State v. Steven Bowen, No. E2022-00691-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Feb. 22, 2023)
The case involves a traffic stop resulting in the arrest of Steven Shawn Bowen for DUI third offense, driving while license revoked, and violation of financial responsibility for a motor vehicle. The State elected to proceed only on the DUI per se charge. The Defendant's motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations and destruction of evidence were denied, and the trial court refused to allow a court reporter to record the proceedings without advance payment. During the trial, the officer testified that the body cam and dash cam recordings were destroyed. The blood sample was tested, and the results were admitted despite objections regarding chain of custody. The Defendant was found guilty of DUI per se and driving on a revoked license, as well as third offense DUI and second offense DRL in a bifurcated proceeding. Exhibits were admitted over the defense's objections. The Defendant appeals.
Did the court err when it:
denied his motion to dismiss based on the State’s failure to preserve video footage of the stop and arrest;
denied his motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations; and
admitted the official toxicology report in the absence of witnesses to establish chain of custody for the blood sample.
Chain of custody
The defendant contends that the State failed to establish an unbroken chain of custody for the blood sample taken from him, thus rendering the official alcohol report inadmissible. Tennessee Rule of Evidence 901(a) requires the authentication or identification of tangible evidence before it can be admitted. One way to satisfy this requirement is through an unbroken chain of custody, which means that the prosecution must establish who had possession of the evidence from the time it was collected until it was introduced at trial.
However, the rule does not require the prosecution to prove the identity of the tangible evidence beyond all possible doubt, nor must it call all witnesses who handled the item. Rather, when the facts and circumstances reasonably establish the identity and integrity of the evidence, the trial court should admit the item into evidence. The State need only show that there has been no tampering, loss, substitution, or mistake with respect to the evidence.
In this case, Officer Kimsey testified that he observed the EMT draw the Defendant’s blood and placed the sample into his evidence box for the evidence custodian. The TBI forensic technician then testified that she received the sample from the evidence custodian and that Melanie Carlisle examined the sample. Melanie Carlisle, an expert in testing blood alcohol content, testified that she identified the official alcohol report she created and that the tubes she examined had the initials of the EMT who drew the Defendant’s blood. The State therefore established a sufficient chain of custody, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the official alcohol report into evidence. The Defendant is not entitled to relief on this issue.
The legal analysis begins by stating that evidence of a defendant’s prior bad acts is generally inadmissible to prove the defendant’s character and to show that he acted in conformity with that character on the occasion in question, but it may be admissible for other purposes, such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident. The trial court has broad discretion in determining whether evidence is more probative than prejudicial and may admit evidence of prior bad acts if its probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect.
Here, the State argues that the evidence of the Defendant’s prior DUI convictions was relevant to his intent to drive while under the influence of alcohol, as he was aware of the potential consequences of his actions due to his prior convictions. The State further argues that the probative value of this evidence outweighed any potential prejudice to the Defendant.
The Defendant counters that the evidence of his prior DUI convictions was offered solely to show his bad character and that its prejudicial effect far outweighed any probative value. The Defendant argues that the evidence of his prior convictions was more than ten years old and that it was not relevant to his intent on the night in question.
The court reviews the trial court’s decision to admit evidence of the Defendant’s prior DUI convictions for an abuse of discretion. After considering the arguments presented by both parties, the court finds that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence of the Defendant’s prior DUI convictions. The evidence was relevant to the Defendant’s intent to drive while under the influence of alcohol and its probative value outweighed any potential prejudice to the Defendant. Therefore, the Defendant is not entitled to relief on this issue.
Statute of limitations
In the statute of limitations part of this case, the defendant argues that the trial court erred by not dismissing the DUI charge against him because he was indicted outside the statute of limitations for misdemeanor offenses. The state argues that they commenced their prosecution by issuing an arrest warrant for DUI within the limitations period.
The court concludes that the warrant for the driving under the influence charge was sufficient to commence the state's prosecution of that offense, and the Defendant's appearance in court for a preliminary hearing and binding over to the grand jury were also statutorily defined methods for commencing prosecution. Therefore, the state timely commenced prosecution within the statute of limitations. The court holds that the defendant is not entitled to relief as to this issue.