Friday, August 24, 2018

Tennessee Supreme Court: TBI Can Collect DUI Testing Fees

Posted By on Fri, Aug 24, 2018 at 12:09 PM

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The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) can continue to collect $250 fees from convicted drunk drivers, according to a Thursday ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The fees cover the costs of running blood alcohol tests. The TBI only collected the fees if a driver was convicted of driving under the influence (DUI).

Attorneys for Chattanooga resident Rosemary L. Decosimo argued that the ”scheme provides TBI forensic scientists with a personal and institutional financial incentive to produce blood alcohol test results that secure convictions, which, in turn, increases fees and funding for the TBI,” according to court papers.

The suit came in 2012 after Decosimo was arrested that August for DUI. She provided a blood sample and later sued to suppress the evidence the results from her case because the fee system ”violates the right to due process and a fair trial.” The case challenged the constitutionality of the TBI’s testing fee.
The fees produced $1.6 million for the TBI from 2009 to 2012, according to court documents. From 2005 to 2016, the TBI collected more than $22 million from these fees, according to documents.

In 2014, then-TBI director Mark Gwyn said his agency faced deep cuts in 2008, forcing the agency to either start charging law enforcement for testing or to close some of its labs. He said the TBI used the testing fees for equipment and training.

Last year, Criminal Appeals Court in Knoxville ruled against the fee-collection scheme. It said TBI forensic scientists had a financial interest in securing convictions based on blood tests.

“…because the collection of the…fees affects their continued employment and salary, which gives them an incentive to find that defendants’ blood alcohol content is 0.08 percent or higher,” reads the opinion.

But the Tennessee Supreme Court overruled that decision. TBI forensic scientists are salaried employees, reads the court’s opinion filed Thursday, and not swayed by the fees.
“Their compensation is not at all dependent on the results of blood alcohol tests or whether a particular defendant is or is not convicted, nor do their salaries decrease or increase based on the aggregate amount of…(testing) fees imposed or collected,” reads the opinion. “These facts alone illustrate that TBI forensic scientists do not have a personal, direct, substantial pecuniary interest in producing a particular test result.”

Further, according to the ruling, the scientists have no say over the imposition or the collection of the fees, no control over when cases are resolved, and that a scientist’s job security depends on accurate reporting, not on financial incentives.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery said he was “pleased with the outcome.” It upholds Tennessee law and “removes any uncertainty over past DUI convictions.” The case could have affected thousands of prior DUI cases here.

“In addition, the court pointed out that any financial incentive created by the law is far too remote to constitute a possible temptation for TBI forensic agents to falsify test results and generate fees,” Slatery said in a statement.

Purple Haze Can Serve Alcohol Until 5 A.M.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 24, 2018 at 10:59 AM

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  • Purple Haze/Facebook
A court ruled last week that the Purple Haze Nightclub can serve alcohol until 5 a.m., the conclusion of a two-year lawsuit.

Owners of Beale Street’s Club 152 sued Purple Haze owners in April 2016 to stop alcohol sales there at 3 a.m. Club 152 owners argued Purple Haze was not in the Beale Street Historic District and, therefore, could not sell alcohol until 5 a.m., like Beale Street clubs. The suit was dismissed in the Shelby County Chancery Court last week.

Purple Haze officials said the suit was “politically and monetarily motivated.” The club is located on Lt. George W. Lee Ave. across from the Gibson Beale Street Showcase venue and just down the street from FedExForum.

The club can now continue operations and sell alcohol until 5 a.m. “like every other business located in the Beale Street Historic District,” according to Edward Bearman, attorney for Purple Haze.
“Our position from the beginning was this suit had no merit,” Bearman said in a statement Thursday. “Purple Haze is finally vindicated in the matters of this lawsuit.”

A club spokesman said the two-year suit involved the Beale Street Merchants Association, the city of Memphis, and the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC). The city and the DMC argued against later serving hours for the club last year, according to a story from WREG.

“I have been very confident in the judicial system to prevail in our favor,” said Pat Thomasson, owner of Purple Haze Nightclub. “I will continue to offer quality entertainment to the area and am pleased to be able to continue our operations until 5 a.m. I am glad this is behind us…”
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A quick Google news search finds a recent string of violence in and around Purple Haze.

A Christmas-morning shooting sent one man to Regional One Health.

In March, a peace activist was shot and killed near the club.

A double shooting there in March sent a man a woman to Reiognal One.

In April, the club announced on social media it would stop playing “hard rap” in hopes of curbing violence. The Facebook post said the issue is “black on black crime outside the club that we cannot control.” Purple Haze owners were criticized for the post, apologized for it, and removed it.

In May, a fight inside the club continued outside when a man tried to run over another man with his car.

In June, a brawl inside the bar led to pregnant woman being punched in the stomach.
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