State v. Johnie A. Coyle

Decision Date15 March 2000
Docket Number00-LW-1183,99 CA 2480
PartiesSTATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. JOHNIE A. COYLE, Defendant-Appellant Case
CourtOhio Court of Appeals

David H. Bodiker, Ohio Public Defender, Eric K. Fisher and Daniel L. Silcott, Assistant Ohio Public Defenders, for Appellant.

Scott W. Nusbaum, Ross County Prosecuting Attorney, and Steven E Drotleff, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellee.


Karsha J.

The appellant, Johnie A. Coyle, was convicted of two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide with a driving under the influence specification resulting from an automobile accident that killed William Willoughby and Mark Lowe. The appellant raises four assignments of error for our review:

I. First Assignment of Error: The Trial Court erred when it overruled appellant's motion to suppress from use at trial any and all D.N.A. evidence obtained as a result of the withdrawal of appellant's blood or the removal of his hair.
II. Second Assignment of Error: The trial court erred when it instructed the jury to presume that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol based upon chemical tests admitted into evidence at trial, thereby denying the appellant due process of law.
III. Third Assignment of Error: The trial court erred when it admitted into evidence appellant's blood test results.
IV. Fourth Assignment of Error: The trial court erred when it allowed Lieutenant Kevin Teaford of the Ohio State Highway Patrol to give expert testimony regarding occupant kinetics.

Although we agree that the trial court erred in admitting

the blood evidence complained of in the first assignment, we

find the error harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Finding

none of the other assignments meritorious, we affirm.


One evening in March 1998, the appellant went to Mr. Willoughby's apartment in Chillicothe to drink beer and socialize with a group of friends. The appellant drank beer all evening before falling asleep at the apartment. The next morning, the appellant drank vodka with Mr. Willoughby before going to a locaL liquor store to purchase more alcohol. The appellant returned to Mr. Willoughby's apartment at about 10:30 a.m. with whiskey and a case of beer. The appellant and Mr. Willoughby drank for two more hours before deciding to go for a drive in Mr. Willoughby's car. At about 1:00 p.m., the appellant and Mr. Willoughby arrived at the home of Mr. Lowe, who was also a friend of the appellant's. The appellant convinced Mr. Lowe to go for a drive with them to nearby Ross Lake. Mr. Lowe's wife, Angela, saw the appellant driving the car as the men departed. The appellant remembers being at Ross Lake for a short time before deciding to leave when Mr. Lowe told them he needed to return home.

As the three men proceeded along Blacksmith Hill Road, Mr. Willoughby's car veered off the road, hit a tree, and landed upside down in a ditch. None of the men was wearing a seat belt. Mr. Willougby and Mr. Lowe died instantly from injuries suffered in the crash. Investigators later concluded that the car was traveling approximately 69 miles per hour when it left the roadway. Personnel from the Ross County Sheriff's Department and the Ohio State Highway Patrol arrived on the scene minutes later and found the appellant in the driver's side area with his head against the dash and steering wheel. Mr. Willoughby's body was situated in the vehicle's front passenger area with his partially severed right arm hanging outside the passenger side window. Mr. Lowe's body was located in the rear of the passenger compartment. Paramedics removed the appellant through the driver's side door and transported him to a local hospital.

Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers Terri Mikesh and Patricia Nemeth went to the hospital later that afternoon to question the appellant about the accident. Both troopers noticed obvious signs of intoxication in the appellant, including a strong odor of alcohol, confusion about who was in the car, and a failure to remember if he was driving when the accident happened. While the last two symptoms were also consistent with a head injury, Trooper Mikesh placed the appellant under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol and instructed a nurse to extract a vial of blood for alcohol testing. Under instructions from Trooper Nemeth, Trooper Mikesh also asked the nurse to extract two vials of blood for DNA testing and blood typing. Trooper Nemeth, who led the accident investigation, in this case, wanted to compare the appellant's blood with that found on the accident vehicle's windshield. Trooper Nemeth also took hair samples from the appellant's head to compare them with hair she found on the windshield. Neither trooper secured a warrant before taking the blood and hair samples. The test results revealed that these samples matched that of the blood and hair on the windshield. The results tended to confirm Trooper Nemeth's theory that the appellant was driving and hit his head on the windshield during the accident.

