In State v. Baker, Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-451 the Ohio Supreme Court ruled on the admissibility of a blood sample in a case where a trooper left the sample unrefrigerated in his patrol car for over four (4) hours. The Ohio Supreme Court opinion reversed a lower court decision that ruled because the state did not strictly comply with the refrigeration requirement, the sample could not be used against the defendant in connection with a 2011 OVI charge that arose from accident that killed a pedestrian.
While giving lip service to the fact that strict compliance with the refrigeration rule is preferable, the Court recognized logistical issues of gathering and submitting samples may make strict compliance unrealistic in all cases. Citing State v. Plummer, where the Court in 1986 held that the failure to refrigerate a urine sample for four hours did not render the test results inadmissible, and State v. Mayl, a 2005 decision that cited Plummer, the Court determined that the failure to refrigerate a blood sample for as many as five hours substantially complied with the refrigeration requirement, permitting the sample to be used as evidence. The failure to refrigerate the defendant’s specimen for four hours and 10 minutes substantially complied with the rule and did not make the test results inadmissible per se.
In this case, the court clarified the procedure for admitting blood-alcohol test results into evidence as established in the Court’s 2003 State v. Burnside decision. Burnside states that to challenge a blood test result, the defendant must file a motion to suppress. After the filing of a motion to suppress it becomes the responsibility of the state to demonstrate it substantially complied with the administrative rule. If the state proves substantial compliance, the burden then shifts back to the accused to show the failure to strictly comply made the test unreliable and prejudicial.
A dissenting opinion, written by Justice William M. O’Neill acknowledge that strict compliance is not always realistic or humanly possible, but wrote the majority decision makes the substantial compliance standard too low for such serious cases. He stated the decision allows for the rule to be ignored. This blog has long argued that the “substantial compliance standard” is a fast-eroding standard that allows the court to admit evidence if the police try their best, or demonstrate a good faith effort, effectively shifting the burden of proof from the government to the defendant.