State of Tennessee v. Rosemary L. Decosimo

State of Tennessee v. Rosemary L. Decosimo
E2017-00696-SC-R11-CD

In this appeal of a certified question of law, the defendant challenges the constitutionality of a statute that imposes a fee upon persons convicted of certain drug and alcohol offenses when forensic scientists employed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“TBI”) have conducted chemical tests to determine blood alcohol or drug content. The challenged statute earmarks the fees imposed to an intoxicant testing fund, and monies within this fund do not revert to the State’s general fund but “remain available for appropriation to the [TBI] as determined by the [G]eneral [A]ssembly.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-413(f)(3)(B) (2017). The defendant argues that this statutory scheme provides TBI forensic scientists with a personal and institutional financial incentive to produce blood alcohol test results that secure convictions, which, in turn, increases fees and funding for the TBI. Relying on Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510 (1927); Ward v. Vill. of Monroeville, 409 U.S. 57 (1972); and Connally v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 245 (1977), the defendant asserts that these financial incentives create an appearance of impropriety and deprive her of the federal and state constitutional right to a fair and impartial trial. We conclude that, under both the federal and state constitutions, the standards of neutrality announced in Tumey, Ward, and Connally apply only to persons exercising judicial or quasi-judical authority and do not apply to TBI forensic scientists, who do not exercise such authority. Furthermore, even if the Tumey standards applied to TBI forensic scientists, the defendant’s constitutional claim would fail because, as salaried employees, the TBI forensic scientists have no direct, personal, substantial pecuniary interest in fees imposed pursuant to the statute, and any institutional financial interest the TBI forensic scientists may have as a result of the statute is too remote to give rise to an appearance of impropriety. We also disagree with the Court of Criminal Appeals’ holding that the statute violates substantive due process by creating a situation analogous to an expert witness contingency fee arrangement. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed, and the judgment of the trial court is reinstated.

Authoring Judge: 
Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Originating Judge: 
Senior Judge Paul G. Summers
Date Filed: 
Thursday, August 23, 2018