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Writing DUI warrants stirs controversy
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Assitant district attorney Darrell Julian met with judicial commissioners and members of the county’s Policy and Personnel Committee on Monday night to explain steps judicial commissioners should take when requesting blood to be drawn in DUI cases.
Judicial commissioners now have the authority to request a search warrant for blood tests to determine if a suspect has been driving under the influence.
“Two years ago, it wasn’t possible to obtain a search warrant for DUI cases. Now all DUI cases require search warrants except where, just as a practical matter, it would be impossible to obtain one in any reasonable amount of time. And that would be typically in the case of a crash, where there are injured people the officers are dealing with, Lifeforce is on the ground. We’ve talked to EMT director Brian Jennings. We’ve talked to the EMTs in Van Buren County and they understand to call me and I will tell them to go ahead and get the blood. We will then run the risk of that blood being supressed if the defense files a motion. What cures that problem is a search warrant. When it is possible to get a search warrant, that is what needs to be done even though we realize it is a timely process,” said Julian.
“It doesn’t matter what person says. The officer is required by law, if they have reasonable suspicion that someone has committed a DUI. If they place them under arrest for DUI, they are obligated to request a blood or breath sample be done. We don’t use the breath machine here any more. Blood is drawn at the hospital,” Julian said.
“Statewide, we started about a year ago with no-refusal weekends. Our district adopted that. We are not just going to do it for Labor Day or July 4 or holidays. We do it 365 days, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. In the past year-and-a-half, I’ve written about 15 to 20 warrants. All the other cases, people have consented once they realize they really don’t have another option. The practical effect of that is that instead of going to trials sometimes two and three times a week, I’ve had one or two trials all year. Most of these people are pleading out, many of them before their blood results ever come back,” Julian said.
“Of these people who have refused and we’ve done search warrants on, when their results came back, what we’ve found is these people weren’t merely a little intoxicated. Very often they were over .20, .25, .27. We are seeing a very positive effect on DUI convictions,” said Julian.
Search warrants for DUI cases stem from a United States Supreme Court decision in which the Supreme Court affirmed the Missouri Supreme Court in the case of Missouri vs. McNeely, agreeing that an involuntary blood draw is a “search” as that term is used in the Fourth Amendment. As such, a warrant is generally required.
Judicial commissioner Jim Hartman does not believe judicial commissioners should write DUI search warrants.
Hartman said, “It’s a matter of us being neutral and detached. As judicial commissioners, when we become a part of the application process and the search warrant process in terms of drafting the actual applciation search warrant, then at that point, we are no longer neutral and detached. We recieve infomation based on a affadavit and application made by the officer to be completed by the officer of the city or county and to be presented to us for our signature. That keeps us neutral and detached.”
Hartman said he contacted the Judicial Commissioner Association of Tennessee (JCAT) and spoke to the executive director who said, “It is not the responsiblity of judicial commisioners who are neutral and detached to draft any search warrant.”
Hartman also said he had contacted judicial commissioners in Cannon, White, DeKalb, Coffee, Rutherford, Wilson, Sumner and Murray Counties.
“The response was this,” said Hartman, ‘It is the responsibility of the city and county officers to draft DUI search warrants and present them to the judicial commissioner for signature.’ With the exception of Rutherford County, Rutherford County said it is the responsibility of the officer in the city or county to draft the search warrant and present it to their sitting judge who signs all search warrants in Rutherford County. Judicial commissioners in that county do not sign search warrants. I did about a 10 percent survey of all the county commissioners across the state of Tennessee and without exception, they find that it is inappropriate being neutral and detached for us to enter into the search warrant process.
County Executive John Pelham said he has spoken with county attorney Rick Stacy. “Rick agrees that he thinks it would be a violation. He does not think it is proper for judicial commissioners to write the DUI search warrants.”
“It matters not to us if judicial commissioners are hesitant to type this information in. If you don’t want to have anything to do with it except review it after an officer has drafted it, that is fine with us,” said Julian.
The DUI search warrants are loaded onto the judicial commissioners’ computers so sheriff’s department officers, city police and judicial commissioners can print out the warrants.
Members of the Policy and Personnel Committee voted to purchase a third computer and printer for judicial commissioner to be used by officers writing DUI search warrants.