TECHNICALITY, SCHMECHNICALITY… JUST PROVE THE DAMN CASE!
With the recent
Ryan Braun vs. MLB decision sparking such debate, I couldn’t help but see the parallels
between Braun’s precarious position and that of an ordinary citizen
charged with an OVI. It seems as though Braun was found guilty in the
court of public opinion long before any significant details surfaced in
his case. Many people were quick to call Braun a cheater. People heard
“high testosterone levels” in his urine, and assumed he was
guilty. After all, no player had ever successfully appealed a positive
drug test. Similarly, most people upon hearing that someone had a high
level of alcohol in their system simply assume the person must be guilty.
But that is not always the case.
It bugs me to hear people say that Braun was simply lucky and that he’s
still a dirty player who got off on a “technicality”. And I’ve
heard more a few national radio hosts exclaim that while Braun may not
have been proven guilty, that certainly doesn’t mean he is innocent
either. Really? C’mon.
I take exception to the whole concept of a “technicality” in
a court or administrative hearing-type setting. It is a well-established
principle in this country that someone accused of wrongdoing should be
presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, it seems that all-too-often,
that scenario is flipped. More and more, when someone who is presumed
to be guilty of a crime is not convicted, people want to blame it on a
technicality. But let me ask this: since when did the Constitution become
a “technicality”? If evidence is excluded from trial because
it resulted from an unlawful seizure, that’s not a technicality. If
statements are not allowed to be admitted at trial because they violate
an accused’s right to confrontation, that is not a technicality. And
if, as in the Braun case, the agency alleging the violation has failed
to comply with the applicable testing regulations, that is not a technicality.
Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is Braun was presumed guilty until
proven innocent, and so are most people accused of OVI. And even if the
person, who like Braun, is subsequently acquitted, we still have to hear
all of the “yeah, buts…” The fact of the matter is that
Major League baseball was unable to show compliance with applicable testing
regulations. Period. It is not Ryan Braun’s job to explain why baseball
dropped the ball. It is not Braun’s responsibility to explain the
alleged elevated testosterone levels. It’s not Braun’s job to
prove the sample was tampered with. The problem is that MLB cannot prove
wasn’t tampered with. They cannot prove the integrity or reliability of the sample
because the testing regulations were not followed. In short, Major League
Baseball cannot prove that Braun’s sample is what they say it is.
And that is MLB’s problem, not Braun’s.
And these same concepts often apply in an OVI prosecution. If a person
is accused of having a prohibited amount of alcohol in their blood, breath
or urine, that doesn’t mean they are automatically guilty. The state
must still prove it, and must comply with certain testing regulations.
These rules and regulations are not so-called “technicalities”.
They are safeguards to protect citizens’ rights. And these safeguards
are in place to ensure accuracy and reliability. If the State cannot demonstrate
compliance and reliability, that’s tough luck for the State. They
lose. The accused has no duty, obligation or burden to prove anything.
Just as in the Braun case, if a prosecutor in a criminal case intends to
use a urine sample against an accused at trial, that prosecutor must first
show that the sample possesses certain indicia of reliability. By way
of example, in Ohio the state must show compliance with the Ohio Administrative
Code regulations governing alcohol and drug testing before a urine sample
can be admissible against an accused (read on for information on
drug testing in high schools). First, the urine specimen must be witnessed to ensure the sample can
be authenticated. Furthermore, the urine shall be deposited into a clean
glass or plastic screw top container which shall be capped or collected
according to laboratory protocol. The container must be sealed in a manner
such that tampering can be detected and have a label that contains at
least the following information: name of suspect, date and time of collection,
name or initials of the person collecting the sample, and name or initials
of the person sealing the sample. Additionally, while not in transit or
under examination, all urine specimens shall be refrigerated. And unless
the state can show compliance with these regulations, among others, the
urine sample would be inadmissible in a trial of the accused.
So the next time you hear that someone got off on a “technicality,”
give it some thought. And ask what the technicality really was. Chances
are the technicality was actually a Constitutional or statutory provision
implemented to safeguard our rights. And remember, the Constitution is
not a technicality. Our laws are not a technicality. And if the State
cannot provide sufficient evidence of guilt, that is not a technicality.