Tennessee Court of Appeals upholds revocation of driver’s license despite flaw in implied consent form

In the law, technicalities do not prevail as often as people think.  Normally, courts will find a logical way to arrive at the “right” conclusion.  An example of this is the Tennessee Court of Appeals’ decision in State v. Hembrook, which upheld the Van Buren County Circuit Court’s revocation of a defendant’s driver’s license based on a violation of the implied consent law.  In Hembrook, the defendant was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.  After the defendant was transported to the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department, the arresting officer read him the form entitled, “Tennessee Implied Consent Advisement for Use in Mandatory Test Cases Per T.C.A. § 55-10-406(f).”  The form stated in pertinent part:

There exists probable cause to believe you were driving or in physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs (DUI) and the vehicle you were operating was involved in a crash resulting in the injury or death of another.  As required under T.C.A. § 55-10-406(f), I am hereby requesting that you submit to a chemical test or tests to determine the alcohol and/or drug content of your blood.

As required by State law I must advise you that if you refuse to submit to either or both tests, you will be charged with the offense of violation of the implied consent law.  If the judge finds you guilty of this separate offense your driver’s license will be suspended for a period of at least one year.

The defendant refused to submit to the blood test and was subsequently charged with a violation of the implied consent law.

After a preliminary hearing, the General Sessions Court of Van Buren County bound the DUI charge over to the grand jury and revoked the defendant’s license pursuant to T.C.A. § 55-10-406.  The defendant then filed a timely appeal in circuit court, contending that the form the officer read was “not applicable to him” because he was not involved in an accident, let alone an accident that resulted in the injury or death of another.  However, the circuit court upheld the revocation, finding that “although the Defendant was ‘misinformed’ or read provisions that [were] inapplicable to his position, the Defendant was advised that he would lose his license if a Judge found that he refused a chemical test . . . that the Defendant did refuse the sample testing although made aware of the consequences of refusal . . . [and] that the requirements were met for the Defendant to have his driver’s license revoked.”

Again, the defendant filed a timely appeal, this time to the court of appeals.  He raised one issue on appeal:

Whether the admonitions read to Defendant were proper and sufficient pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-406 to require the revocation of Defendant’s license for one year.

Specifically, the defendant argued that the implied consent form was inapplicable to him because he was not involved in an accident.  Nevertheless, the appellate court affirmed the revocation, stating that whether the defendant “was arrested only for DUI or was also involved in an accident causing injury or death is inconsequential in determining if he was properly advised of the consequences of failing to submit to the blood test, as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-406(a)(3).”

I should note that this is an excellent job of “lawyering” on behalf of the defendant.  There wasn’t much here to go off of, but they found the one issue that had a chance of winning.  As noted above, however, courts typically end up at the “right” conclusion and avoid deciding cases on technicalities.  Here, the defendant was advised of the consequence of refusing to take the blood test and he refused to take it.  Good lawyering aside, revocation affirmed.

State v. Hembrook, No. M2011-01358-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 31, 2012)

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