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State v. Woltz

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fourth District, Hens

November 28, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
KENNEDI WOLTZ, Defendant-Appellee.

          Lisa A. Eliason, City Law Director, and Jessica L. Branner, Athens County Prosecutor, Athens, Ohio, for appellant.

          Jeremy J. Masters, Assistant State Public Defender, Columbus, Ohio, for appellee.

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY

          William H. Harsha, Judge.

         {¶1} The state appeals the trial court's order that suppressed the test results from a urine specimen on the ground that the state failed at the suppression hearing to properly authenticate the urine sample. The arresting male trooper testified that a female dispatcher, who witnessed the accused, Kennedi Woltz, provide the urine sample, gave the sample to him immediately upon leaving the restroom. Woltz argued that the state is required to establish an unbroken chain of custody and that the female dispatcher's testimony was necessary to authenticate the sample.

         {¶2} The law requires the state to show substantial compliance with the regulations governing the collection and handling of urine specimens, not strict compliance. The arresting trooper's testimony was sufficient to establish at least substantial compliance with the regulation requiring the witnessing of the urine collection. Moreover, objections challenging authenticity/chain of custody based on the Rules of Evidence are not within the scope of the suppression hearing, but are properly raised in a motion in limine and determined with finality at trial. Therefore, we sustain the state's sole assignment of error, reverse the trial court's decision, and remand for further proceedings.

         I. FACTS

         {¶3} Sergeant Nathan Dennis of the Ohio State Highway Patrol stopped Woltz for speeding. After noticing indicators of impairment and performing field sobriety tests, Dennis arrested Woltz for operating a vehicle under the influence in violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a). Woltz voluntarily provided a urine sample at the patrol post. The urine toxicology report contained negative results for alcohol but positive results for marijuana, cocaine, and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, also known as "ecstasy"). The state amended its charges to include violations of relevant subsections of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(j).

         {¶4} Woltz filed a motion to suppress the urine test results on the grounds that the state failed to substantially comply with eight different provisions of the applicable regulations. Among her challenges, Woltz alleged that the "collection of the urine specimen was not witnessed to assure that the sample can be authenticated, as required by [Ohio Adm.Code] 3701-53-05(D). No discovery has been provided to the defense as to whether the urine was witnessed."

         {¶5} At the suppression hearing the state presented testimony of Sergeant Dennis, who testified that he and Warren, a female dispatcher working at the patrol post, collected the urine sample from Woltz. Dennis testified that he took a vial collection kit, inspected it, broke the seal, and handed the vial to Warren. Dennis testified that Warren and Woltz immediately entered the restroom and closed the door. Dennis testified that he waited directly outside the door to ensure no one else entered during the collection. After a few minutes Warren and Woltz exited the restroom and Warren handed the urine sample to Dennis in the same vial he gave to her. Dennis testified that after Warren gave him the sample, he placed a sodium chloride capsule in it, placed the cap on it, sealed it with evidence tape across the top, placed it in a box, and mailed it to the lab. Dennis testified that he filled out a property control form on which he wrote that he and Warren collected the urine sample. Dennis testified that Warren accompanied Woltz into the restroom because Woltz is female and it is against the Ohio State Highway Patrol's policy to allow a male to witness a urine collection of a female.

         {¶6} Because Warren did not testify, Woltz argued that the state did not prove substantial compliance with the regulation requiring that the collection of a urine specimen must be witnessed. The state responded that the rules of evidence do not apply to a suppression hearing and Dennis's testimony established that the collection was witnessed. The trial court concluded that Warren's testimony was necessary to establish the chain of custody to authenticate the sample, and granted Woltz's motion to suppress the urine test results. The trial court found:

The defense motion to suppress specifically challenged, among other items, compliance with OAC 3701-53-05(D), which requires that the collection of the urine specimen be witnessed to assure authentication. The State did not call the person who is believed to have witnessed the collection of the sample to provide testimony on the challenged element of OAC compliance. * * * The State did not present any evidence to rebut the challenge from the defendant that the urine specimen was not witnessed to assure authentication. The State has failed to meet its burden of proof and the defendant's motion to suppress is Granted with regards to the urine results.

         {¶7} The state appealed as a matter of right. See R.C. 2945.67(A); Crim.R. 12(K).

         II. ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR

         {¶8} The state assigns the ...


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