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.)


Kid To Kid Chattanooga Awarded Store Of The Month For August

Kid to Kid in Chattanooga, owned by mother and son, Lyn and Justin Shepherd, has been awarded Store of the Month for August. Through this award, the Kid to Kid franchise recognizes achievement exhibited by one of its more than 100 children’s resale locations across the United States, Canada and Portugal. As one of three Kid to Kid stores in Tennessee, Kid to Kid Chattanooga ... (click for more)

16 Young Professionals Selected For YPAC’s Protégé Chattanooga 2016-2017 Class

The Young Professionals Association of Chattanooga (YPAC) announced the individuals selected for its 2016-2017 Protégé Chattanooga mentorship program.  This year’s class includes: Joseph Cadle , Business Development Consultant, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Amy Donahue , Director of Marketing and Communications, River City ... (click for more)

Boy In Critical Condition; Another Person Stabbed And Man Shot In Dispute At Apartments On Citico Avenue

A boy is in critical condition after being stabbed on Sunday afternoon in what police described as a dispute between neighbors. One other person was stabbed and a man was shot in the stomach in the melee in the 2700 block of Citico Avenue. The injuries to the second person stabbed in the neck and the shooting victim were said to be not life-threatening. The 12:45 p.m. incident ... (click for more)

Woman, 25, Shot On Dodson Avenue Early Sunday Afternoon

A 25-year-old woman was shot on Dodson Avenue just after noon on Sunday. Officers with the Chattanooga Police Department were notified at 12:13 p.m. by a local hospital that a victim arrived with a gunshot wound. The shooting reportedly occurred in the 1300 block of Dodson Avenue. Shaday Millener arrived at the hospital in a personal vehicle with a non-life threatening ... (click for more)

Patrol Cars Donation To Kevin Muhammad's Nation Of Islam Sets A Dangerous Precedent

Re: City Police donating two patrol cars to Kevin Muhammad's Nation of Islam: While I know it's unpopular to mention the wisdom of separation of church and state, this sets a dangerous precedent and should meet with concern from everyone who values religious and secular freedom. What's next? Southern Baptists getting old city parking scooters to patrol church parking lots ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: A Pitch Called ‘The Defector’

When Jose Fernandez was killed early Sunday morning in a boating accident, he was 24 years old yet had already lived a life much larger than almost all old men. He had spent part of a year in an unimaginably cruel Cuban prison, this when he only 14 years old and sandwiched in an inhumane cell among grown criminals. There were murders daily – in his very cell -- and nobody cared. ... (click for more)