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Date: 07-10-2019

Case Style:

STATE OF OHIO vs. JOHN W. PHILLIPS

Case Number: 18CA3667

Judge: Jason P. Smith

Court: COURT OF APPEALS OF OHIO FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT ROSS COUNTY

Plaintiff's Attorney: Sherri K. Rutherford, Law Director, and Pamela C. Wells, Assistant Law Director

Defendant's Attorney: Timothy Young, Ohio Public Defender, and Allen Vender, Assistant State Public Defender

Description:


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Appellant, John W. Phillips, was arrested and charged with OVI in
violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a), an unclassified misdemeanor by virtue of the
fact that Appellant had been convicted of two prior OVIs in the previous ten year
period.1 Appellant’s OVI charge stemmed from an incident involving the stop of
his vehicle by a Department of Veterans Affairs police officer on federal property
owned by the department. A review of the record reveals that the stop was
initiated after Appellant pulled out of his apartment building parking lot onto a
main road, making a wide turn and crossing the center line. After further
observing Appellant go off the right side of the road, cross the center line again,
and then go off the right side of the road and turn into the grass, all while driving
ten m.p.h. in a twenty m.p.h. zone, Officer McGoye stopped Appellant’s vehicle.
Because McGoye, as well as a Veterans Affairs lieutenant who responded as
backup, and a state highway patrol trooper who took over the investigation all
believed Appellant to be under the influence of alcohol, Appellant was arrested and
charged with OVI. Trooper Chris Finley, who testified on behalf of the State, is
the state trooper who ultimately arrested Appellant based upon the presence of an
odor of alcohol on Appellant’s person, his admission to drinking one beer two
1 See R.C. 4511.19(G)(1)(c) with effective date of April 6, 2017.
Ross App. No. 18CA3667 3

hours prior, the fact that Appellant had bloodshot and glassy eyes, as well as his
performance on field sobriety tests and other divided attention tests.
{¶3} Appellant initially pled not guilty to the charge but then filed a motion
to file a written plea out of rule, stating that a plea of not guilty by reason of
insanity was appropriate in this matter and requesting a competency evaluation be
performed. Appellant’s motion was granted. However, after two different
competency evaluations determined Appellant was competent to stand trial,
Appellant stipulated to the test results and the matter moved forward to a jury trial,
which was held on August 28, 2018.
{¶4} Officer McGoye, now a Ross County Deputy Sheriff, testified on
behalf of the State, as did Deputy Chief Efaw, who was a lieutenant at the time.
Both of these men were employed with the Department of Veterans Affairs police
force at the time of Appellant’s traffic stop and arrest. Their testimony regarding
Appellant’s driving, appearance and demeanor, and performance on field sobriety
tests and divided attention tests will be discussed in detail below. Appellant rested
his case without presenting any evidence or testimony. The jury ultimately found
Appellant guilty as charged and because it was Appellant’s third OVI in ten years
he was sentenced to, among other things, thirty days in jail, an eight hundred fifty
dollar fine, a two-year license suspension and forfeiture of his vehicle. Appellant
Ross App. No. 18CA3667 4

now brings his timely appeal, setting forth a single assignment of error for our
review.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR
I. “THE TRIAL COURT VIOLATED JOHN PHILLIPS’S RIGHTS TO DUE PROCESS AND A FAIR TRIAL WHEN IT ENTERED A JUDGMENT OF CONVICTION FOR OPERATING A VEHICLE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL AGAINST THE MANIFEST WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE.”

{¶5} In his sole assignment of error Appellant contends his conviction for
OVI was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Appellant argues that no
evidence was presented regarding a breathalyzer or other measure of his blood
alcohol concentration, and that the evidence at trial reflected a reasonable doubt
that he was impaired. The State contends it did not introduce breathalyzer results
or other evidence of Appellant’s blood-alcohol concentration because Appellant
was not charged with a per se violation, but rather was simply charged with
operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. The State further
contends that testimony from three officers indicated Appellant was under the
influence of alcohol.
{¶6} When an appellate court considers a claim that a conviction is against
the manifest weight of the evidence, the court must dutifully examine the entire
record, weigh the evidence and all reasonable inferences, and consider the witness
credibility. State v. Dean, 146 Ohio St.3d 106, 2015–Ohio–4347, 54 N.E.3d 80,
Ross App. No. 18CA3667 5

