Mere technicalities? Which rules are important?

A few months ago, we mentioned the problem that had become known in a Tennessee county regarding late night DUI arrests. It seems that the county had long processed arrest warrants that occurred after-hours by using a notary. The problem is the notary was typically an employee of either the county sheriff’s office or the city police department.

This is a problem because the law that controls arrest procedures requires that the arrest warrants must be signed by a person “who is neutral and detached and who is capable of the probable cause determination required.”

It is highly unlikely that an employee of either of those two entities is “neutral and detached.” This has called into question “at least 100 DUI cases” in the county and left officials scrambling to fix the problem. It is important to cover this period, which is potentially the busiest time of the day for DUI arrests to occur.

They have finally appointed magistrates to work the after-hour’s shifts, who will begin work on September 1. The county has apparently been relying on other judges to be on call for this duty since the procedural violation was discovered.

Dismissing these DUI cases because of the “procedural flaw” in the arrest process may seem an overreaction. But when it comes to criminal procedure, it is important every step of the process be done correctly and in accordance with all of the laws in Tennessee.

And most important, it cannot be up to the interested parties, like the police or sheriff’s office to determine which laws they need to adhere to and which ones they can ignore. They have a vested interest and it is not their job to make that determination.

Source:, “Procedural flaw threatens to dismiss Sullivan County DUI cases,” Kylie McGivern, August 28, 2015

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