The Ohio Supreme Court, in State v. Baker Slip Opinion 2016-OHIO-451, has clarified the procedure for the admissibility of blood tests in Ohio drunk driving cases. The court explained that if a motorist facing a drunk driving charge challenges the validity of an alcohol test, the state has the burden to show that it substantially complied with regulations prescribed by the director of health in the Ohio Administrative Code. If the state meets its burden of going forward with the evidence in this regard, a presumption of admissibility arises, and the burden then shifts back to the defendant to rebut the presumption by demonstrating prejudice from the state’s failure to strictly comply with the applicable regulations in the Ohio Administrative Code.
In the Baker case, the defendant was charged with operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. The controversy, in this case, stems from the issue of admissibility of his blood-alcohol test results. According to the regulations, “blood and urine specimens [are required] to be refrigerated when not in transit or under examination.” However, the Defendant’s blood sample was not refrigerated for just over 4 hours before being placed in transit.
The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that the defendant’s blood-alcohol test results were likely admissible nonetheless. The court reasoned that this was not a unique problem, as there have been numerous cases where the failure to refrigerate a sample for a period of over 5 hours. The court said that the failure to “refrigerate the blood sample, in this case, is de minimis.” The court concluded that the police, as a result, had “substantially complied with the regulation.”
This is not the end of the case. The court explained that the “substantial compliance” merely created a presumption of admissibility of the blood-alcohol test results, and that the Defendant could still attempt to demonstrate prejudice from the lack of strict compliance with the regulations.
Justice William O’Neill dissented. He said, “[T]he majority treats the substantial-compliance standard as a license to ignore the ODH regulations altogether.”
In our view, there is a substantial issue when administrative codes are not being followed with any rigidity. The Ohio State Highway Patrol may not believe or know that handling these samples in accordance with OAC is an important part of their job in drunk driving cases. Losing cases may be a way to hold the police accountable and may lead to a better resolution of drunk driving cases.
Questions about drunk driving cases should be directed to Mary Martin, who is the former head of the Department of Health department responsible for regulations at issue.