Friday, February 24, 2012

The Ryan Braun Case & A "Cool And Secure Location"

Ryan Braun's positive drug test was overturned by a Panel of arbitrators. The decision was not unanimous, with 1 arbitrator finding against Braun, while 2 overturned the decision.

It has been widely reported that Braun got off on a technicality. His lawyers didn't address whether Braun took performance enhancing drugs. Apparently, Braun’s testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio was nearly 30:1. A 4:1 ratio is the threshold for a positive and the 50-game suspension that accompanies.

Rather, Braun's lawyers were critical of the chain of custody. This refers to how the sample was taken and handled to the point of delivery to the testing laboratory in Laval, Quebec. By casting doubt on the integrity of the sample, his lawyers convinced two of the 3 arbitrators that Braun's sample could not be seen as reliable.

Under Section V.7 of Major League Baseball’s Joint DrugPrevention And Treatment Program, the collector of the sample is required to send the sample by FedEx the day it is collected unless there are "unusual circumstances" prevented the mailing. Here is the wording:
The Collector shall check the “FedEx” box in the section entitled “Specimen Bottles(s) Released to:” Absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to the Laboratory on the same day they are collected.
In this case, it has been reported that the sample was taken on a Saturday, and that the FedEx office was closed before it could be sent. So the collector stored the sample in a fridge and mailed it out on the Monday.

Braun's lawyers were able to successfully argue that the chain of custody was not properly maintained resulting in a sample that was compromised. 

Having not read the decision, there is only so much that can be said. However, for the sake of completeness and balance, there is another point that should be raised. That same Joint Drug Prevention And Treatment Program does provide that if the "specimen is not immediately prepared for shipment, the Collector shall ensure that it is appropriately safeguarded during temporary storage". It also reads as follows: the "Collector must store the samples in a cool and secure location".

In this case, the FedEx office was closed. The sample was therefore placed in a fridge, which is a "cool and secure location" with a view to safeguarding it. While a fridge is not expressly provided for in the Policy, the question to ask is this: what is the industry standard for storing a specimen? If it's a fridge then it should be ok. According to a number of experts, a refrigerator is often used to store specimens. So using the fridge was likely not unusual.

So it's fair to wonder if the collector did maintain the chain of custody. While the sample was not sent by FedEx the same day (as per the Policy), it was stored in a "cool" place (also as per the Policy).

Of course, without the benefit of the written reasons, we can't know with any type of certainty what type of evidence was relied upon by the two arbitrators to overturn the decision. It's possible that there was evidence that there were gaps or errors with respect to the handling of the sample.

So this is just one more element to consider. 

No comments: