Ohio Court: Blood alcohol tests past 2-hour limit sometimes admissible

Sep 27, 2007

Ohio courts may admit the results of blood alcohol tests taken after the two-hour legal time limit in certain circumstances, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
In a 4-3 opinion, the court overturned lower court rulings and said delayed test results are admissible in vehicular homicide cases under specified conditions.
The ruling was made in the case of Michael Hassler, who was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide in a car crash that killed passenger Leondra Mayo in suburban Westerville in 2005. Hassler declined to submit a blood sample for an alcohol test while he was being treated at the hospital, and officers obtained a warrant that allowed them to get a sample about seven hours after the crash.
Hassler’s blood alcohol level measured at .062 percent, the court said, below the .08 percent that establishes a driving under the influence violation.
Prosecutors charged him with aggravated vehicular homicide, and argued that the test results should be admissible. Hassler’s attorney successfully argued against the admissibility of the test, first in trial court and then in appeals court.
In the majority opinion reversing those rulings, Justice Maureen O’Connor said the state’s DUI law also enables motorists to be charged with driving under the influence if there is not a reading above .08 percent. She wrote that causing the death of another under either situation is sufficient grounds for an aggravated vehicular homicide conviction.
Citing a previous Supreme Court decision, O’Connor said blood alcohol tests taken outside the two-hour time limit could be admitted to prove an under the influence charge if they were supported by expert testimony.
She was joined by Justices Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, Judith Ann Lanzinger, and Robert R. Cupp.
Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, joined by Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, wrote the dissenting opinion. “The court’s holding today … defeats whatever purpose the General Assembly had in supplying a hard time limit, and appears to be based on little more than ‘we did something similar once before,’” Pfeifer wrote.
Justice Terrence O’Donnell entered a separate dissent.

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