Ohio No-Refusal Weekend Serious About Drunk-Driving Testing

No one will argue that drunk driving is not a continuing problem in Ohio. According the Columbus Dispatch, the state is one of only a handful where drunk-driving fatality numbers went up in 2010. And now law enforcement has a new tool for the fight against impaired driving: the no-refusal weekend.

Ohio implied-consent law provides that anyone operating a motor vehicle in the state is presumed to consent to chemical testing of his or her breath or bodily fluids if ordered by law enforcement upon probable cause of drunk driving. Ohio law calls the crime of drunk driving: “operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated,” usually referred to as OVI.

If an OVI suspect refuses chemical testing in Ohio, he or she will normally receive a license suspension of one year, or more in certain situations where the individual has a history of test refusals or OVI convictions. After refusing testing at the scene, the officer may attempt to get a warrant from a judicial officer for a blood draw. According to a Toledo Blade interview of Bowling Green Police Lt. Brad Biller, normally Ohio officers do not seek blood-draw warrants for first-time OVI suspects not involved in accidents.

However, the “no-refusal weekend” changes that practice for designated short time periods. Promoted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, or NHTSA, the concept has caught on in other states as well like Illinois, Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

During a no-refusal period, law enforcement keeps judicial officers on call to review every suspected OVI case that arises within the designated local jurisdiction for probable cause of drunk driving. The judges review the evidence to determine whether it is legally sufficient to issue warrants ordering blood draws for alcohol testing.

The types of evidence that might indicate drunk driving short of chemical testing include the smell of alcohol, bloodshot eyes, open or empty containers in the vehicle, failed field sobriety tests (like requiring the defendant to balance on one leg), slurred speech and so on. If a warrant is issued for a blood test, the blood must be drawn within three hours of an alleged violation under Ohio law.

The NHTSA does recommend that such operations be highly publicized to the local community prior to implementation.

No-refusal weekends have been held in Ohio before and in one northern Ohio city recently. Over Super Bowl weekend, Bowling Green, Ohio, held its first no-refusal weekend in which four law-enforcement agencies participated: police from the city of Bowling Green and Bowling Green State University, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Wood County Sheriff. From Friday night through Sunday night, if a suspected drunk driver was stopped, but had refused to take a Breathalyzer test, a local judge was on call to review the situation immediately.

That particular weekend in the Bowling Green area, all five suspected drunk drivers stopped by law enforcement agreed to voluntary testing, so the judge did not have to get involved with blood-draw warrants.

Opponents of no-refusal procedures often cite to constitutional protections like the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to privacy. Some cite the high monetary costs of such intense patrolling. There is also fear that someone’s blood drawn for an alcohol test could be also used for other purposes by law enforcement.

If you are pulled over for suspected OVI, an experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you of your rights and defenses for Ohio drunk driving testing.