Tennessee D.U.I. Offenses

DUI is one of the most common offenses that criminal defense attorneys in Tennessee deal with, but the issues related to DUI can be very complex. Tennessee’s DUI statute is located at TCA § 55-10-401.

Under Tennessee law, DUI can be charged in a number of different situations. All of these situations pertain to operating any motor vehicle, and that operation can take place on any public road or highway of the state, any street or alley, or on the premises of any shopping center, trailer park, apartment complex, or any other premises generally frequented by the public at large. This is often surprising to persons who are charged with DUI in Tennessee while not operating the vehicle on an actual road. DUI is charged when a person operates a vehicle on one of these surfaces while under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, narcotic drug, or drug that produces stimulating effects on the central nervous system. It is also illegal for a person to operate a vehicle while having a blood alcohol concentration of .08%.

DUI is a strict liability offense, meaning that a person’s intent is irrelevant to the charge. This makes the offense particularly inflexible, but there a number of complexities involved in DUI cases, often related to the methods used by law enforcement in ascertaining a person’s blood alcohol content, that can provide defenses to a DUI charge. This is why it is particularly important to employ the services of an attorney when facing a DUI charge, as these defenses often involve technical legal issues.

Under the statute, a first offense related to DUI results in a fine of between $350 and $1500. Additionally, a person convicted of DUI shall have their license revoked for one year. This punishment can increase depending upon a number of factors, including an unusually high blood alcohol concentration, or having a child in the vehicle while under the influence. Punishment may also be increased for subsequent offenses.

If you or someone you care about is being charged with a DUI offense in Tennessee, experienced DUI attorneys can help. Those facing DUI charges need to be familiar with their rights. Call us today for a free consultation.

Field Sobriety Test Results are Issues of Fact

In a criminal trial, there is a substantial difference between questions of law and questions of fact. While the issue of what distinguishes the two questions is ultimately more complex than the examination necessary for the purposes of this blog, it will be sufficient here to say that questions of law are decided by the court while questions of fact are decided by a jury. This means that the jury can decide not only whether the fact is true or false, but how much weight should be attributed to the fact for purposes of making a guilt or innocence determination.

One issue that is a question of fact is the result of a field sobriety test performed pursuant to a DUI stop. In State v. Lowe, the defendant was arrested and charged with a DUI for, among other things, failing to perform a field sobriety test adequately. The defendant apparently was administered the “walk-and-turn” test and the “one-legged stand” test and was unable to successfully perform either. The defendant argued that the results of such tests should not be considered by the jury because the police officer responsible for administering the tests testified at trial that the results of both tests are less than 70% accurate. The court correctly ruled that both the evidence regarding the defendant’s performance on such tests and the ability of the tests to measure a driver’s impairment are issues of fact for the jury to decide.

This is important for defendants in criminal trials, because it means that both the defendant’s performance on such tests and the legitimacy of the tests themselves can be attacked. For example, a defendant in another state recently successfully argued that the tests were not a proper measure of his level of impairment because he was too obese to perform the test successfully had he been sober. Since it posits that one is legitimately physically unable to perform the test adequately, such a defense can be a highly effective tactic for escaping a DUI conviction. Defendants should keep in mind that any such evidence tending to prove to a jury that the defendant is physically unable to perform field sobriety tests could probably be used to try to defeat a DUI charge, as the existence of a physical condition or handicap that makes more difficult the performance of a field sobriety test tends to cast doubt on intoxication as the reason for the inability to perform the tests adequately.

Source: (State v. Lowe, 35 TAM 1-34, 10/21/09, Nashville, Smith, 5 pages.)