

Even defendants who plead guilty to a reduced charge often receive a sentence that includes the minimum penalties for an OVI conviction: three days in a driver-intervention program, a $375 fine plus court costs and a six-month license suspension. Most are given driving privileges for work, school or treatment programs.

The city attorney’s office typically insists on those penalties as part of plea agreements for reductions.

Even someone like William L. Howell, a Delaware resident who was convicted of four OVIs between 1994 and 2003, can cut a deal on OVI arrest No. 5. And he did, pleading guilty to reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

In 2005, a Franklin County judge sentenced Howell to probation and banned him from driving for almost a year. That allowed him to keep driving, after his license suspension ended, for six more years before he got two more OVI convictions.

Howell is in prison now and labeled one of the state’s habitual drunken drivers.

City prosecutors began tracking the reason for their OVI plea deals on Feb. 1 in an effort to gather more information about the outcomes of cases of drug-impaired driving. Since then, they’ve closed about 1,000 OVI cases. More than 30 percent of the defendants had been convicted of OVI before.

Each of the 15 municipal-court judges routinely accepts the guilty pleas and sentencing recommendations.

Judge Carrie E. Glaeden said prosecutors arrange the plea deals, and judges usually don’t know why a reduction was offered.

“I take prosecutors at their word,” she said. “If they don’t think they can make a case, I don’t ask why. They know how strong their evidence is and whether a case merits a reduction or not.”

Defense attorneys who specialize in OVI cases say poor police work, including improperly conducted field-sobriety or breath-alcohol tests, leads to reductions.

But another factor appears to have an even bigger effect: It is increasingly common for drivers to refuse to submit to breath, urine or blood tests. Without such a test, prosecutors are left to pursue an OVI charge without a key piece of evidence: the level of alcohol in the driver’s system.

In 2009, defendants refused chemical tests in 36 percent of the cases handled by city prosecutors. In 2013, it was 41 percent.

Since February, city prosecutors have reduced charges in about 215 cases. In 61 percent of those cases, the defendant had refused the tests, according to a Dispatch analysis of the prosecutors’ case data.

“I hate refusals,” Baker-Morrish said. “Our job is to build a brick wall, piece by piece. The defense’s job is to put a hole in the wall. With a refusal, you walk in there with a hole in the wall.”

Some defendants use the tactic as a way to plead guilty to lesser charges over and over.

Take Bennie Fornash, a 38-year-old Lewis Center resident. He has never been convicted of OVI.

But he was arrested and charged with impaired driving four times in Franklin County between 2005 and 2013. He was pulled over early in the morning at least twice after police said he was speeding (80 mph in a 45 mph zone, for example) and once for veering left of center.

Fornash refused the breath test in each of his past three cases. The case file is no longer available for the 2005 arrest. But in all four cases, the OVI charge was reduced to physical control of a vehicle while impaired or to reckless operation of a vehicle.

Fornash, through Sam Shamansky, his attorney, declined to comment.

Shamansky would not discuss the specifics of Fornash’s reductions but said, in general, that defendants who have a previous drunken-driving arrest “have a greater understanding about exercising their constitutional rights.”

Those who have been through the system are more likely “not to incriminate themselves by doing a bunch of ridiculous stunts by the side of the road that are all designed for failure, and not to submit to a chemical test,” Shamansky said.

Nothing in Ohio law requires drivers to submit to field sobriety tests — a series of physical tasks that include a one-legged stand and an eye test known as the horizontal gaze nystagmus. But the state legislature has created penalties for refusing to take the breath, urine or blood test.

In some cases when a driver refuses to take a test, particularly when the driver is involved in a fatal or potentially fatal crash, the arresting officer will obtain a warrant from a judge for a blood sample.

For a driver who has never been convicted of OVI, refusing to take a chemical test results in an automatic one-year license suspension.

If the driver submits to the breath test and his or her blood-alcohol level is at or above 0.08 percent, the result is a 90-day license suspension.

Arresting officers are required to explain this to drivers.

“What they don’t tell you is, if you’re convicted of OVI, there is a mandatory license suspension of six months to three years,” said Columbus defense attorney Daniel Sabol. “The 90-day benefit goes away. By wanting to have only a 90-day suspension, you’re giving the government the evidence they need to suspend your license for at least six months.”

Ultimately, the length of the license suspension can be increased or reduced through an agreement between the prosecution and defense, Sabol said.

For drivers with an OVI conviction in the previous 20 years, refusing to take the breath test is treated as a separate offense with a penalty that includes three days in jail. But they can’t be convicted of that secondary offense unless they are convicted of OVI.

In the 1,000 cases that Columbus prosecutors closed since February, they still managed to get OVI convictions of about half the defendants who refused the chemical tests.

Without a chemical test, it becomes a game of chess between prosecutors and defense attorneys. Prosecutors look to the other evidence: field sobriety tests, police officers’ reports about the arrestee’s appearance or behavior, and statements captured on a cruiser’s video and audio systems.

Defense attorneys try to poke holes in that evidence, jockeying for a plea deal.

Video can be “a beautiful thing” for a defense attorney hoping to get a reduction for a client, Sabol said. “You wouldn’t believe how often the video shows something not in the police report or that contradicts the police report.”

Jon Saia, another Columbus lawyer who specializes in OVI defense, said cruiser video “is so favorable to the defense it’s unbelievable.”

Reduced Charges

Sabol and Saia said mistakes by arresting officers, often captured on video, lead to reduced charges for many of their clients.

Both lawyers are trained as field sobriety-test instructors and in operating Ohio’s most-common breath-alcohol machine. They look for problems with how those tests are administered, which can lead judges to suppress evidence.

Saia estimated that he has reviewed as many as 1,000 videos of field sobriety tests.

“Never, not one single time, have I seen it done correctly,” he said.

All Columbus police officers take a 32-hour course in OVI enforcement that is required by the state, said Sgt. Michael Smith, who supervises training for impaired-driver enforcement for the Police Division. Additional courses are available for officers who want to develop a specialty in OVI enforcement.

“I would agree that, in the Columbus Division of Police, there are officers who have more training and are more proficient than their peers,” Smith said.

He disputes the notion that cruiser videos reveal that officers intentionally exaggerated or embellished signs of impairment in their written reports.

“The defense attorneys get the benefit of frame-by-frame dissection of something that happened to an officer in real time,” he said. “The officers’ perceptions are based on what’s going on in real time.”

Hiring an attorney isn’t required for those charged with drunken driving, but it’s a good idea, Franklin County Municipal Judge Anne Taylor said.

She frequently handles guilty pleas in arraignment court from OVI defendants representing themselves. In her 22 years on the bench, Taylor has seen the difference a good lawyer can make in an OVI case.

“There is a role for advocacy,” she said. “If you’re represented by someone who is not as persuasive, not as skilled, you probably won’t have as favorable an outcome.”

Defense attorneys who help clients get OVI charges reduced shouldn’t be portrayed as contributing to the problem of drunken driving, Sabol said. “We’re protecting the Constitution. We want law enforcement doing their jobs properly, and we want equipment that works. We don’t want officers cutting corners, denying people their rights or using faulty equipment.

“People complain about someone getting off on a technicality, but that’s called the Constitution of the United States of America.”

jfutty@dispatch.com
jsmithrichards@dispatch.com
@jsmithrichards

Link to article: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/05/11/repeated-ovi-arrests-still-can-end-in-plea-deal.html

This entry was posted on May 11, 2014.