Higher court to rule on constitutionality of DUI fee law - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Higher court to rule on constitutionality of DUI fee law

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - The money involved in thousands of DUI convictions is in the spotlight.

The current state law allows the TBI to receive an automatic $250 for test results leading to a conviction. Local attorney Jerry Summers says that law is unconstitutional.

"The whole thing is to try to get people a fair trial," said Summers. "I'm not anti-dui enforcement."

The issue has already been sent to a higher court, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, and Summers is asking the State Supreme Court to reach down and hear the case. It's something that could potentially affect all cases involving blood samples tested by the TBI.

"There's a lot of money that could potentially be involved," Summers said.

With over 20 of his clients, Summers is challenging the state DUI law that establishes a fee system for cases involving blood alcohol tests tested by the TBI.

Summers argues the $250 fee per conviction violates due process. Now it's up to a higher court to decide.

In TBI's latest DUI arrest report, there were nearly $30,000 DUI arrests last year. The report also notes an 89-percent conviction rate. Multiply that by 250, and if all those end up paying, it could be well over $6 million. 

But the TBI said the number is much less -- averaging $3 million each year.

In a State Senate Committee Hearing last week, local Senator Todd Gardenhire questioned the bottom dollar.

"You say you spend $3 million dollars on the test, I'm just trying to figure out where the other $3 million went," Gardenhire said.

"We've never got $6 million in a year on that, no," replied TBI Director Mark Gwyn.

"This may be a crude way to put it, but I'm gonna say it. It's kind of like saying, you're just a little bit pregnant," said Summers. "It doesn't make a difference whether it's $3 million or $7 million."

But for anti-DUI advocates, the cost of someone's life far outweighs any fee.

"It still just pales in comparison to the actual real cost of a drunk driving crash," said Marius Rush, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

"When you look at the impact of a drunk driving crash nationally, it costs our country $199 billion," Rush said.

Sixteen other states in the US have similar laws to the fee system one in question. Summers could appeal the issue up to the US Supreme Court.

READ MORE| TBI's "monetary incentive" for DUI convictions raises questions
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