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The Ohio Supreme Court Relaxes Refrigeration Requirements Of Blood And Urine Specimens

Last week, the Ohio Supreme Court in State v. Baker, reversed the trial and appellate courts' ruling that an unrefrigerated blood sample could not be used against Baker at trial. Baker had been charged with an OVI arising out of an accident that killed a pedestrian. At issue in the Court's decision was whether the state substantially complied with Ohio Administrative Code 3701-53-05(F), requiring blood and urine specimens to be refrigerated when not in transit or under examination.

In Baker, a state trooper responded to an accident where the defendant's vehicle struck the decedent. During his investigation, the trooper smelled alcohol on the defendant, and the defendant admitted to drinking six or seven beers. When the trooper requested a blood test, the defendant consented. At the hospital, the defendant's blood was drawn and given to the trooper. However, the trooper failed to refrigerate the blood sample, even after he returned to the post. The blood sample remained unrefrigerated for four hours and ten minutes before it was mailed to the crime lab in Columbus for testing.

In its decision, the Ohio Supreme Court initially acknowledged the refrigeration requirement of Ohio Administrative Code 3701-53-05(F) as "patently clear," requiring that all blood and urine specimens "shall be refrigerated" while not in transit or under examination. However, while noting that strict compliance with the refrigeration rule is preferable, the court recognized logistical issues of gathering and submitting samples make strict compliance "unrealistic." The Court then cited its previous decisions in State v. Plumber, holding that the state's failure to refrigerate a urine sample for four hours did not render the test results inadmissible, and in State v. Mayl, holding that the state's failure to refrigerate a blood sample for five hours was substantial compliance, permitting the sample to be used as evidence.

In reliance on that precedent, the Supreme Court held that the state's failure

to refrigerate the defendant's specimen for four hours and ten minutes substantially complied with the refrigeration rule and did not make the test result inadmissible per se. In light of that holding, the court remanded the case to the trial court to give the defendant an opportunity to rebut the presumption of admissibility.

Assuming that the defendant can show the trial court that the state's failure to strictly comply with the refrigeration rule resulted in an unreliable or prejudicial test result, he could still prevail in challenging the admissibility of the unrefrigerated blood test results.

If you have been charged with an OVI in Ohio, please call us for a free consultation. We helped shape the law in Ohio and have helped thousands of people accused of drinking and driving prove their innocence, mitigate their damages, and navigate the court system. 

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