Lee Davis: Supreme Court Upholds Trial Court’s Dismissal Of DUI Charges After Video Of Arrest Lost

Saturday, August 17, 2013
Lee Davis
Lee Davis
This was posted today on the TN Courts website.

The Tennessee Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion, today upheld a trial court’s dismissal of DUI and other charges against a McMinnville woman because a video recording of the woman’s stop and arrest was lost.

In November 2010, a McMinnville police officer pulled over Angela M. Merriman because she veered into his lane of traffic from a center turn lane. After attempting to conduct several field sobriety tests, the officer placed Ms. Merriman under arrest. She told the officer she had taken a Valium and hydrocodone earlier that day. A camera in the police officer’s vehicle captured video of the traffic stop, the attempted field sobriety tests, and the arrest.


The officer referred to the video during his testimony at Ms. Merriman’s preliminary hearing. When defense lawyers sought access to the recording, however, they were told that the video was missing. Subsequently, Ms. Merriman filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that the State failed to preserve evidence that potentially could exonerate her.

The trial court granted the dismissal at a pre-trial hearing, applying a 1999 Tennessee case that sets forth the procedure for determining whether a trial conducted without the lost evidence would be fundamentally fair to the defendant. In this case, the trial court first determined that the State had an obligation to preserve the video of Ms. Merriman’s stop and arrest, applied the three remaining factors from the 1999 case, and concluded that it would not be fair to continue to trial without the video.

The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, concluding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the charges.

In its Opinion released today, the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal, concluding that the State had a duty to preserve the video recording and failed in that duty when the video recording was lost. Because of the obligation to preserve evidence that could possibly clear Ms. Merriman of wrongdoing or assist in her defense, the Court then looked at the other three factors outlined in the 1999 case. It determined that the loss of the video recording resulted from simple negligence; the lost evidence had significance when considered in light of all the other evidence, and its loss prevented viewing the event as it had occurred; and the sufficiency of the other evidence was inconclusive. The Court determined that the loss of the evidence deprived Ms. Merriman of her right to a fair trial.

To read the majority opinion in State of Tennessee v. Angela Merriman, authored by Justice Janice M. Holder, visit the Opinionssection of TNCourts.gov.

(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at lee@davis-hoss.com or at 266-0605.)


Perdue Sees Dangerous Fiscal Trend Continue

Senator David Perdue (R-GA), a member of the Senate Budget Committee, released the following statement in response to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) update to The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2016 to 2026. “Reading these CBO economic outlook reports remind me of the movie  Groundhog Day . Each new report paints the same alarming picture for our fiscal future, ... (click for more)

Supreme Court Upholds Denial Of Pretrial Diversion Applications

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld the denial of pretrial diversion in two cases, which were consolidated for oral argument. In these appeals, the Supreme Court reiterated the process district attorneys general, trial courts, and appellate courts must follow when reviewing a prosecutor’s denial of pretrial diversion.  In one appeal, Susan Gail Stephens was indicted for ... (click for more)

Federal Judge Orders Walker County To Pay Erlanger $8,705,000, Plus Interest; Question Of Attorney Fees And Expenses To Go To Jury

Federal Judge Harold Murphy, in a 63-page ruling handed down Tuesday, ordered Walker County, Ga., to pay the Erlanger Health System $8,705,000, plus interest, on the Hutcheson Hospital debt. Judge Murphy, of Rome, Ga., said the question of attorney fees and expenses owed Erlanger by Walker County should be decided by a jury trial. Walker County and Catoosa County earlier agreed ... (click for more)

Pinkston Says Offer Was Made To Dismiss Lawsuit Against Him If Prosecution Of Detective Burns Was Dropped; Judge Greenholtz "Greatly Bothered" By Any Such Offer

District Attorney Neal Pinkston said at a hearing Tuesday that an offer was made to drop a lawsuit filed against him by Gatlinburg detective Rodney Burns if he would dismiss two perjury counts against Burns. The district attorney said he should not be disqualified from continuing to prosecute the case or else attorneys would begin suing him or the judge to get a new DA or trial ... (click for more)

Problems With The Proposed Apartments In Lookout Valley

I am deeply troubled at the way in which this proposal has been handled. The blatant disregard for the residents of Kelly's Ferry Road and the wishes of the Lookout Valley Area Plan (which was adopted by the city in 2003) by Chip Henderson and Tommy Austin amazes me. Yes, there was a meeting of the Lookout Valley Neighborhood association in August, but it wasn't on its normal ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Already, 248 Mass Shootings

There is not a word – not one – that I can use to respond to Dr. Loretta P. Prater, whose letter in Chattanoogan.com just condemned the idea that proposed volunteers in the Chattanooga Police Department be armed. Dr. Pater signed her letter, “Mother of Homicide Victim Leslie Vaughn Prater” and I’ve no doubt there is nothing in this world that will assuage the lifelong horror she ... (click for more)