DUI Debate

Mothers Against Drunk Driving joins litigation over Ohio’s DUI enforcement policies

Jul 22, 2014 at 2:46 pm
click to enlarge Intoxilyzer 8000
Intoxilyzer 8000


f Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) can convince the Ohio Statehouse to pass “Annie’s Law,” or HB 469, all first-time DUI offenders wishing to drive during any probation will have to install a breathalyzer machine in their car and pass it for the car to start.

MADD’s Ohio office in Columbus believes the law is innovative because instead of first-time offenders being ordered to not drive for several months or more, the single mother, the occupational driver — and anyone else dependent on their car — will be able to drive but must first blow into what is referred to as an “ignition interlock device.”

The bill is known as Annie’s Law in honor of Annie Rooney, a successful lawyer from Chillicothe who lost her life at age 36 last year when a habitual drunk driver slammed into her SUV.

“It’s like having a electronic probation officer in the front seat,” says MADD Ohio State Executive Director Doug Scoles. “You can’t drink and drive, period. The point is, why do we care where they go? That’s ridiculous. Let them go to work. Let them go to the game. Let them go to the store. That’s our whole mentality behind this. I think it’s a win-win-win situation. Nobody loses on this.”

MADD this summer is also keeping a close-eye on Cincinnati vs. Daniel Ilg, a lawsuit currently being taken up by the Ohio Supreme Court. Cincinnati vs. Daniel Ilg was the focus of a recent CityBeat cover story (“Legal Limit?,” issue of June 11) and essentially involves a local man challenging the reliability and accuracy of the Intoxilyzer 8000, which he believes wrongly inflated his blood alcohol content (BAC) the night he was arrested for a DUI back in 2011.

The Intoxilyzer 8000 is Ohio law enforcement’s most utilized breathalyzer machine even though Florida and several other states over the last several years banned the machine, calling it unreliable. Three years ago, Cincinnati city prosecutors also dumped the machine, and local defense attorneys say the Ilg case was a major reason why they went back to the Intoxilyzer 5000, which is made by the same Kentucky-based manufacturer. But these same defense attorneys scoff, saying the 5000 is just as bad as the 8000.

Both “Annie’s Law” and the Cincinnati lawsuit are similar because they’re about breathalyzers. Both are also part of an emotional and supersensitive debate that affects many, especially considering 1 in 7 Ohioans or 1.3 million licensed drivers has at least one DUI conviction.

Should the state continue to strengthen its uncompromising approach to impaired driving, or does the state need to soften its heavy-handed tactics to curb the anxiety DUI felonies have perpetuated throughout the responsible drinking public?

Cincinnati defense attorney Steven Adams, a former Hamilton County prosecutor who mainly tried DUI suspects, is Ilg’s attorney. He’s outspoken against DUI laws because he believes the state and local law-enforcement agencies have hijacked these laws to reap huge money in fines and federal traffic safety grants.

“Do I think there’s abuse out there? Absolutely,” Adams says. “Do I feel there are some people who drink too much and drive and need to be off the streets? Yes. But do I think this Ohio DUI prosecution system gets abused? Absolutely.”

Cincinnati vs. Daniel Ilg has become a key battle in the Ohio DUI debate, says Adams and other defense attorneys. If Ilg wins, it may finally give DUI suspects in Ohio a right to a fair defense, they say.

What many Ohioans aren’t aware of is their breathalyzer test cannot be challenged because of State vs. Vega, a controversial ruling made by the Ohio Supreme Court in 1984. It denies a DUI suspect the right to challenge the science and engineering of any breathalyzer machine that has been certified by the state.

During Ilg’s DUI trial, Adams motioned the court to make the state hand over computer records related to the Intoxilyzer 8000 Ilg tested on. The state refused to hand over a particular set of data that would have clearly shown whether or not the machine was malfunctioning the night of the test.

Hamilton County Municipal Court ruled Ilg’s breathalyzer test inadmissible and chastised the state for not complying with the court’s order for discovery. The city prosecutor’s office has subsequently appealed the trial court’s decision all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court.

MADD has filed an amicus brief for Cincinnati vs. Ilg on behalf of the city and in support of the city’s right to deny a DUI suspect from challenging any breathalyzer machine.

Some Ohio defense attorneys believe MADD overstepped its bounds with the amicus brief because the suit is more about a plaintiff’s right to pursue evidence.

“Why is MADD weighing in on a question related to a person’s ability to discover evidence that might show a machine is unreliable? What does this have to do with their mission?” asks Columbus-based defense attorney Tim Huey, a past president of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. “Shouldn’t their mission be, if someone is legitimately convicted of a DUI, this is what we think the penalty should be?”

Scoles, of MADD, says common sense tells us that if everyone had the option to challenge their breathalyzer test, then the problem of drunk driving — which takes the lives of an estimated 10,000 a year nationally — would be out of control and the courts jammed with cases.

“What would happen if anyone and everyone challenged their breathalyzer test? The short answer is, the trials would never end,” he says.

Whether the state decides to stay super tough on DUI offenders should be clear by next spring when the Ohio Statehouse makes a decision on Annie’s Law and the Ohio Supreme Court makes a decision on Cincinnati vs. Ilg.

If both Annie’s Law passes and the Intoxilyzer 8000 survives the Ilg lawsuit, it could foreshadow a future where the law stipulates a blood alcohol content level of zero. ©