A grand jury indicted the appellant on two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, in violation of R.C. 290306, for the deaths of Mr. Willoughby and Mr. Lowe. The indictment also contained a specification that the appellant was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. The appellant pleaded not guilty and filed a motion to suppress results of the state's DNA and hair analysis.[1] He argued that the state violated his constitutional rights by seizing blood and hair for testing without either a warrant or exigent circumstances. The trial court denied the motion. Although it decided that the state should have obtained a warrant before extracting the appellant's blood and hair for testing, the court concluded that the state would have inevitably discovered the evidence absent the constitutional violation. A jury ultimately found the appellant guilty on both counts of aggravated vehicular homicide. The jury also found that the appellant was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. The alcohol specification carried a mandatory prison term and a permanent driver's license revocation. R.C. 2903.06(C). After the court sentenced him to consecutive five year prison terms, the appellant commenced this appeal.


In his first assignment of error, the appellant argues that the trial court should have suppressed all DNA evidence obtained by the state through the collection of his blood and hair. When reviewing a trial court's decision on a motion to suppress evidence, we are presented with a mixed question of law and fact. State v. Long (1998), 127 Ohio App.3d 328, 332. In a hearing on a motion to suppress, the trial court acts as the trier of fact and is in the best position to resolve factual questions and evaluate the credibility of witnesses. State v. Brooks (1996), 75 Ohio St.3d 148, 154; State v. Mills (1992), 62 Ohio St.3d 357, 366. We therefore defer to the trial court's findings of fact so long as they are supported by competent, credible evidence. State v. Medcalf (1996), 111 Ohio App.3d 142, 145; State v. Guysinger (1993), 86 Ohio App.3d 592, 594. We must then determine, utilizing a de novo standard of review, whether the trial court correctly applied the appropriate legal standard to the facts of the case. Ornelas v. United States (1996), 517 U.S. 690, 699, 116 S.Ct. 1657, 134 L.Ed.2d 911; Long, 127 Ohio App.3d at 332.

While at the hospital, three vials of blood and a hair sample were taken from the appellant. He challenges both warrantless extractions, arguing that they violated his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. See Fourth Amendment, United States Constitution; Section 14, Article I, Ohio Constitution. The trial court ruled that the troopers needed a warrant before extracting both the blood for DNA testing and the hair for laboratory testing.[2] Despite the warrantless extractions, however, the court did not suppress the evidence. invoking the inevitable discovery doctrine, the court concluded that probable cause already existed for the extractions at the time Troopers Mikesh and Nemeth took the samples and that the officers therefore could have secured a warrant had they tried. Because the seizure of the appellant's hair differs analytically from the taking of his blood, we analyze them separately.


Before we decide whether the court correctly applied the inevitable discovery exception in admitting the appellant's hair samples, we must first determine whether taking his hair constituted a "search" or "seizure" subject to state and federal constitutional constraints. In this case, the trial court decided that Trooper Nemeth's pulling of hair samples constituted a "search" requiring either a warrant or exigent circumstances. Although we agree that the removal of hair was a "search and seizure," we disagree that Trooper Nemeth needed a warrant or exigent circumstances to justify her actions.[3]

Neither party cites an Ohio case that expressly decides whether the involuntary removal of hair samples from a suspect's head constitutes a "search" or "seizure" subject to constitutional strictures. Indeed, it appears that the case law in Ohio has not resolved this question. Compare State v. Masterson (Dec. 26, 1974), Mahoning App. No. 74CA19, unreported (noting that removal of a few strands of hair was not considered a "search"), with State v. Szalai (1983), 13 Ohio Misc.2d 6, 7 (noting in dicta that taking of handwriting exemplars, hair samples, blood, or other bodily substances amounts to a search and seizure). The lack of clarity on this issue is not surprising. Even the federal courts are not consistent in deciding whether the involuntary removal of hair samples constitutes a search and seizure under the ...

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