The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled on how blood samples used in the prosecution of an OVI (operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol) case must be stored, refrigerated, and used. In a surprising reversal, it has cited invalidity in a lower court’s prior decision that stated blood left unrefrigerated for 4 or more hours was unusable as evidence due to potential contamination or deterioration of the sample. The Ohio Supreme Court has also declared that blood left unrefrigerated for 5 or less hours is certainly usable and could fully comply with all Department of Health regulations. However, it has also requested that the Department of Health provide clearer definitions of how to handle blood specimens for criminal cases with a specific focus on how refrigeration, or the lack thereof, affects a sample.
This decision comes in reaction to a 2011 case involving a man who was arrested for killing a pedestrian in a drunk driving accident. The officer who took his blood sample – which would eventually test at 0.95% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level – admitted to drawing the blood at 1:50 AM but not refrigerating it until 6 AM at the earliest. During his trial, the accused man was able to move to suppress the evidence by arguing that blood uncooled for more than 4 hours would be contaminated and give false results.
In its reversal, the Ohio Supreme Court has stated that any blood or urine sample that is not being tested or transferred from one location to another must be refrigerated. It went on to admit that 100% compliance on this mandate is unreasonable and unlikely due to an officer’s regular duties or other unseen factors; thus, it further established that non-refrigeration of a blood sample for up to 5 hours was acceptable, and the sample in question could still be used for reliable testing. If the rule was too strict, the justices argued, all blood samples would be inadmissible due to the impossibility of always having a blood cooler ready.
What Happens Next?
It is clear that the Department of Health needs to clarify this issue to avoid further confusion. In the past, one Ohio court ruled that up to 19 hours of non-refrigeration was acceptable but another court ruled that up to 12 hours would likely render any sample completely unusable. Furthermore, the current regulations do not require refrigeration of any kind during transit, despite samples sometimes being en route for more than days at a time. The conflicting ideas of what is and what is not proper blood sample handling serves to underline the fact that this area of the law is gray.
If you would like to know more about this issue in particular, the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has published a complete article, which can be viewed here. If you have an OVI case issue of your own, you can contact The Meranda Law Firm LTD at 614.707.4239. Our Columbus criminal defense attorneys can use their 15+ years of legal and trial experience to help you reach a satisfactory conclusion to your case. Start today with a confidential, complimentary case evaluation.