In State v. Angela Merriman, the State appealed a trial court's dismissal of a DUI and two other counts against Angela Merriman. Merriman was charged with DUI, felony reckless endangerment and reckless driving. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that dismissal of the charges was proper based on the state's losing the video of her arrest and roadside conversation with police.
The case began in early 2011 when the defendant was arrested and charged with DUI. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the indictment due to the State’s failure to produce video evidence of the stop leading to her arrest.
The arresting officer stated that the video was simply lost. Of particular concern here is that the video is the best evidence for both the prosecution and the defense. It either inculpates guilt or exonerates Ms. Merriman. For it to be lost is negligence by the police or state and the court recognized the importance of that issue.
The trial court held an evidentiary hearing and ultimately ruled that the State’s failure to preserve the video of the road side encounter of Merriman and the police violated her right to a fair trial. The court dismissed all three charges against her. The State appealed and argued that the trial court wrongly dismissed this DUI case.
In a case of misplaced or missing evidence a court in Tennessee must weight three factors: 1) the degree of negligence involved; 2) the significance of the destroyed evidence; and 3) the sufficiency of the other evidence used at trial to support the conviction. If after weighing these factors the court believes that a trial without the lost evidence would be fundamentally unfair, then the trial court may dismiss the charges.
The Court of Criminal Appeals applied an “abuse of discretion standard” which means that before there can be reversal, the record must show that a judge applied an incorrect legal standard or reached a decision which is against logic or reason that caused an injustice to the state.
Here, the appeals court concluded that the trial court was correct in saying that without the video evidence of the traffic stop, the case would become a “he said, she said” situation. Dismissing the charges was appropriate to ensure fundamental fairness.
The full case can be found here.