Court OKs late DUI tests

September 28, 2007

Note: Bradley Koeffel is a Liam attorney whose profile can be found at 
Although state law recognizes only blood-alcohol tests administered within three hours of a crash or arrest, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled yesterday that tests done later also may be introduced as evidence of drunken driving.

In an unusual 4-3 split, justices said a blood-alcohol test performed eight hours after a fatal Westerville crash could be used as evidence in the driver's trial on charges of aggravated vehicular homicide.

Michael Hassler, now 45, of Lewis Center, crashed into a large sign on the morning of Jan. 12, 2005, killing passenger Leondra Mayo, 34, of Columbus.

While hospitalized for his own injuries, Hassler resisted attempts to take a blood sample. After getting a warrant, police obtained a blood sample about eight hours after the crash. It showed a reading of 0.062, below the limit of 0.08, at which a person is considered to be driving drunk in Ohio.

At the time, state law held that only blood-alcohol tests administered within two hours of the crash or arrest were valid. Lawmakers extended the window to three hours in 2006.

Tests done outside that time aren't sufficient by themselves to convict someone of driving under the influence but may be considered alongside other evidence, the court majority ruled. Justices Maureen O'Connor, Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Judith Lanzinger and Robert R. Cupp joined the majority opinion.

Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and Terrence O'Donnell dissented.

Delaware County Prosecutor Dave Yost, whose office charged Hassler, said the ruling reaffirms the law that driving under the influence of alcohol -- regardless of blood-alcohol percentage -- is illegal.

"I think the precedent will help strengthen DUI prosecutions," said Yost, whose office lost the case in two lower courts. "Most people think of DUI as an allowable limit, but you're not allowed to drive under the influence. There is no limit."

DUI defense lawyer Bradley Koeffel, who did not represent Hassler, said the ruling might allow more questionable evidence into drunken-driving trials.

"When you start getting into six hours or beyond, it introduces too many variables," Koeffel said, pointing out that some drivers could continue drinking after an accident. "Why even have a length of time to begin with? It kind of makes the whole (three-hour) rule absurd and makes it meaningless."

Friday,  September 28, 2007 5:19 AM 

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