Fair Hearing Denied - Prosecutor Gets Ruling Preventing Witness From Testifying Where the Were and Then Uses that Hole in Witnesses Testimony To Discredit Them - DUI News - 10/22/2016

The 10th District agrees with the Defendant that the trial court completed several errors in its evidentiary rulings that prevented a fair trial.

State v. Figueroa Urbina, 2016 Ohio 7009 (10th Dist.).


September 27, 2016

A police officer came upon a vehicle that was off the road in a ditch on a snow day.  Urbina, who did not speak English, was in the driver's seat and there were a couple passengers in the vehicle.  Urbina was eventually charged with an OVI and the case proceeded to trial in the Franklin County Municipal Court, where Urbina was convicted.  An appeal was filed with the 10th District raising several arguments regarding conduct that occurred during the trial.

Moreno was a witness who wanted to testify that Urbina had not been driving.  Rather, she and a friend had driven a van to pick up Urbina, she had gotten in the car with Urbina to drive them home, the vehicle went off the road, she got back into the van to go pick up a four wheel drive vehicle to tow the car out of the ditch but instead she experienced a miscarriage and had to go directly to medical care.  Furthermore, she also had cancer, despite which she left the hospital to come to the trial.

The court granted a motion prohibiting her from discussing "pregnancies, cancers[,] bleeding, nausea, vomiting or any of that."  This lead to gaps in her testimony, which the State then used to discredit her testimony.  The 10th District ruled that this was an error, because although relevant information can still be excluded, "if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, of confusion of the issues, or of misleading the jury," here the testimony was so important and probative that it was not outweighed by any danger of unfair prejudice.

The trial court similarly precluded Moreno from discussing her cancer and treatment, but the 10th District agreed that the probative value of this testimony was much less and therefore the preclusion was permissible.

Urbina also challenged the trial court's decision to warn Morena of the consequences of perjury and potential for criminal charges if she testified that she was driving the vehicle without a license and left the scene of an accident.  Urbina argued that this was intimidation.  The 10th District did not agree, in part because it believed she was still able to testify at trial.

The 10th District also agreed with Urbina that the State was allowed impermissibly to question Morena regarding prior unsworn statements and the trooper was similarly able to testify as to his opinion regarding how long the vehicle had been off the side of the road based on the tire tracks and snow fall, when the State had failed to lay a foundation regarding such expert testimony.  Finally, the 10th District agreed with Urbina that the trial court erred in preventing his attorney to cross-examine the trooper regarding field sobriety tests simply because he had not filed a suppression motion regarding the issue.  As a result, his conviction was reversed.