The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has issued an opinion that essentially froze hundreds of DUI cases. The ruling stems from a DUI Defendant who felt she shouldn’t have been convicted of DUI in March 2017 when the state’s top law enforcement agency was running a multimillion-dollar fee system for more than a decade.
When they’re successfully prosecuted for DUI, defendants have to pay $250 directly to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to cover the cost of a blood alcohol or drug concentration test fee. The TBI has made $22 million off thousands of DUI cases since the Legislature allowed the agency to begin collecting in 2005, according to the appeals court’s decision.
But the state only collects when it wins, making the fee system biased, unconstitutional and a violation of a defendant’s right to a fair trial. With the vast majority of DUI cases being settled before trial, defendants who operate on a bootstrap legal budget rarely have the opportunity to challenge the state’s blood results.
The appeals court stated “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.”
“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,” the appeals court decided.
It remains to be seen whether the Tennessee attorney general is going to appeal the ruling.
Can prosecutors win a DUI case without blood tests? Yes. They can still prosecute them with field sobriety tests and an officer’s testimony, but the case loses its strength and is easier to defend.