NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - The presiding judge of general sessions courts said night court commissioners must consider the rights of the accused first-time accused drunk drivers and sometimes deny police warrants for blood draws.
Judge Sam Coleman spoke to News4 Investigates in the wake of criticism by police and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers that night court commissioners were refusing to sign warrants to get blood samples from first time DUI offenders who refused to give a breathalyzer.
News4 Investigates found one case where a warrant was denied and a night court commissioner was quoted as saying that he didn’t believe a first time DUI charge was serious enough for a blood draw.
A veteran metro police DUI officer wrote in an affidavit that a night court commissioner does not feel that first-time DUI offenses are serious enough crimes to require those arrested to be forced to submit blood samples.
News4 Investigates also obtained an email and letter exchanged between district attorney Glenn Funk and Coleman. Funk asked that the commissioners sign the warrants, citing that blood sample evidence dissipates quickly, but Coleman refused to mandate it.
An email and a letter, obtained by News4 Investigates, show district attorney Glenn Funk is frustrated by what he says are multiple cases of night court commissioners not approving warrants requested by police officers in order to secure blood samples for DUIs.
Coleman said he understand that refusing to sign the warrants means the jobs of officers and prosecutors may make prosecution more difficult, but that the rights of the accused must be considered as well, given that blood draws are intrusive.
“(Draws) subject a person to have to lay on a gurney against their will,” Coleman said.
“From a prosecutors’ standpoint, this is evidence that is now essentially lost,” asked News4 Investigates.
“I don’t know if it’s lost, but it may not be as strong as I guess some would like. It’s what we’re having to deal with in a world we preserve the rights of all people,” Coleman said.
Coleman said commissioners have the right to deny blood draws in first time DUI cases if they believe probable cause does not exist.
Coleman said that officers then have the right to go to a general sessions judge the next day to ask again for a warrant.
“Having interviewed a lot of police officers in my time, I know a lot of police officers will say, this is our only shot. This is our only shot to get this right now,” asked News4 Investigates.
“The option the officer has is to report to the court that this defendant refused. And the court could determine there must have been a reason why,” Coleman said.
Coleman said they have reviewed the requests for warrants for blood draws from officers and found only five percent of the time were they denied.
“You have to balance the right of the accused. Their constitutional right,” Coleman said.