People suspected of drunk driving could be free of the charges, if one Chattanooga attorney can prove a conflict of interest.
He says, one state agency may have a financial interest in making sure that suspects are convicted of DUI, to the tune of almost 3 million dollars last year.
Every time a person is convicted of drunk driving in Tennessee, they're required to pay a $250 dollar fee that goes to the TBI crime lab in Nashville, that processes their blood alcohol or breathalyzer tests..
In a motion that attorney Jerry Summers has filed in 3 DUI cases he's defending, he says, that itself, is a conflict of interest. "It could affect every DUI or drug case in the state of Tennessee," Summers says, "and not only those, but there are other areas the TBI does blood and alcohol testing."
In his opinion, Summers says, it would be more fair to have independent labs determine the alcohol or drug levels in a suspect's blood, rather than the TBI. He says, that would eliminate the appearance of possible impropriety.
"There should not be any monetary incentive for putting a person in jail," he says, "because when you equate justice with money, justice loses."
In Summers' 3 DUI cases, he's asking for either dismissal of the charges based on an alleged conflict of interest.. a suppression of the blood alcohol results from the TBI lab, or jury instructions as to the credibility of that evidence..
His motion has caught the attention of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "MADD is concerned about this motion and the wide-reaching implications it would have across the state," says MADD's West Tennessee development officer Kate Ritchie.
Summers says, he understands that concern.
"They think that I and other people that would even question this are crazy, and maybe I am," he says, "except we've got something called the Constitution that says people in this country are entitled to a fair trial."
Summers is asking all three Hamilton County Criminal Court judges to consider the motion, and right now, that hearing is set for March 24th.
Late this afternoon, the TBI told us funds from DUI convictions go into the general fund, not directly to the toxicology unit, and that the TBI does not have any interest or bias in the testing results.
We'll follow this story and let you know what happens.
by Calvin Sneed