Tennessee DUI

DUI Tennessee Offenses

Once your alcohol blood content or BAC registers at .08 percent or higher, you will automatically be convicted with a drinking under the influence or DUI offense.

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.

Tennessee DUI Penalties

Tennessee’s DUI penalties are extremely severe. Tennessee DUI law establishes criminal consequences and penalties for a person who drives while he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drunk driving is considered to be a major public health problem and Tennessee law enforcement takes a tough stance against those who drive while impaired or under the influence. Tennessee DUI penalties are among the toughest in the nation. Many are shocked to learn that jail time is mandatory for anyone convicted of a DUI. Along with hefty fines, court costs, and alcohol treatment classes, this penalty of mandatory jail time applies to even a first time offender in Tennessee. A successful defense of your Tennessee DUI charge would result in these penalties being mitigated or avoided. It is wise to consult with an experienced Tennessee DUI attorney immediately.

If you have been arrested for a DUI in Tennessee, you need to take the charges very seriously because the DUI penalties could affect the rest of your life. These penalties could follow you for the rest of your life and result in loss of economic opportunities. A Nashville DUI lawyer can help you to explore options including defending yourself, going to trial, or plea bargaining to mitigate the penalties that you may face. Because the penalties are so severe, it is not advisable to represent yourself in court. Please do not go to court unprepared and assume that the truth will surely win out. Remember, it is the job of the prosecution to secure a DUI conviction against you. The police officer will not come to court and simply admit that he made a mistake when he arrested you for DUI.

DUI Penalties under Tennessee Law

Tennessee establishes DUI laws in section 55-10-401 of the Tennessee Code Annotated. Under the relevant code section:

(a)  It is unlawful for any person to drive or to be in physical control of any automobile or other motor driven vehicle on any of the public roads and highways of the state, or on any streets or alleys, or while on the premises of any shopping center, trailer park or any apartment complex, or any other premises which is generally frequented by the public at large, while:

(1)  Under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, narcotic drug, or drug producing stimulating effects on the central nervous system; or

(2)  The alcohol concentration in such person’s blood or breath is eight-hundredths of one percent (.08%) or more.

Part (b) of this code section makes clear that many different drugs can be considered to produce stimulating effects on the central nervous system.

When you are violate these laws, the penalties will vary depending upon whether you have a previous record for driving while impaired.  Tennessee will also use prior DUI offenses from other states in order to increase your DUI penalties.

Editor’s note:  In short, any road, alley, or parking lot that is open to the public will be sufficient under Tennessee law.  Your private driveway or yard would not count under Tennessee law and would constitute a valid defense.  In addition, you only have to be in physical control of the automobile.  The police do not have to actually catch you in the act of driving.  They can prove physical control by circumstantial evidence.

Enforcing Tennessee DUI Penalties

Tennessee’s DUI penalties become progressively harsher in order to discourage repeat offenders. The harsher penalties for repeat offenders apply regardless of whether you were convicted of a DUI in Tennessee or in another state. For example:

A first time DUI offender will face:

  • Fines between $350 and $1,500.  These fines are mandatory and cannot be waived by the court.
  • A minimum of 48 hours in jail for any DUI offense.  If your BAC exceeds .20, then you face a minimum of 7 consecutive days of jail time. You may also face a longer sentence and could serve up to 11 months and 29 days of time incarcerated.
  • A one-year driver’s license revocation.  An ignition interlock device will most likely be ordered as a condition for getting a Tennessee restricted driver’s license.
  • A requirement to perform 24 hours of mandatory community service consisting of liter/trash removal.

A repeat DUI offender who has had one previous conviction will face for his second offense:

  • Fines between $600 and $3,500
  • A minimum of 45 days of jail time and a maximum of 11 months and 29 days in jail.  It is possible to substitute 28 days of inpatient treatment for drugs or alcohol for some of the jail time.  However, the jail time must be served consecutively.
  • A two-year driver’s license revocation.
  • The possible forfeiture of the car that you used when driving while drunk or high.

