Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Delayed Charge Based on Lab Results Did Not Violate Man’s Right to Speedy Trial

Person holding test tubes in a lab.

The Court ruled a man's speedy-trial rights were not violated when the state added a charge based on toxicology results months after his arrest.

Person holding test tubes in a lab.

The Court ruled a man's speedy-trial rights were not violated when the state added a charge based on toxicology results months after his arrest.

A Lorain County man’s right to a speedy trial was not violated when the state added a new vehicular homicide charge based on toxicology results months after his arrest for failing to stop after an accident, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of Andre Sanford for aggravated vehicular homicide premised on operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and drugs (OVI). Sanford argued his speedy-trial rights were violated because he was not arraigned on the additional charges until after he spent 95 days in jail. He maintained that he confessed to drinking and smoking marijuana prior to the collision that killed a motorcyclist and that prosecutors had all the information to charge him with the crimes at that time.

Writing for the Court, Justice R. Patrick DeWine stated police were aware at the time of Sanford’s arrest that he had smoked marijuana, but they did not know if Sanford was over the permissible limit for marijuana metabolites in his system until they received the results of a toxicology report weeks later. Because police did not have the evidence necessary to bring the additional charges at the time of his arrest, the time to prosecute Sanford without violating his speedy-trial rights was extended, Justice DeWine concluded.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Patrick F. Fischer raised an issue not argued by Sanford when appealing his conviction. Justice Fischer wrote that Sanford faced two separate OVI charges, and one of those charges did not depend on the toxicology report. He stated it is possible that the speedy-trial clock expired on the vehicular homicide charge because the state could have relied on the OVI charge that did not depend on the toxicology report. Because Sanford did not make that argument, though, it would be improper to decide the case based on that argument, he concluded.

Fleeing Motorist Later Confessed to Killing Motorcyclist
In the early morning hours in October 2016, Sanford was driving his car at almost 60 mph when he came upon a motorcycle stopped at a red light. Sanford drove through the red light and struck the motorcycle from behind, killing the driver. Sanford’s car then hit a traffic light control box. Sanford and his brother, who was a passenger in the car, ran from the scene.

About an hour later, the men turned themselves in to Elyria police. Sanford admitted he had been drinking whiskey and smoked two marijuana “blunts” prior to the collision. Police arrested Sanford and drew a blood sample for testing.

The next morning, Sanford appeared in Elyria Municipal Court for a single felony charge of failure to stop after an accident. The case was transferred to Lorain County Common Pleas Court where it was to be reviewed by a grand jury. Bail was set at $100,000, and Sanford remained in jail from the time of his arrest until early January 2017.

In the weeks after his arrest, investigators confirmed with DNA evidence that Sanford was driving the car. The results of the blood test indicated he had a prohibited level of marijuana metabolites in his system.

On Dec. 29, 2016, the grand jury indicted Sanford for seven crimes. One count charged Sanford for aggravated vehicular homicide occurring as a result of OVI. Another count charged him with aggravated vehicular homicide based on driving recklessly. He faced two separate OVI charges. One charge was based on him driving while “under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them.” Another charged him with specifically driving under the influence of a prohibited concentration of marijuana metabolites in his system.

He was also charged again with failure to stop after an accident, driving while under suspension, and operating a vehicle without a valid license.

Ohio Law Sets Speedy-Trial Limit
Under R.C 2945.71, Ohio’s speedy-trial statute, a person facing a felony generally must be brought to trial within 270 days of arrest. An accused person held in jail pending the trial is entitled to three days of credit for every day of incarceration. Thus, a person held in jail on a felony charge must be brought to trial within 90 days of arrest.

When Sanford was arraigned in common pleas court on Jan. 9, 2017, and released on bond that same day, he had been in jail for 95 days.

Sanford sought to dismiss the charges, claiming his rights to a speedy trial were violated. The Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office acknowledged the time to try Sanford for failing to stop had expired and that charge must be dismissed. The prosecutor also conceded the time had expired to try Sanford on charges of driving under suspension and driving without a license, because the office had all the information necessary to charge him at the time of his arrest.

