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State v. Blair

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 16, 2016


          Session Date: April 19, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Montgomery County No. 41400766 John H. Gasaway, III, Judge

         The Defendant, Grace Ann Blair, was charged in a two-count indictment with driving under the influence (“DUI”) and DUI per se, Class A misdemeanors. See T.C.A. § 55-10-401(1), (2). She moved to dismiss the charges after discovering that her blood sample was destroyed a little over one year after her arrest. The trial court granted the dismissal, finding that the sample contained potentially exculpatory evidence which could have shown that the Defendant's actions were involuntarily undertaken while she was under the influence of Ambien. The State appeals. Because we have determined that the Defendant's due process rights were not violated by the destruction of the sample, we reverse the dismissal of the charges and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Reversed; Case Remanded

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton, Senior Counsel; Glenn Funk, District Attorney General; and Karen Willis, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

          Margaret E. Garner, Maitland, Florida, for the appellee, Grace Ann Blair.

          John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Robert W. Wedemeyer, JJ., joined.



         The facts surrounding the Defendant's arrest were introduced by agreement of the parties in the form of the police reports summarizing her encounter with law enforcement. Acting on "complaints from private citizens … to 911" and on the observation of officers, law enforcement stopped the Defendant's vehicle around 10:30 p.m. on September 14, 2013. The Defendant brought her vehicle to a stop, and then she began to reverse toward the patrol car. The Defendant attempted to exit the vehicle while it was in motion, was almost run over by her own vehicle, then re-entered the car and brought it to a final stop. The Defendant was swaying and unsteady when she exited the vehicle, and she had "droopy eyelids." The Defendant did not perform satisfactorily on several field sobriety tests, was arrested, and consented to a blood test.

         Special Agent Jeff Crews of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ("TBI") testified regarding the testing and storage of the Defendant's blood sample. Special Agent Crews stated that he was responsible for the standard operating procedures of the toxicology department. He identified a manual which noted that "[b]iological evidence routinely will be destroyed after testing. This evidence will be held for a minimum of 60 days from the date of the final report. Actual destruction dates may be longer than 60 days, depending upon the storage capacity of the laboratory." Special Agent Crews testified that samples were usually held for up to a year, depending on the facility's storage capacity. He testified that storage capacity is limited, that the agency receives two thousand samples per month, and that blood can degrade over time. He also noted that the policy stated that evidence would only be preserved or released on request from the submitting agency or district attorney, or pursuant to a court order. Another internal TBI policy document stated that "[b]ecause of the increasing problems involving the space and manpower used to indefinitely store certain toxicology samples, " the TBI would require a court order to retain samples and that the order would only be valid for six months from the date it was issued. He acknowledged that these were internal policies and agreed that "someone would have to know that this policy existed and specifically request that it be produced in order to obtain it."

         As part of the "Alcohol/Toxicology Request" form submitted to the TBI by Deputy Cody Lannom, Deputy Lannom asked for a screening of the Defendant's blood for alcohol and Ambien. Special Agent Crews testified that the department's policy mandated that if the sample had a blood alcohol content ("BAC") of 0.08 percent or higher, no further testing would be done, even if the presence of another drug was suspected. The form which Deputy Lannom filled out included a statement of the TBI's policy that no further testing would be conducted if the BAC was above the legal limit. Agent Crews confirmed that while the agents of the State had access to this form, it was not, to his knowledge, supplied to the Defendant or her counsel.

         Special Agent Crews identified the Official Alcohol Report summarizing the analysis conducted on the Defendant's blood. This report was issued on November 18, 2013, and contained the notation: "Evidence will be destroyed after 60 days." The Defendant's BAC was 0.17 percent, and the requested test for Ambien was not conducted.

         The parties stipulated that the Defendant appeared in General Sessions court on January 23, 2014, and that on that date, defense counsel received a copy of the lab report regarding the Defendant's BAC, which stated the sample would be "destroyed in 60 days."[1] The Defendant was indicted July 8, 2014. The trial court found that the Defendant received discovery in August or September 2014 and that the discovery documents clarified that the blood had not and would not be tested further to determine the presence of other substances.

         Special Agent Crews testified that internal documents showed that the Defendant's blood sample was destroyed on November 3, 2014.

         On December 11, 2014, the Defendant filed a motion asking the court to find her indigent for the purpose of obtaining funds for expert testimony. On December 17, 2014, she moved the court to compel the TBI to conduct drug testing on the blood sample. On April 24, 2015, ...

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