Ohio Supreme Court rules on handling of blood samples in OVI cases

The Ohio Supreme Court issued a decision yesterday that provided some clarification about admitting blood test results in drunk-driving cases. The case before the court involved an accident where an alleged drunk driver hit and killed a pedestrian. The driver, Michael Baker, consented to a blood test, which was taken at 1:50am. The officer kept the specimen in his cruiser and did not refrigerate it. An Ohio regulation requires that all blood samples be refrigerated while not in transit. He mailed it to the crime lab at 6am. The lab found the sample was above the legal limit with a blood alcohol concentration of .095.

At trial Baker moved to suppress the blood test and other evidence. The defendant argued that since the officer did not refrigerate the blood sample as required in the Ohio Administrative Code, the court could not consider the evidence. The trial court and Eleventh District Court of Appeals agreed and suppressed the results of the blood-alcohol test.

The Ohio Supreme Court held that the handling of the blood specimen substantially complied with the requirements in the Ohio Admin. Code in this case, finding that the lack of refrigeration was a de minimis error. In reaching the decision, Justice O'Donnell, writing for the majority, cited two prior Ohio cases where samples were not refrigerated for 4 and 5 hours, but were still deemed admissible.

The court explained that once it determined that the handling of the sample substantially complied with the requirements in the administrative code, the burden shifted to the defendant to show that he would be prejudiced by the lack of strict compliance with the refrigeration procedure if the court admitted the test results. The court found that this was something the trial court should decide and remanded the case.

Justices Pfeifer, Kennedy, and French concurred in the opinion. Justice O'Connor wrote a separate concurring opinion that Justice Lanzinger joined. Justice O'Neill dissented. For more information about the case see this article from Court News Ohio and the online docket, available here.

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