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Chattanooga man’s DUI conviction vacated on appeal

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned the DUI conviction in a case pursued by Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers wherein a client was charged with driving under the influence after failing a blood-alcohol test at a highway patrol roadblock in 2012.

Summers, Rufolo, & Rodgers repeatedly challenged the legality of the roadblock, filing two separate motions to dismiss the case in 2013 and 2014. However, appellate review could not be sought until after the trial in which the driver was convicted of one count of DUI per se and acquitted of DUI by impairment. Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers attorneys Jerry Summers, Ben McGowan, and Marya Schalk argued that the roadblock violated the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. There are legal rules that law enforcement must follow when setting up DUI roadblocks, and some of those rules were not followed for the roadblock in this case.

For example, law enforcement is required to notify the public of upcoming roadblocks, post warning signs in advance of the roadblock, and choose a safe, relevant location. In the 2012 roadblock which was challenged, the highway patrol failed to provide proper notice and had set up the roadblock just a short distance from the exit of a tunnel, which the Court of Criminal Appeals found put the officers and motorists at risk.

The appeals court found that the troopers failed to post warning signs before the entrance to the tunnel. This “undoubtedly prevented motorists from having adequate notice of the impending checkpoint,” the opinion states.

The Court found, therefore, that the Fourth Amendment rights of the driver were indeed violated and that the Hamilton County Criminal Court should have ruled favorably on the two motions to dismiss filed by Summers, Rufolo, & Rodgers.

The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office told reporters that it was studying the decision and had not decided whether to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Interestingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals also weighed in to the constitutionality of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s DUI testing fees — another issue being litigated by Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers and was challenged in this case. As we’ve discussed before, Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers argued that the TBI’s system of charging only for tests leading to convictions created an unconstitutional conflict of interest and an appearance of bias.

In this case, the Court of Criminal Appeals indicated agreement with parts of our argument, and its previous decision finding the statute unconstitutional. However, a few days after the Court’s decision in this case, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals on the constitutionality of the DUI statute, which gave fees directly to the TBI for each conviction. That said, the state legislature agreed the system was unfair and has redirected the testing fees to the state’s general fund.

If you have been ensnared in a DUI roadblock that you believe was unfair, have your case evaluated by an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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