What Makes a Blood Test “Good Enough” for Use in a Georgia DUI?
When you really dig into the chain of custody and care for blood samples in Georgia DUI law, you recognize some really troubling trends. Samples are rarely cooled as they should be. Samples are rarely properly mixed as they should be. Very little care is given as to how samples are transported from the hospital or other facility to the State Crime Lab. Very little attention is given to all of the people that have undocumented access to the sample prior to test. Despite all of these problems, Georgia courts continue to allow juries to rely upon tests performed upon these samples. So, what level of inattentiveness (let’s go ahead and say it: carelessness) will affect the ability of the State to use the sample at trial? Arguably, there is no level of lack of care that will affect the ability of the State to present blood test evidence to a jury, as long as the State can establish that the sample tested is the sample drawn from the defendant:
But, once it has been established that the blood sample is the same as that which was seized, any argument as to the purity of the sample goes to its weight, not admissibility.
Schlanger v. State, 290 Ga.App. 407, 659 S.E.2d 823 (2008), isn’t a revolutionary case in Georgia DUI case, and it generally re-states principles relating to admissibility versus credibility found constantly in our cases. However, it illustrates the point that very little will affect admissibility under Georgia DUI law. More importantly for us, it also helps lay out some of the factors that we should address to courts assessing admissibility:
Schlanger also contends the trial court erred in admitting the blood test results over his objection that the state had failed to sufficiently establish the chain of custody of his blood sample. Schlanger’s claim lacks merit.
To show a chain of custody adequate to preserve the identity of fungible evidence, the [s]tate must prove with reasonable certainty that the evidence is the same as that seized and that there has been no tampering or substitution. The [s]tate is not required to foreclose every possibility of tampering; it need only show reasonable assurance of the identity of the evidence.
(Footnote omitted.) Stringer v. State, 285 Ga.App. 599, 603(2), 647 S.E.2d 310 (2007). We review a trial court’s finding that the state adequately established chain of custody for an abuse of discretion. Id.
At trial, the technician who drew Schlanger’s blood on behalf of the state testified that when taking the blood sample, she used instruments from a sealed kit designed specifically for that purpose. After drawing the blood, the technician labeled the blood tubes with her initials and the date, and sealed the tubes. The tubes, which had not expired, contained the preservatives sodium fluoride and potassium oxalate. She placed the sealed tubes into a sealed bag and placed the bag into a box which she again sealed with her initials and dated. She then handed the box, which was addressed to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), to the arresting officer.
The arresting officer testified that he took the box from the technician and kept it in his possession until he placed it into the U.S. mail the following day. The GBI forensic toxicologist who tested Schlanger’s blood sample testified to the GBI’s handling of the evidence. Upon the GBI’s receipt of the box containing Schlanger’s blood sample, it was inspected to ensure that it had been properly sealed. The box was then opened and inspected to confirm that the tubes had been properly labeled and sealed, had not leaked, and showed no signs of tampering.
The test tubes containing the blood sample were then placed into a different bag which was sealed, labeled, photographed, and given a unique bar code and case number for computer identification. The bag containing the sample was then placed into a refrigerated storage unit until it was retrieved by the toxicologist for testing. The toxicologist explained that access to the storage unit is very limited and requires any individual gaining access to use a pass containing a bar code and an individual personal identification number prior to gaining entry to the area. When the toxicologist retrieved the sample for testing, she confirmed that the tubes were not damaged and their seals were intact.
This evidence was sufficient to meet the state’s burden of proving reasonable assurance of the identity of the sample. Stringer, 285 Ga.App. at 604-605(2), 647 S.E.2d 310. It follows that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the challenged evidence.
Schlanger nonetheless argues that the condition of the blood sample evidence was questionable because it took nine days from the day it was mailed to be received by the GBI. But, once it has been established that the blood sample is the same as that which was seized, any argument as to the purity of the sample goes to its weight, not admissibility. Smith v. City of East Point, 189 Ga.App. 454, 456(3), 376 S.E.2d 215 (1988). See also Maldonado v. State,268 Ga.App. 691(1), 603 S.E.2d 58 (2004); Campbell v. State, 136 Ga.App. 338, 341(3), 221 S.E.2d 212 (1975) (“In light of the sealed nature of the container and the lack of any evidence of tampering, we are convinced that the chain of custody is unbroken up to its opening by the state analyst.”).
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