Blood Test Delays Slow DUI Prosecutions
KEVIN HALPERN, Courier Co-Editor
Tuesday, June 5, 2012 5:51 am
Prosecuting cases which involve content testing of the defendant's blood has been taking a little longer in Cannon County General Sessions Court since the first of the year.
That's because a new law which went into effect this year has increased the number of tests being requested of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
The end result is that suspected drunk drivers are getting to stay on the roads longer.
The law, sponsored by Cannon County's representative in the State Senate, Mae Beavers, expands the circumstances in which a law enforcement officer can require a blood alcohol test without the consent of the accused.
"We have seen an increase in our blood alcohol submissions due to the loss of implied consent right of refusal for previously convicted DUI offenders," Kristin Helm, public information officer for the TBI, said.
"For example, in the Nashville lab from January through April of 2011, we had 2315 submissions. For the same time period in 2012, there were 3964 submissions, which is a 71% increase. The law was passed without a fiscal note, which means we have the same manpower, equipment, etc. that the lab has always had," Helms said.
Tennessee law now allows an officer to require a chemical test to determine the accused person's blood alcohol level when the officer has probable cause to believe the motorist has committed a violation of DUI , vehicular homicide by intoxication or aggravated vehicular homicide , and
• The suspect was involved in an accident causing injury or death to another;
• The suspect has previously been convicted of DUI , Vehicular Homicide by Intoxication or Aggravated Vehicular Assault; or
• The suspect has a passenger in the car who is a child under the age of 16. The new requirements have added a delay of one to two months in how long it takes for the legal system to dispose of a DUI case. That delay is significant in the sense that once a DUI offender is found guilty, they lose their driving privilege for a year or more.
When blood is sent to the TBI, the lab tests it for drugs as well as alcohol, as both can be contributing factors in DUI cases.
"The toxicology testing for drugs as well as alcohol is actually the same because they are tested in the same unit," Helm said. "In April, we saw an eight week turnaround time in these submissions due to the new law that went into effect in January. April was really the first month we noticed that the turnaround time had increased significantly.”