However, the prosecutor maintained that two charges for aggravated vehicular homicide and two OVI charges should not be dismissed. Relying on the Court’s 1997 State v. Baker decision, the prosecutor stated that the original speedy-trial timetable does not apply when additional criminal charges “arise from facts different from the original charges, or the state did not know” of the facts at the time of the original charges. The office claimed it could not know of Sanford’s intoxication levels at the time of his original arrest and that the speedy trial time clock started again after it received the results of those tests.

The trial court declined to dismiss the OVI and vehicular homicide charges but dismissed the rest. Sanford pleaded no contest to the charges. He appealed the trial court’s decision not to dismiss all the charges to the Ninth District Court of Appeals.

The Ninth District found that the state had all the information it needed at the time of arrest to charge Sanford with OVI based on impaired driving and with vehicular homicide based on reckless driving. The appeals court affirmed his conviction for OVI based on driving with prohibited levels of marijuana metabolites and the vehicular homicide conviction based on that infraction.

Sanford appealed the Ninth District’s decision to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.


Supreme Court Precedent Applied to Charges
Justice DeWine explained that Court precedent has consistently held that prosecutors may not indefinitely extend the speedy-trial time period by continually filing related charges. And in Baker, the Court made it clear that a new speedy-trial clock does not start each time the state brings a charge based on additional evidence that might strengthen the state’s original case, he wrote.

But when the state does not have all the information necessary to charge a crime at the time of the defendant’s arrest, then a new speedy-trial time period will begin when that crime is later charged, the opinion noted.

The Court stated that determining whether a new charge was truly based on information not known at the time the original charges were filed requires “a fact-dependent determination.”

A new charge will not always trigger a new speedy-trial clock, the opinion stated, because in some cases investigating officers may have all the information needed to charge an offense, and the test results might be merely cumulative evidence of the original offense.

The Court explained that this case was different because the police did not have all the information necessary to bring the vehicular homicide and OVI charges based on Sanford having a prohibited amount of marijuana metabolites in his system.

“A driver might admit to consuming marijuana, but he cannot admit to the amount of marijuana metabolites that are in his bloodstream,” the opinion stated. “And law enforcement may suspect that a driver is over the legal limit based on the driver’s conduct, but police officers cannot observe the amount of a substance in a person’s blood.” 

In such a case, toxicology results constitute new information unknown to the state at the time of the original charge, and the state could extend the time to hold Sanford without violating his speedy-trial rights after 90 days in jail, the Court concluded. The Court remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Time for Vehicular Homicide Charge May Have Expired, Concurrence Maintained
Justice Fischer stated that he agreed with the majority’s decision that the OVI charge based on the toxicology report was valid and the time to try Sanford was extended. However, he noted, the vehicular homicide charge at issue was based on causing a death while committing an OVI violation under R.C. 2903.06(A)(1)(a). An OVI charge under that law can be brought on evidence of impairment other than blood tests or lab results, he explained, and the first of the two counts against Sanford was based on a charge that did not require lab results.

Police knew at the time of arrest that Sanford killed the motorcyclist. The toxicology report was not needed to bring the vehicular homicide charge, he wrote. For speedy-trial purposes, it should not matter that the state could also charge Sanford based on the lab results because “what matters is when it first could have been brought,” Justice Fischer stated.

However, Sanford did not raise this specific issue in his appeal, the concurrence stated.

“It would be improper for this court to decide this case based on an issue that was not fully briefed. Nevertheless, it remains an important issue, and I write separately to make clear that this court has not implicitly decided this issue in this case,” Justice Fischer concluded.

2021-0801. State v. Sanford, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-3107.

Video camera icon View oral argument video of this case.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

Adobe PDF PDF files may be viewed, printed, and searched using the free Acrobat® Reader
Acrobat Reader is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.