Significant Cases in Alabama Courts of Appeals

(Listed in Reverse Chronological Order)

1. Ex Parte Lindsey, 989 So. 2d 1164 (Ala. 2008)
City of Decatur v. Lindsey, 989 So. 2d 1157 (Ala Crim. App. 2007)

In this case, the trial court’s ruling, in effect meant that the City of Decatur would have great difficulty in prosecuting DUI cases.  Since the city of Decatur ordinance used to prosecute DUI cases was inconsistent with the wording of the state DUI law was worded, it was held by the Court to violate Alabama’s state constitution.

In the Circuit Court of Morgan County, Lindsey’s DUI case was dismissed by the trial judge because the defense argued that §16-1(e) of the City of Decatur Code was inconsistent with §32-5A-191 (the Alabama DUI Statute) and therefore unconstitutional.  The Circuit Court trial judge held that the City of Decatur Code §16-1(e) was void because it “violates the Alabama constitution and state statutes that prohibit a municipality from passing laws inconsistent with State law” and that the ordinance, as it is written, “effectively precludes any sentence for a conviction for DUI in the City of Decatur.”  

The City of Decatur appealed the ruling of the Circuit Court to the Court of Criminal Appeals.  The Court of Criminal Appeals did not agree with the decision of the trial judge and held that the Alabama code section to use in determining whether a city fine is appropriate for a DUI is §11-45-9(b) and not §32-5A-191.  Therefore, since §11-45-9(b) was held to be the governing statute for municipal DUIs, the City of Decatur ordinance was held to be valid and the fine did not exceed the amount that was authorized by law.  The last portion of this decision focused on City of Decatur Code §16-1(e).  The Circuit Court ruled the §16-1(e) “as written effectively precludes any sentence for a conviction for DUI in City of Decatur.”  However, the Court of Criminal Appeals in “reading the ordinance in context” ruled that the city council intended for §16-1(e) would provide the penalties for the municipal offense of DUI.  

Lindsey filed a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Alabama,  The Supreme Court granted certiorari, meaning they agreed to hear the case, then changed their mind and quashed the appeal.  The Supreme Court stated that it did not agree, however with everything in the Count of Criminal Appeals’ opinion. 

2.State v. Isbell, 985 So. 2d 446 (2007).
State v. Isbell, 985 So. 2d 441 (Ala. Civ. App. 2007).
State v. Isbell, 955 So. 2d 476 (Ala. Crim. App. 2006)

This case is about “discovery” in DUI cases.  Trial judges in Alabama are supposed to have a huge amount of discretion in their rulings on matters involving the sharing of information from one party to another in a criminal proceeding.  The trial court in this DUI case ruled that the defendant’s attorney was entitled to some documents in the hands of a state agency.  The State took the position that the defendant was entitled to the information, but rather than turn the documents over to the attorney for the defendant, the defendant’s attorney was supposed to drive from Huntsville, Alabama to Calera, Alabama and sit and wait for the records to be compiled, then pick them up and drive back to Huntsville with the records.  These particular records dealt with repair records of the breath test machine used to test the defendant’s breath for alcohol content.  The trial court, using its broad discretion made a common sense ruling that the records were to be turned over to the State in Huntsville for inspection and copying by the defendant’s attorney, instead of requiring the attorney to drive 2.5 hours there, and 2.5 hours back just to get the records.    

The State filed an extraordinary writ claiming that the trial court went overboard in her ruling and that the defense lawyer indeed should be made to drive to Calera to pick up the records.  The special writ was filed in the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, who then transferred the case to the Court of Civil Appeals, who then sent the case back to the Court of Criminal Appeals, who then by a special statute, sent the case to the Supreme Court of the State of Alabama.  The Supreme Court, instead of upholding the trial court’s use of it discretion (not to mention common sense) the Supreme Court by judicial decision, effectively reworded Alabama’s rule of discovery in the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure.  They ruled that when public records are involved in discovery in criminal cases, the defendant must first physically go to where the records are kept and demand production of the records under the public records’ statute.  If refused, then the court can order production of the records.  

The Alabama Supreme Court, Lyons, Woodall, Stuart, Smith, Bolin, Parker and Murdock, ruled that the trial court, by not re-writing the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, abused her broad discretion.  They ruled that the defense lawyer had to go pick up the records, rather than have them emailed, faxed or mailed.  The state agency involved with the Department of Forensic Sciences.    

In the Circuit Court of Madison County, the Circuit Judge granted Isbell’s DUI discovery request for the complete history of malfunctions, repairs, or reports of malfunctions on the Draeger breath test device used to test Isbell that were in the possession of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS).  The State of Alabama filed did not think that the judge’s order was correct and filed a petition for writ of mandamus to the Court of Criminal Appeals.  The State did not want to comply with the discovery order so they filed the writ asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to excusing them from complying with the order.  The Court of Criminal Appeals held that since the issue in the case “is whether DFS will bear the costs and responsibility of collecting and copying the date or whether Isbell will bear the burden,” then the case should be transferred to the Court of Civil Appeals because the right to a fair trial in not implicated.  Therefore, the case was moved from the Court of Criminal Appeals to the Court of Civil Appeals.

