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State v. Cromer

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

September 19, 2013

State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Jill D. Cromer, Defendant-Appellee.

APPEAL from the Franklin County Municipal Court (M.C. No. 2012 TR 119452)

Richard C. Pfeiffer, Jr., City Attorney, Lara N. Baker, City Prosecutor, and Melanie R. Tobias, for appellant.

The Koeffel Law Firm, and William H. Nesbitt, for appellee.

DECISION

CONNOR, J.

(¶ 1} Plaintiff-appellant, State of Ohio ("the State"), appeals from a decision of the Franklin County Municipal Court granting a motion to suppress evidence filed by defendant-appellee, Jill D. Cromer ("defendant").

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

(¶ 2} On March 3, 2012, Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper, John Chaney, stopped defendant's vehicle after he observed her commit two lane violations. When Trooper Chaney approached the vehicle, he detected the odor of alcohol. He also noticed that defendant's eyes were blood shot and glassy, and that her speech was slurred. When Trooper Chaney asked to see defendant's driver's license, she handed him a transit card. Defendant admitted to consuming two or three alcoholic drinks before getting behind the wheel.

(¶ 3} After defendant performed poorly on several field sobriety tests, Trooper Chaney placed her under arrest for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Trooper Chaney transported defendant to the Delaware County Highway Patrol Post where she submitted to a Breath Alcohol Test ("BAT"). Trooper Chaney conducted the BAT using a device known as the BAC DataMaster. The results of the BAT revealed a breath alcohol level of .151 grams per 210 millimeters of breath, well over the .10 threshold for a violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(d). Defendant was charged with violations of both R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a) and (d).

(¶ 4} On May 23, 2012, defendant moved the trial court to suppress the test results on a number of grounds. Following an evidentiary hearing held on September 27, 2012, the trial court granted defendant's motion and suppressed the BAT results. The trial court decision reads in relevant part:

The government failed to show that Trooper Chaney was properly issued his operator's permit, specifically because it did not elicit testimony from Trooper Chaney that he had reviewed self-study materials provided to him by the Ohio Director of Health, or that he had completed an in-service course for the applicable type of breath testing instrument.

(Oct. 29, 2012 Entry and Order.)

(¶ 5} The State has appealed the decision of the trial court pursuant to Crim.R. 12(K) and App.R. 4(B)(4), and assigns the following as error:

The trial court erred when it suppressed the results of Appellee's breath alcohol test based on a finding that the trooper did not have a valid senior operator permit at the time he administered Appellee's test.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

(¶ 6} Appellate review of a motion to suppress presents a mixed question of law and fact. State v. Cordell, 10th Dist. No. 12AP-42, 2013-Ohio-3009, ¶ 16. When considering a motion to suppress, the trial court assumes the role of trier of fact, and therefore is in the best position to resolve factual questions and evaluate the credibility of witnesses. State v. Castle, 10th Dist. No. 12AP-369, 2012-Ohio-6028, citing State v. Burnside, 100 Ohio St.3d 152, 2003-Ohio-5372, ¶ 8. As a result, an appellate court must accept the trial court's findings of fact if they are supported by competent, credible evidence. Id. Then, the appellate court must independently determine whether the facts satisfy the applicable legal standard, pursuant to a de novo review, and without giving deference to the conclusion of the trial court. Id.

III. ANALYSIS

(¶ 7} In order to be entitled to a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence, a defendant "must state the motion's legal and factual bases with sufficient particularity to place the prosecutor and the court on notice of the issues to be decided." State v. Shindler, 70 Ohio St.3d 54 (1994), syllabus. When a defendant challenges the results of a breath alcohol test by way of a motion to suppress, the State has the burden to show that the test was administered in substantial compliance with the Ohio Department of Health ("ODH") regulations. Burnside at ¶ 24; State v. Plummer, 22 Ohio St.3d 292, 294 (1986). This substantial compliance standard excuses errors that are clearly de minimis, errors which the Supreme Court of Ohio has characterized as " 'minor procedural deviations.' " Burnside at ¶ 34, quoting State v. Homan, 89 Ohio St.3d 421, 426 (2000).

(¶ 8} "The nature of the prosecution's burden to establish substantial compliance is determined by the degree of specificity with which the accused challenges the legality of the test." Columbus v. Aleshire, 187 Ohio App.3d 660, 674, 2010-Ohio-2773, ¶ 32 (10th Dist.), citing Columbus v. Morrison, 10th Dist. No. 08AP-311, 2008-Ohio-5257, ¶ 9. "When a motion to suppress raises only general claims, the burden imposed upon the city is general and slight." Id., citing Morrison at ¶ 9. "If the motion to suppress is general, the prosecution is required to demonstrate, in general terms, only that it substantially complied with the regulations. Unless ...


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