The Law on Excluding or Including Evidence of Alcohol & Drugs
“A motion in limine is designed ‘to avoid the injection into a trial of a potentially prejudicial matter which is not relevant and is inadmissible.’” Smith v. ProMedica Health System, Inc., 2007 WL 2332070, at *2 (Ohio Ct. App. 2007) (quoting Reinhart v. Toledo Blade Co., 487 N.E. 2d 920, 924 (Ohio Ct. App. 1985)). “Though not expressly provided for by rule or statute, the ability of a court to entertain [motions in limine] lies in the inherent power and discretion of the trial judge.” Rich v. Quinn, 468 N.E.2d 365, 369 (Ohio Ct. App. 1983).
“A motion in limine may be used in two different ways: (1) as the equivalent of a motion to suppress evidence, which is either not competent or improper because of some unusual circumstance; and (2) as a means of raising objection to an area of inquiry to prevent prejudicial questions and statements until the admissibility of the questionable evidence can be determined during the course of the trial.” Riverside Methodist Hosp. Ass’n of Ohio v. Guthrie, 444 N.E.2d 1358, 1361 (Ohio. Ct. App. 1982).
According to Ohio Rule of Evidence 401, the definition of relevance is as follows: “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Ohio. R. Evid. 401. Irrelevant evidence is inadmissible in an action. Ohio R. Evid. 402. Admissible evidence is mandatorily excluded, “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, of confusion of the issues, or of misleading the jury.” Ohio R. Evid. 403(A). Furthermore, admissible evidence may be excluded “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by considerations of undue delay, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.” Ohio R. Evid. 403(B).
Evidence of Intoxication is Inadmissible Without Expert Testimony
Evidence of decedent’s alleged intoxication at the time of the subject collision is inadmissible without corroborating expert testimony. “The Ohio Supreme Court has held that corroborating expert testimony is mandatory before the court may admit BAC results into evidence.” Clark v. Curnutte, 2006 WL 825470, at *1 (Ohio Ct. App. 2006) (citing Parton v. Weilnau, 158 N.E.2d 719 (Ohio 1959)). Additionally, even if expert testimony is offered to establish the decedent’s intoxication level, the trial court still maintains the discretion to exclude the evidence. See Clark, 2006 WL 825470, at *1 (citing Parton v. Weilnau, 158 N.E.2d 719 (Ohio 1959)).
The results of a blood-alcohol test are only admissible into evidence in a civil case “with expert testimony that explains the significance of the percentage of alcohol found in the individual.” Am Select Ins. Co. v. Sunnycalb, 2005 WL 3148077 (Ohio Ct. App. 2005) (see Meszar v. Bowen Implement Co., 701 N.E.2d 409 (Ohio Ct. App. 1997)), citing Parton v. Weilnau, 158 N.E.2d 719 (Ohio 1959) (evidence of decedent’s blood alcohol level was inadmissible without expert testimony to articulate the importance of the decedent’s percentage of alcohol discovered in his or her blood because “the evidence as to that percentage does not tend to prove decedent was under the influence of alcohol.”)., and Konrad v. Robinson, 1992 WL 217503, at *2 (holding “there was no indication that [the officer] had any background in chemistry sufficient to qualify him as an expert. Accordingly we cannot find that the trial court’s conclusion that [the officer] was not qualified to interpret the results of the blood alcohol test was * * * an abuse of discretion.”); See also State v. Scheurell, 515 N.E.2d 629 (1986) (stating evidence of a numerical result has zero probative value on whether a person is under the influence of alcohol).
Bear in mind, “[a]n opinion with reference to intoxication is probably one of the most familiar subjects of non-expert evidence, and almost any lay witness, without having any special qualifications, can testify as to whether a person was intoxicated. It follows that, where one says that in his opinion a person is intoxicated, he is really stating as a fact rather than an expert opinion.” City of Columbus v. Mullins, 123 N.E.2d 422, 424 (Ohio 1954) (finding admission of such evidence is not prejudicially erroneous).
Evidence of Driver’s Intoxication/Marijuana In System
Post collision alcohol and drug tests “are relevant to the issue of appellant’s comparative negligence and are admissible because they have the tendency to raise the probability that [the driver’s] own actions were the proximate cause of [the] injury.” Kromenacker v. Blystone, 539 N.E.2d 675, 679 (Ohio Ct. App. 1987).
“A blood-alcohol test result is relevant to the issue of comparative negligence.” Am Select Ins. Co. v. Sunnycalb, 2005 WL 3148077 (Ohio Ct. App. 2005) (citing Bishop v. Munson Transp., Inc., 672 N.E.2d 479 (Ohio Ct. App. 1996)).
As Ohio case law indicates, evidence of the driver’s intoxication and/or drugs in his system may be admissible. See Syl. Pt. Blystone, 539 N.E.2d at 676 (Ohio Ct. App. 1987) (“That is, the defendant, in accordance with the comparative negligence statute…, may present evidence, e.g., that the plaintiff was intoxicated, indicating that the plaintiff’s own conduct was the proximate cause of his injuries.”). With that said, there is a strong argument that any evidence of intoxication and/or drugs in a passenger’s system should be excluded under Ohio Rules of Evidence 401, 402, and 403(A).
Admissibility of Drivers Drugs in System
Instructive on this point is the case State v. Smith, 1997 WL 658932 (Ohio Ct. App. 1991). In Smith, Smith was indicted for aggravated vehicular homicide, aggravated vehicular assault, failure to obey signal lights and maximum axle load violation. State v. Smith, 1997 WL 658932, at *1 (Ohio Ct. App. 1991). Smith filed a motion in limine to exclude medical records which showed that Smith had cocaine and marijuana in his system at the time of the incident. Smith, 1997 WL 658932, at *2. The trial court stated it would wait to see the evidence at trial and what any proposed drug expert would testify before ruling on the drug use evidence. Id. During trial, the State conducted voir dire of the coroner to show what the coroner would be testifying to relating to the drug tests. Id. Subsequently, the Court overruled Smith’s motion in limine and allowed the coroner to testify. Id. On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Ohio, found that the trial court erred in overruling Smith’s motion in limine. Id. at *3. The appellate court stated “[t]he medical records and [the coroner’s] testimony did not go to any material element of aggravated vehicular homicide” and “there was no evidence that appellant’s judgment or driving abilities were impaired by the cocaine in [Smith’s] system.” Id. Although the appellate court found that it was error to allow the drugs and the coroner’s testimony into evidence, it was a harmless error because the evidence remaining was overwhelming proof that Smith was guilty of aggravated vehicular homicide. Id. at *4.
The Smith case articulates that it was error to admit evidence of drugs and/or drug tests into evidence if there is no evidence that the drugs impaired the driver’s ability to operate the motor vehicle. Although the Smith case provides an avenue to exclude the evidence of marijuana in the driver’s system, it may be harder to exclude it in the case at hand because the police found drugs in the vehicle at the time of the incident. In Smith, there was no evidence that Smith was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Id. at *2. In the matter at hand, finding evidence of various drugs in the motor vehicle would be evidence to suggest that the driver may have been under the influence.
Hopefully, this provides an insight on the admissibility of evidence regarding drugs or alcohol. It is always a challenge to exclude and/or include evidence. This will give you evidence to support your position, should you need to address evidence regarding drugs and/or alcohol in a case.
Today, Jim Heneghan explains the law on excluding or including evidence of alcohol and drugs in a case.