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TBI DUI fines scheme ruled unconstitutional

In one of the most important court rulings related to Tennessee DUI law in years, the state Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that the system of charging defendants $250 for blood-alcohol testing is unconstitutional. The ruling could make prosecutors much more reluctant to charge drivers with DUI based mostly on blood test results, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

$22 million in DUI fines

If you have ever been convicted of drinking and driving in Tennessee, you may know that part of the punishment is a $250 fine paid to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that is supposed to cover the costs of BAL or drug testing. Since the TBI fining program began in 2005, the agency has made $22 million, according to the Times Free Press. 

The legal challenge

However, the fine is only imposed following a conviction. In challenging the system, a defense attorney argued that it gives the TBI a financial stake in helping prosecutors get DUI convictions -- instead of providing accurate blood tests. This denies defendants their right to a fair trial, the lawyer argued.

The appellate court agreed. "There is no question that the TBI, an agency of the state, has a direct ... interest in securing convictions," the judges wrote. They overturned the defendant's DUI conviction accordingly.

Future implications for Tennesseeans

Because the ruling leaves the status of existing TBI blood tests in limbo, prosecutors across Tennessee are going to have to rely a lot less on test results when taking defendants to court. Other sources of evidence, such as field sobriety tests, can be less convincing to juries. That is because whether you pass or fail a field sobriety test is up to the police officer's opinion, instead of a (theoretically) objective and accurate blood test.

If you have been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, understand that you always have options. Your best move after an arrest is to contact an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible.

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