DUI Convictions – TBI Greases the Skids

In Fiscal Year 2013, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Toxicology Fund collected $6,096,000 in contingent fees, that is, contingent upon conviction of DUI offenders who took blood or breath tests.

Per statute, the clerks assess a $250 fee on each such offender. See TCA 55-10-413(f)(1). Further, the money goes straight into the TBI toxicology unit intoxicant testing fund.

TBI Director Mark Gwyn testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 11, 2014, that these funds have enabled the TBI to “not lay off forensic scientists.”

It is clear that TBI Toxicology lab witnesses have a financial interest getting DUI convictions. According to the TBI’s latest published report, the Forensic Services Division employs 133 people and their total compensation is $10,520,814. That works out to $79,103 in salary and benefits for each worker.

Under rules promulgated by the Tennessee Supreme Court it appears to be unethical for prosecutors to use such tainted testimony. The rule prohibits lawyers from acquiescing to the payment of compensation to a witness contingent on the outcome of the case. Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 8, RPC 3.4(h).

(I want to acknowledge the excellent lawyering of Chattanooga attorneys Jerry Summers and Benjamin McGowan who provided most of the statistics and original thinking for this article).