¶ 151; citing State v. Thompkins, 78 Ohio St.3d 380, 387, 678 N.E.2d 541 (1997).
A reviewing court must bear in mind, however, that credibility generally is an issue
for the trier of fact to resolve. State v. Issa, 93 Ohio St.3d 49, 67, 752 N.E.2d 904
(2001); State v. Murphy, 4th Dist. Ross No. 07CA2953, 2008–Ohio–1744, ¶ 31.
“Because the trier of fact sees and hears the witnesses and is particularly competent
to decide ‘whether, and to what extent, to credit the testimony of particular
witnesses,’ we must afford substantial deference to its determinations of
credibility.” Barberton v. Jenney, 126 Ohio St.3d 5, 2010–Ohio–2420, 929 N.E.2d
1047, ¶ 20; quoting State v. Konya, 2nd Dist. Montgomery No. 21434, 2006–
Ohio–6312, ¶ 6; quoting State v. Lawson, 2nd Dist. Montgomery No. 16288, 1997
WL 476684 (Aug. 22, 1997). As the court explained in Eastley v. Volkman, 132
Ohio St.3d 328, 2012–Ohio–2179, 972 N.E.2d 517, at ¶ 21:
[I]n determining whether the judgment below is manifestly against the
weight of the evidence, every reasonable intendment must be made in
favor of the judgment and the finding of facts. * * *
If the evidence is susceptible of more than one construction, the
reviewing court is bound to give it that interpretation which is
consistent with the verdict and judgment, most favorable to sustaining
the verdict and judgment. Id. at ¶ 21, 972 N.E.2d 517, quoting
Seasons Coal Co., Inc. v. Cleveland, 10 Ohio St.3d 77, 80, 461 N.E.2d
Ross App. No. 18CA3667 6

1273 (1984), fn.3, quoting 5 Ohio Jurisprudence 3d, Appellate
Review, Section 60, at 191–192 (1978).
Thus, an appellate court will leave the issues of weight and credibility of the
evidence to the fact-finder, as long as a rational basis exists in the record for its
decision. State v. Picklesimer, 4th Dist. Pickaway No. 11CA9, 2012–Ohio–1282,
¶ 24; accord State v. Howard, 4th Dist. Ross No. 07CA2948, 2007–Ohio–6331,
¶ 6 (“We will not intercede as long as the trier of fact has some factual and rational
basis for its determination of credibility and weight.”).
{¶7} Once the reviewing court finishes its examination, the court may
reverse the judgment of conviction only if it appears that the fact-finder, when
resolving the conflicts in evidence, “clearly lost its way and created such a
manifest miscarriage of justice that the conviction must be reversed and a new trial
ordered .” Thompkins at 387; quoting State v. Martin, 20 Ohio App.3d 172, 175,
485 N.E.2d 717 (1st Dist.1983). If the prosecution presented substantial credible
evidence upon which the trier of fact reasonably could conclude, beyond a
reasonable doubt, that the essential elements of the offense had been established,
the judgment of conviction is not against the manifest weight of the evidence.
E.g., State v. Eley, 56 Ohio St.2d 169, 383 N.E.2d 132, syllabus (1978), superseded
by state constitutional amendment on other grounds in State v. Smith, 80 Ohio
St.3d 89, 684 N.E.2d 668 (1997). Accord Eastley at ¶ 12; quoting Thompkins, 78
Ross App. No. 18CA3667 7

Ohio St.3d at 387; quoting Black's Law Dictionary 1594 (6th ed.1990) (explaining
that a judgment is not against the manifest weight of the evidence when “the
greater amount of credible evidence” supports it). Thus, “[w]hen conflicting
evidence is presented at trial, a conviction is not against the manifest weight of the
evidence simply because the jury believed the prosecution testimony.” State v.
Cooper, 170 Ohio App.3d 418, 2007–Ohio–1186, 867 N.E.2d 493, ¶ 17; quoting
State v. Mason, 9th Dist. No. 21397, 2003–Ohio–5785, ¶ 17; quoting State v.
Gilliam, 9th Dist. Lorain No. 97CA006757 (Aug. 12, 1998). Instead, a reviewing
court should find a conviction against the manifest weight of the evidence only in
the “exceptional case in which the evidence weighs heavily against the
conviction.” Thompkins at 387; quoting Martin at 175. Accord State v. Lindsey,
87 Ohio St.3d 479, 483, 721 N.E.2d 995 (2000).
{¶8} Here, the jury convicted Appellant of one count of OVI in violation of
R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a), which provides that “[n]o person shall operate any vehicle,
streetcar, or trackless trolley within this state, if, at the time of the operation * * *
[t]he person is under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of
them.” A review of the record indicates the State presented ample evidence that
Appellant was operating his vehicle under the influence of alcohol at the time his
vehicle was stopped. For instance, Deputy Sheriff Zachary McGoye, who was a
Veterans Affairs police officer at the time and who initiated the traffic stop,
Ross App. No. 18CA3667 8

