DUI Blood Tests Flood Crime Labs, Delay Courts

DUI Blood Tests Flood Crime Labs, Delay Courts

A controversial new drunk driving law in Tennessee lets police take your blood without your consent. It's clogging up court systems and causing a back up at the state crime lab. ABC 24's Senior Investigator Jeni Diprizio went to Nashville to see the problem first hand.
MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - A controversial new drunk driving law in Tennessee lets police take your blood without your consent. It's clogging up court systems and causing a back up at the state crime lab. ABC 24's Senior Investigator Jeni Diprizio went to Nashville to see the problem first hand.

The employees at the state crime lab are swamped, but ask someone hit by a drunk driver and they will tell you this law was long overdue

"I covered my eyes, turned my head and thought this was the end of the line - I didn't want to see it happen," said Sylvia Claussen, describing the crash that happened this past summer in east Memphis.

Pictures show what was left of Claussen's car. Heather Jones was driving the Porsche that hit Claussen. According to police, Jones smelled like she had been drinking, had alcohol in the car, and even told an officer she was "not that drunk."

"The first time I saw her was when her headlights came flashing through my window."

Because Jones' 8-year-old son was in the car, police took her blood as evidence. She was charged with DUI.

Last year, it became mandatory for police in Tennessee to take your blood if there's a deadly accident, if the driver has a previous DUI or if police suspect a driver is drunk and there's child is in the car. And with a search warrant, they can take any driver's blood they suspect of drunk driving.

The blood is taken to state crime labs, so it's no surprise those labs are now swamped.

In 2011 the crime labs processed 15,298 DUI cases. In 2012 it jumped to more than 22,000. In Memphis last year, police took 485 blood tests compared to 116 the year before.

"It's really our main goal is to get this turn around time fixed," stated Mike Lyttle with the TBI.

Blood analysts are trying to process kits as fast as they can, but it can take twice as long to get results. The problem is when lawmakers made the blood tests mandatory they didn't give the TBI additional employees. The delay is backing up court cases across the state and lawyers are seeing the problem first hand.

"The clerk's time is taken up, prosecutor's time, defendant's time, the defense lawyer's time, the judge's time, all to report 'Judge, the blood work is not back yet,'" said attorney Leslie Ballin.

Lawyer Taurus Bailey noted, "It brings great concerns of who wants to be stuck with needles on the side of the road just because they're under suspicion or exercising their 6th Amendment right not to give evidence to a police officer."

"I will tell you as a civil rights lawyer it is an invasion of your privacy to require you to give them blood," added attorney Jeff Rosenblume, "But I believe that when you're driving recklessly and you have a child in the car and you have the smell of intoxicants on your breath, you give up that particular civil right."

As for Claussen, she's glad police took Jones' blood and charged her with DUI. After all, this accident changed her life.

"I am still afraid to get in the car. Traffic still scares me to death."

The state is hiring an extra four crime lab employees, but they won't be trained and ready to go until late this year.

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