The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal of a drunk driving charge against a local woman after the video tape of her traffic stop was lost.
The woman, Angela M. Merriman, was originally charged with DUI, reckless endangerment, reckless driving, and driving on a suspended license. All of those charges except the latter and her violation of implied consent are now officially dismissed with the ruling by the Supreme Court. She refused a blood or breath test.
The question of the missing tape was raised by the Public Defender’s office of Dan Bryant when defense attorneys were unable to get a copy of it from police while preparing for trial. They would learn the video recording was missing, which left the testimony of patrolman Robert Hammond as the main evidence.
Hammond stopped Merriman on West Main Street after he saw Merriman swerve into an oncoming lane of traffic. Believing her to be under the influence, the policeman put her through a series of tests and then placed her under arrest. She reportedly told him she suffered from some health problems but took the curbside sobriety tests. She was hit with additional reckless endangerment charges because she had two children in the car with her. She also admitted having hydrocodone and Valium earlier in the day.
While the officer was able to testify against her in preliminary hearing without the tape, the issue of the missing video led to the defense filing a motion to dismiss on the eve of her trial in Circuit Court. It was there the charges were dismissed as a result of the missing tape.
Specifically, it was pointed out that it could have contained evidence which could have shown Merriman’s innocence of charges and its exclusion, the court found, was unfair to the defendant. The appeals court felt the tape could have had a major impact.
Hammond said he went by standard procedure in securing the tape. Following an arrest, officers are to view the recording and make notes. The recording is then to be removed by a supervisor and placed into evidence storage until it is needed for court. Repeated attempts to find the recording failed.
In her written opinion, Supreme Court Justice Janice M. Holder said she did not find the trial court went beyond its power when it dismissed charges against Merriman.
“The trial court did not abuse its discretion in choosing dismissal as an appropriate remedy for the loss of the video recording,” Holder wrote in her decision.