testified at trial. He testified that he stopped Appellant’s vehicle after he observed
him make a wide turn out of a parking lot, which resulted in him crossing the
center line. He then observed Appellant go off the right side of the roadway,
correct, cross the center line again, and then veer off the right side of the roadway
again and pull into the grass. He also testified that Appellant was traveling only
ten m.p.h. in a twenty m.p.h. zone.2 Deputy McGoye testified that upon
approaching Appellant he immediately noticed the distinct odor of alcohol, that
Appellant’s eyes were red and watery, and that his speech was slurred and uneven.
He testified Appellant stated he had one beer about two hours prior. He also
testified that Appellant was fumbling and dropping things while trying to provide
his license and registration, and instead kept handing him receipts.
{¶9} Deputy McGoye further testified that field sobriety testing he
performed on Appellant indicated impairment from alcohol, despite Appellant’s
claim that his equilibrium had been affected from a prior head injury. He testified
that the tests were conducted in accordance with National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration (hereinafter “NHTSA”) standards. More specifically, he testified
he observed four of six clues when administering a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus
(hereinafter “HGN”) test, which indicated impairment. He also testified that he
2 Deputy McGoye explained during his testimony there was no video of his initial stop or testing of Appellant because the Department of Veterans Affairs vehicles, which patrol on medical center property, are not equipped with cameras due to “HIPAA” (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy concerns.
Ross App. No. 18CA3667 9

observed four out of four possible clues on the one leg stand test and four clues on
the walk and turn test, which also indicated impairment. He clarified during cross
examination that although he did not include in his report the fact that Appellant
was unsteady on his feet and was stumbling around, he was 100% certain at the
time of trial that Appellant was stumbling to the extent he had to have him sit
under a tree so as to avoid him falling down or stumbling into the road.
{¶10} Deputy Chief Brian Efaw, who was a lieutenant with the Department
of Veterans Affairs Police Department at the time, also testified at trial. He
testified he responded to assist McGoye and watched Appellant’s performance on
the field sobriety testing. He testified that he was able to detect an odor of
alcoholic beverage coming from Appellant’s person, that Appellant’s speech was
slurred at the time the field sobriety tests were started, and that Appellant was not
following instructions during the testing. Based upon his belief that Appellant was
intoxicated and was under the influence of alcohol, Deputy Chief Efaw made the
decision to call the State Highway Patrol for assistance.
{¶11} Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Chris Finley testified at trial as
well. He testified that upon arrival he was briefed by both McGoye and Efaw. He
testified that because there was no video of the field sobriety tests already
performed, he chose to conduct additional field sobriety testing, which he
conducted in accordance with NHTSA standards. He testified that upon making
Ross App. No. 18CA3667 10

contact with Appellant he too noticed an odor of alcoholic beverage coming from
his person, and that his eyes were bloodshot and glassy. He testified that Appellant
advised him he had had one beer, was taking blood pressure medication and an
anti-depressant, and that he had been hit in the head with a pole in the past, which
affected his equilibrium and caused his balance to be off.
{¶12} As a result, Trooper Finley first administered a preliminary test to
check for “resting nystagmus” and “equal tracking” before moving on to field
sobriety testing. He testified that because that testing revealed no cause for
concern, he then performed an HGN test upon Appellant, which resulted in the
observance of four of six clues, indicating impairment. He testified that although
Appellant initially agreed to attempt the one leg stand and walk and turn tests, he
then refused to follow instructions while attempting them, resulting in Trooper
Finley not being able to score them.3 As a result, Trooper Finley administered
three additional tests, referred to as “divided attention tests.” These tests are
usually only administered when physical tests cannot be performed, and include a
modified Romberg test, a finger touch test and a finger to nose test. Trooper
Finley explained that based upon his testing and his contact with Appellant, he was
very certain Appellant was impaired by alcohol at the time.
3 A video of these tests was played for the jury and has been reviewed by this Court.
Ross App. No. 18CA3667 11

{¶13} In light of the foregoing testimony, we cannot say the jury clearly lost
its way and created such a manifest miscarriage of justice that the conviction must
be reversed, and a new trial ordered. The jury was in the best position to hear the
testimony, observe the witnesses and evidence, and determine their reliability.
Thus, we hold that the jury’s finding that Appellant was guilty of OVI was not
against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Outcome: Accordingly, Appellant’s sole assignment of error is overruled, and the decision of the trial court is affirmed.

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