The Court of Civil Appeals transferred the petition back to the Court of Criminal Appeals because the Civil Court concluded that the issues involved the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure and the right to a fair trial potentially was implicated.  The Court of Criminal Appeals did not know what to do and asked the Supreme Court of Alabama to accept the transfer of the case and it transferred to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court held that the Court of Criminal Appeals did have jurisdiction over the case, meaning the court that should hear the issues involved in the case is the Court of Criminal Appeals and not the Court of Civil Appeals.  In regard to the discovery issues, the Court held that the Open Records Act of Alabama did not require DFS to delivery the discovery documents to the State.  It is now the burden of the defense to inspect and copy the records from DFS at their location in Calera, Alabama.    

3.City of Tuscaloosa v. Stalnaker, 868 So. 2d 481 (Ala. Crim. App. 2002)

This case was the first appellate case in the State of Alabama involving the breath testing device known as Draeger MKIII-C.

In the Circuit Court of Tuscaloosa County, the issue before the trial court was the admissibility of the Draeger Alcotest MKIII-C breath test in Stalnaker’s DUI case.  Stalnaker’s position was that her breath test was not performed pursuant to the rules approved by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS).  Stalnaker also took the position that the test was not performed in a way to assure that the test was accurate and reliable in its result.  When the City of Tuscaloosa tried to admit the results of the breath test into evidence, the City did not establish the rules had been followed for the Alcotest MKIII-C (the breath test used to test Stalnaker).  The DFS test that was approved was the Alcotest MK-III and not the Alcotest MKIII-C.  The City of Tuscaloosa also did not prove that the test operator had a valid permit for this particular breath testing device.  Also, the City did not prove that the breath test device was in proper working order.

The Circuit Court ruled to not allow the results of the breath test into evidence and the City of Tuscaloosa appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals.  The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the ruling of the Circuit Court and did not allow the breath test into evidence.

4.Stone v. City of Huntsville, 656 So. 2d 404 (Ala. Crim. App. 1994)

This case involved the admissibility of so-called “field sobriety tests” when an individual is “blue lighted” by the police.  The case discusses the difference in defendants’ rights under the 4th and 5th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the application of an individual’s Miranda Rights.  

Stone was stopped and detained by an officer of the Huntsville Police Department DUI Task Force.  As part of being stopped by the officer, Stone was directed to perform field sobriety tests.  At the trial in the Madison County Circuit Court, Stone asked the court to not allow the evidence relating to the field sobriety tests into evidence at trial on the basis that it violates Article I, §6 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901.  The part of the Alabama Constitution states that a person prosecuted for a criminal offense “shall note be compelled to give evidence against himself.”  Stone also argued that tests should be not be allowed into evidence because the officer did not give him the warnings set forth in Miranda v. Arizona.   

The Court of Criminal Appeals did not agree with Stone’s argument relating to the Alabama Constitution.  After a discussion about the Miranda warnings, the Court concluded the Stone “had been ‘seized’ for Fourth Amendment purposes, he was not ‘in custody’ for Fifth Amendment purposes when the field sobriety tests were administered; therefore Miranda warnings were not required.”  Basically, even though Stone was directed to stop by the police officer, the police officer did not put him in custody at the time of the field sobriety tests.

Stone also contended that the Circuit Court instructions to the jury were wrong and because they were wrong, he should get a new trial.  The jury instruction at issue was, “The prosecution does not have to show that the only substance that the defendant was under the influence of was alcohol or that the only substance which affected the defendant’s ability to drive safely.”  Stone testified at trial that he had consumed alcohol and had taken various medications during the day.  Since Stone introduced evidence of potential controlled substances in his system, the Court found that the Circuit Court instruction to the jury was not wrong and Stone would not get a new trial on this basis.  

5. Ex Parte Mayo, 652 So. 2d 201 (Ala. 1994).

This is a landmark case of historical significance.  In this case, the Alabama Supreme Court threw out Alabama’s breath test program holding that the rules governing breath-testing in Alabama that were in effect at that time were not sufficient to insure that a defendant’s breath test was accurate and reliable to reflect his or her blood alcohol.  

Mayo was convicted of DUI in Madison Municipal Court.  He appealed his DUI conviction to the Circuit Court of Madison County.  At the trial court, he filed a motion to not allow evidence of the breath test and it was denied.  Mayo pleaded guilty reserving his right to appeal the breath test issue, meaning he wanted to challenge the breath test results to a higher court.  He appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals which agreed with the trial court.  Mayo then appealed to the Supreme Court of Alabama.

