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Thursday, February 08, 2018

Appeals court rules on DUI lab testing
The Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals says a state law that awards $250 to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for every successful DUI conviction is unconstitutional. The appeals court in its ruling holds that a fee system violates a defendant's right to a fair proceeding in cases that use blood or breath tests. "We cannot ignore that the TBI receives a fee for each conviction where a blood or breath test is performed but does not receive a fee if a defendant's charges are dismissed or reduced or if the defendant is acquitted," the appeals court wrote. "Because the money from the $250 fee is placed directly in the intoxicant testing fund which is 'designated for exclusive use by the TBI,' there is no question that the TBI, an agency of the state, has a direct [monetary] interest in securing convictions." There is a question as to whether the ruling, which could affect numerous DUI cases across Tennessee, will be upheld. Prosecutors could appeal the case to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Attorney Jerry Summers argued that the TBI had an incentive to produce positive test results. The agency denied there is a conflict of interest, as did prosecutors who use that evidence in a typical DUI case. The agency collects about $3 million a year from the fee, and collections have been increasing in recent years. Summers argued that lots of defendants plead guilty to their DUI charge because they don't have the money to independently test their blood. That creates due process issues and violates the right to a fair trial, he said. Ruled the court, "Under the scenario suggested by the state, the defendant is forced to obtain an independent test, to pay for an attorney to defend him, and to hire an expensive expert to challenge the [blood alcohol content] result in order to do what an unbiased TBI forensic scientist should have done from the beginning."


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