- Associated Press - Thursday, December 29, 2016

CINCINNATI (AP) - A divided Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the testimony of an experienced police officer was sufficient evidence without expert testimony to convict a driver of being under the influence of a painkiller and impaired while operating the vehicle.

The 4-3 decision reversed a state appellate court that threw out the conviction of Clinton Richardson, saying prosecutors didn’t provide expert testimony linking the opiate hydrocodone to the driver’s behavior. The state’s high court said the effects of the drug are well-known and the Dayton officer’s testimony supported evidence for a conviction.

The 14-year police veteran reported that he observed the driver rear-ending another vehicle, had slurred speech, singed his hair while lighting a cigarette, and showed signs of impairment during a walk-and-turn field sobriety test.

“The state presented evidence that the defendant’s driving was impaired,” Justice Judith French wrote for the majority. “The state also presented evidence that the defendant had ingested hydrocodone, a widely known drug of abuse. And the state presented an experienced police officer’s testimony that the defendant appeared to be under the influence of pain medication … no expert testimony was necessary.”

Richardson’s attorney, Adam Arnold of Dayton, said he will look into a federal appeal under his client’s due process and other constitutional rights.

“We’re surprised at the ruling,” Arnold said, saying the state didn’t meet its burden to prove every element of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice William O’Neill said the state didn’t prove that the defendant was under the influence of a drug of abuse that impaired his safe driving ability. He said the decision violated “200 years of jurisprudence by permitting a lay person to give an expert opinion” without qualification as an expert.

“In an OVI case involving alcohol, would the majority affirm an OVI conviction based on a responding officer’s testimony that ‘Well, he looked like he was over the limit to me,’ based only on behavior observed by the officer? No,” O’Neill wrote.


Follow Dan Sewell at https://www.twitter.com/dansewell

For some of his other recent stories: https://bigstory.ap.org/content/dan-sewell

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