A Supreme Court ruling that was handed down today clarified that the state of Ohio must substantially comply with the Ohio Department of Health regulations for refrigerating blood in prosecution of OVI cases. The majority opinion in this case reversed both the trial and appellate court decisions, and sent the case back to the lower court so that the defendant could have an opportunity to demonstrate that failure to adhere to refrigeration standards resulted in unreliable blood test results.
The case originated on March 6, 2011 when an Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper responded to a car-on-pedestrian accident. The pedestrian had been walking along U.S. Route 6 when fatally struck by a vehicle. The man driving the vehicle that struck the pedestrian remained on the scene. When the Trooper arrived, the driver admitted to having six or seven beers and consented to a blood test.
The driver gave a blood sample at a hospital at 1:50am, and the Trooper kept it in his vehicle until 6am when his shift ended – so the blood sample was sitting in the vehicle for over four hours without being refrigerated. The crime lab tested the sample and determined a blood alcohol level of .095, which is over the legal limit.
The driver pleaded not guilty, attempting to suppress the blood test evidence because of how long it was left unrefrigerated. The court sided with the accused, and suppressed this evidence.
The case was appealed to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court’s suppression of the blood test evidence. However, the judges who upheld the suppression of blood test evidence disagreed on this point: the consequences of violating the refrigeration regulation.
One of the judges in the majority said that the failure to comply with the refrigeration regulation rendered the blood test results inadmissible. The other judge said that the violation of the blood refrigeration requirement placed the burden of proof back on the state of Ohio to prove the reliability of the test at a hearing, the outcome of which hearing would decide whether the blood test evidence could be used at trial.