Tennessee becomes fourth state in 2014 to consider drug testing judges; test would be required in criminal cases if defense or prosecuting attorney asks for it

Two weeks ago I mentioned bills in Missouri and Pennsylvania and then Mississippi to drug test judges. Now comes word Tennessee will consider drug testing judges in criminal cases on request of the defense or prosecution. SB 2542 / HB 2362 would provide that either party in a criminal trial may request in writing that the judge be drug tested. If the judge tests positive for an illegal drug, a substitute judge would be appointed. If the test is negative, no request is made, or it was for a legal prescription drug, the trial resumes and neither side can assert on appeal that the judge was impaired by drugs. Both bills have been filed and are pending committee assignments.

News reports indicate that the impetus behind the bills was a particular judge who presided over a case in which the defendants were charged with raping, torturing, and murdering a couple in 2007. The judge was later found in 2011 to have purchased and taken drugs during breaks in court sessions and the convictions were overturned.

This isn’t the first time Tennessee legislators have debated the subject. In 2012 HB 2432 / SB 3474 would have required the drug testing of all elected officials EXCEPT judges and requested the Tennessee Supreme Court create such a random drug testing plan for judges by court rule. Those bills failed to advance out of subcommittee.