Tennessee's top attorneys want the highest state court to restore public confidence in DUI enforcement by reversing a recent court ruling that left hundreds of impaired driving cases in Chattanooga and beyond in limbo.
In a filing Wednesday, Assistant Solicitor General Jonathan Shaub disagreed with last month's ruling from the Criminal Court of Appeals that said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was overseeing an "unconstitutional" fee system that only required defendants to pay a $250 blood test fee upon their conviction.
Because of that ruling, which stems from a 2012 DUI case in Chattanooga, many attorneys believe Tennessee courts can't allow crucial blood or breath testing into evidence in impaired driving cases as long as TBI's crime lab continues to receive the fee. They say the fee creates the "appearance of impropriety" and brings test results into question.
"In the aftermath of the decision, prosecutors across the state have reported constitutional challenges to the state's use of [blood and breath] testing as evidence," Shaub wrote. "Several prosecutions have simply been put on hold.facebook
"This court's review, on an expedited basis if possible, is necessary to resolve this turmoil and restore predictability to the enforcement of these important criminal laws."
It's unclear when or if those justices will accept Shaub's request to have the case heard.
But the implications are far-reaching: In 2014, roughly 29,000 people were arrested for DUI, and nearly 90 percent of them were convicted of that crime or some lesser form of it, according to Shaub.
In his 21-page filing, Shaub said the Chattanooga woman at the center of the 2012 case, 27-year-old Rosemary Decosimo, did not allege that any financial bias caused TBI agents to alter her blood results.
"She claims only an appearance of unfairness created by financial incentives to TBI scientists," Shaub wrote. "Those allegations are insufficient to establish a substantive due process violation."
TBI agents aren't financially benefiting from the $250 fee or have ulterior motives, Shaub said. They're paid a fixed salary, he said, and they're fired for serious lab errors.
Chattanooga attorney Jerry Summers, who sparked the controversial ruling, declined to comment Friday.
Summers previously argued, however, the $250 fee is unconstitutional because many defendants charged with DUI don't have the money to independently test their blood and challenge the state's results. As a result, he said, they don't have equal access to a fair trial since the TBI has a monetary interest in securing their convictions.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.