For people accused of driving under the influence, their fates could rest on the results of a toxicology test. But a man who performs those tests for the state is now off the job and under investigation.
Lawyers are wondering if thousands of people's cases may have been jeopardized.
In March, Dale Ferrell crashed into 58-year-old motorcyclist Ed Bankston in Chattanooga. Bankston died, and Ferrell was charged with vehicular homicide when investigators claimed he was drunk behind the wheel.
But we've learned that wasn't the case at all.
"It really does call into question some of the results," said DUI criminal defense attorney Lee Martin.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation tested Ferrell's blood and determined his blood alcohol content level was 0.24. The legal limit is 0.08.
But Ferrell's attorney had that same blood independently tested, and the results came back 0.01.
According to the district attorney, the TBI was wrong and the independent test was right.
"You have someone who is absolutely, completely dead sober. That is a huge difference," Martin said.
The TBI suspended toxicologist Kyle Bayer and is now investigating to see if there is a "quality problem" with his work.
Meanwhile, the case against Ferrell has been dismissed.
"Anyone that's been arrested, or if they've even been convicted within the past year, they need to get with their lawyer and see about seeking a sample and possibly seeking an independent analysis of the blood alcohol results," said attorney Jerry H. Summers.
Blood tests can be the strongest pieces of evidence prosecutors have against an accused drunken driver.
"Jurors, by and large, think that the tests are infallible," Martin said.
The TBI believes this was an isolated case, but attorneys across the state worry if it wasn't.
"It's got the potential for very, very serious effect upon the lives of many individuals," Summers said.
"In my mind, it would call into question the entire lab," Martin said.
The TBI said Bayer has been working in its lab for about a year. Officials say they've never had any problems with him before now.
They say they are still investigating, but tell us if they do indeed find a quality problem with his work, that's when they would consider having the samples Bayer handled re-tested by an independent organization.
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Tuesday, September 2 2014 7:39 PM EDT2014-09-02 23:39:10 GMT
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