State v. Isbell, 985 So. 2d 446 (2007)

Phillip Boyd Price Sr.

Practice Area:DUI / DWI

Outcome:(Not available)

Description: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.