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.)


Chattanooga Chamber Presents Business Calendar For March 28-31

TUES/28 Reality Check at Ivy Academy 9:45-11 a.m. Mile Straight Baptist Church: 8448 Springfield Rd. Reality Check teaches 9th graders budgeting and emphasizes the connection between education and income by having roleplay as heads of household with a set budget. To volunteer for this Chattanooga Chamber career readiness program, contact Cathy Humble at  423.763.4321 ... (click for more)

TN Supreme Court Holds That Indigent Prisoner's Case Was Properly Dismissed

The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that an indigent prisoner’s case was properly dismissed pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812 when the prisoner had outstanding unpaid court costs from prior litigation.  Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812 authorizes the rejection of certain new claims in court from an indigent inmate who has unpaid fees, taxes, ... (click for more)

Storm Costs EPB $2.5 Million; Smart Grid Helped Ease The Pain

Tuesday night's fierce storm cost EPB an estimated $2.5 million, President David Wade said Friday. He said the city utility will have to bear all the cost - unlike when it got federal aid after spending $18 million following tornadoes that raked the Chattanooga area in 2012. Mr. Wade said EPB's Smart Grid helped ease the pain, bringing back online about 27,000 affected customers ... (click for more)

1 Killed, 1 Injured In Brainerd Shooting

One person was killed and a second person injured in a shooting in Brainerd on Thursday night. The call was to 3301 Pinewood Ave. at 7:05 p.m. It was reported that a silver vehicle was seen leaving the scene. One of the persons shot, 23-year-old Antonio Baldwin, died during surgery. The injury to William Daniel, 21, is not life-threatening. Police said both of the ... (click for more)

Slaxxon Regret

Back in the seventies my three oldest brothers had a buddy named Steve Slack. “Slack” was a star soccer player at Baylor and he grew up on Lookout Mountain, which is where I grew up. He and Jimmy, Henry and Bill went to the University of Virginia where they were roommates in an old, beat up house that was painted pink. Naturally, the place became known as the “Pink Palace” but lest ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Scottsboro Boys

There is a good-sized train tunnel that runs under the northern tip of Lookout Mountain, right next to Cummings Highway. It was inside that tunnel on this very weekend 86 years ago, that the worst tragedy in the fabled history of the South was born. This was during the tight grip of the Depression and about two dozen hobos had jumped the train from the time it left Southern Railway's ... (click for more)