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Drunken Driving versus Driving after a Drink

By: April Campbell

Everyone knows that in Ohio, it is not illegal to drink and then drive.  There is a difference between consumption and impairment. This we know. 

Yet for whatever reason, there will always be courts that do not distinguish between consumption and impairment, no matter how legal consumption is.  Those of us in the defense field are all too cognizant of this, as we fight in the trenches for clients who look sober on cruiser videos, but still are charged with OVI. Luckily for these clients, we who litigate love trench-fighting a good OVI case.  Even more satisfying than the fight itself, is when a trial court sees these clients for what they are: sober. 

The trial court did just that in A.C.’s case.  State v. A.C., 2020-Ohio-713 (Mar. 2 2020).  It suppressed all of the State’s evidence against A.C., because there was no reasonable suspicion to conduct Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.  And why wouldn’t it?  The trial court had good reasons to back up its decision: A.C. acted fine, looked fine, talked fine, and walked fine—even in high-heeled shoes. 

Even so, the Ninth District reversed in a 2-1 decision.   Seeming to ignore the difference between consumption and impairment, the majority concluded that the officer still had reasonable suspicion because of evidence of consumption:  2 beers, a moderate smell, and driving home from a bar. The decision is a frustrating one, because as the dissent correctly notes, none of these things have anything to do with impairment. “[F]or better or for worse,” the dissent quoted in its reasoning, “the law prohibits drunken driving, not driving after a drink.”  

Thankfully for A.C. her case is not over yet.  Her attorney, like many of us, must enjoy trench warfare. She is taking this one ‘to the mattresses’ in a trial set next month. 

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