There were three issues raised by Mayo at the Supreme Court.  The first issue was whether the Department of Forensic Science (DFS) breath testing rules were sufficient.  The second issue was whether DFS had improperly continued to apply the rules set forth by the Board of Heath or had DFS improperly changed the rules without following the proper procedure set out by the Administrative Procedure Act.  The third issue was about admitting the breath test into evidence.  When evidence is admitted at trial, there are certain rules that must be followed for the evidence to be admitted into evidence.  The third issue was whether, if certain rules relating to the breath test were not followed then the test cannot be admitted into evidence using the rules (called a statutory predicate), other rules followed in order for the breath test to be admitted into evidence (called a general evidence predicate).

Mayo received a major victory in this case.  The Court ruled that the existing DFS rules were not sufficient based on the issues that were raised to the Court.  Since the rules set forth by the Alabama statute were not met in this case, in order to admit the results of the breath test, other rules (general evidence predicate) must have been met.
After this case, DFS made significant changes to the rules that govern breath testing in Alabama.  This case pioneered those changes for all people accused of DUI throughout the state.

6. City of Huntsville v. Shanes, 645 So. 2d 339 (Ala. Crim. App. 1994)

Shanes was successful in getting the results of a breath test not allowed into evidence at his DUI trial in the Madison County Circuit Court.  The City of Huntsville appealed this decision of the trial judge to the Court of Criminal Appeals.  However, since a DUI is a misdemeanor trial, the City of Huntsville cannot appeal the trial judge’s decision in this case.  Therefore, the appeal from the City of Huntsville appeal was dismissed by the Court.  

7. Ex Parte Weeks, 611 So. 2d 259 (Ala. 1992)

Weeks was convicted of DUI in the District Court of Morgan County and appealed his case for a jury trial to the Circuit Court of Morgan County.  The Circuit Court of Morgan County dismissed Week’s DUI case because he failed to show up the day of court.  Weeks had attempted to contact the clerk’s office to obtain his trial date.  He also informed the clerk’s office of his new address.  However, Weeks did not get notice of his trial date and the Morgan County Circuit Judge dismissed his DUI case.

Weeks petitioned the Court of Criminal Appeals for an order requiring the Circuit Court to have a trial on his DUI case.  The Court of Appeals denied this request from Weeks and Weeks filed a request to the Supreme Court.  After being presented the facts regarding Weeks attempts to find out his court date, the Supreme Court directed the Circuit Court to put Weeks’s DUI case on the list of cases to be heard for trial. 

8. Lockard v. Town of Killen, 565 So. 2d 679 (Ala. Crim. App. 1990)

This is the leading case in the State of Alabama dealing with a citizen’s right to an independent test of his blood, after submitting to a breath alcohol test.  

Lockard was convicted of DUI in the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County.  He appealed his conviction to the Court of Criminal Appeals.  After Lockard was requested by an officer to take the Intoxilyzer 5000 breath test, he did as was requested.  After this test, Lockard requested an independent test (not one given by law enforcement) of his blood alcohol content.  Alabama Code allows a person accused of DUI to have an independent test of his blood alcohol content in addition to the one requested by law enforcement.  Lockard requested an independent test and was not given the opportunity to have this test done by the officer involved.  The court held that “when a motorist who has been charge with an alcohol-related traffic offense has cooperated fully with the police and subsequently makes telephone arrangement for the administration of a private sobriety test, he is entitled to police transportation to the test site so that the test may be administered.”    

Since Lockard was not allowed the independent test, the Court also had an issue about what to do in this case.  The Court did not know if Lockard’s case should dismissed or not allow the City to use the evidence of the Intoxilzyer 5000 test results.  The Court concluded because Lockard did not receive his independent test, the breath test must be not be used as evidence because Lockard cannot attack the whether the test results were correct and accurate. The Court sent Lockard’s case back to the Circuit Court for trial. 

9. Ex Parte Buckner, 549 So. 2d 451 (Ala. 1989)

This is arguably the most significant case relating to DUI law in Alabama history.  The case defines the crime of DUI in Alabama.  The phrase “under the influence of alcohol” is not defined by Alabama’s DUI statute (§ 32-5A-191).  Prior to the Buckner decision, the phrase had been interpreted through case-law. Prior courts held that if you were under the influence of alcohol to any degree, you were under the influence under the Alabama DUI statute.  The Court held that to be under the influence of alcohol one must have consumed alcohol to the point that it makes one an unsafe driver.  It is not against the law to consume alcohol and drive, so long as you have not consumed enough alcohol to the level that you are unsafe to drive the vehicle. (Note that this case applies to DUI cases under § 32-5A-191 (A) (2) and not under § 32-5A-191 (A) (1).) Under an A-1 charge, the prosecution must prove that the defendant had a blood alcohol level of .08 or greater at the time of driving the vehicle. This definition of driving under the influence remains today.

10. Matkins v. State, 497 So. 2d 194 (Ala. Crim. App. 1985)

Matkins was convicted of murder in the Madison County Circuit Court.  The attorneys for Matkins requested instructions on charging the jury for lesser included offenses (charges not as severe as murder) of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.  The trial court did not give those charges to the jury and Matkins appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals.  The Court held that the trial judge should have been given those charges to the jury and sent the case back to the Circuit Court.

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