A repeat DUI offender with two prior offenses will face upon his third conviction:

  • A fine between $1,000 and $10,000
  • A minimum of 120 days of jail time and up to 11 months and 29 days of incarceration.  The jail time of 120 days must be served consecutively.
  • A six-year driver’s license revocation.
  • The possible forfeiture of the car used when driving while drunk or high.

Finally, someone convicted of a fourth DUI offense or greater will be convicted of a class E felony. Penalties include:

  • Fines between $3,000 and $15,000
  • Between 150 days and 6 years of incarceration.  Again, the 150 days in jail must be served at one time consecutively.
  • An eight-year driver’s license revocation
  • The possible forfeiture of the vehicle used when driving while drunk or high

Drivers will typically be placed on probation after serving the minimum jail sentence. Conditions of your probation may include community service work including trash removal; participation in drug or alcohol counseling; and paying restitution to anyone who was injured or who experienced property damage as a result of your drunk driving.

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.)

FAQ – Tennessee DUI Law and Procedure

Understanding TN DUI laws is important if you have been arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. By learning about your rights and about what you should do after you have been arrested, you can protect yourself and hopefully avoid some of the serious consequences of a drunk driving conviction.  You should also understand what is involved in hiring a Tennessee DUI attorney, so you can be confident that you are hiring the right advocate to represent you.

Below are answers to many common questions you may have if you have been arrested for drunk driving.

How long does a DUI conviction stay on my record?

In Tennessee, a DUI conviction stays on your record for life. Most other states have similar laws. A DUI conviction can result in denial of job opportunities or restrictions on credit since your conviction is typically retrieved by credit reporting agencies.

A conviction can also cause an increase or cancellation of your auto insurance and impact your right to drive beyond the initial license suspension. In the last five years, for example, many rental car companies have begun denying rental privileges for as long as six years after a DUI conviction.

The serious and long-lasting consequences of a DUI charge are why you should hire an experienced Nashville DUI attorney to fight for a non-DUI disposition to your case, or an outright acquittal.

If I had a drunk (or impaired driving) conviction in another state, will it show up in Tennessee?

Yes, DUI/DWI convictions from other states usually show up in a computer search conducted by the prosecutor. However, convictions from other states do not show up on every occasion.  If you have a past DUI conviction in another state or in Tennessee, you may face much harsher penalties if you are convicted of drunk driving.

When an attorney goes into court on your behalf, he does not volunteer information about prior convictions. However, he must know your full record and be prepared to address this issue if the prosecutor presents it to the court.

Do I need a lawyer?

Every person has the right to represent him or herself in court. Because DUI is such a critical matter, however, representing yourself is not a wise choice. Your right to drive, your freedom, and your future employment options hang in the balance when you face DUI charges. Although the choice is yours, you should take advantage free consultations to learn how a TN DUI lawyer can help you.

Why am I receiving mail from attorneys seeking to represent me?

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that “commercial free speech” is protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

If I am convicted, what is the worst thing that can happen to me?

The “minimum” punishment that you face at your free consultation. Be advised that you will face harsher minimum penalties if you have previous DUI convictions. The DUI sentencing “guidelines” also offer flexibility, which means that he must evaluate your case based upon the facts, the prosecutor, your record, and the propensity of the judge in sentencing for DUI cases. These details will be reviewed at your free initial consultation.

Will I receive a harsher sentence if I fight the case than if I plead guilty?

This depends upon many factors. This question is very case and judge-specific. Upon reviewing your case and the facts of your situation, DUI lawyers can advise you as to whether he thinks a plea bargain will result in a more lenient sentencing.

Do I need to see an alcohol (or drug) counselor?

Maybe. Anyone facing alcohol or drug-related offenses should get an assessment of any potential problems that may exist. If this offense is not your first alcohol offense, in his free consultation, he will discuss how this assessment and treatment, if necessary, can be a “silver lining” in even a very bad case.

Hire an Experienced Tennessee DUI Attorney

Once you are convicted for a drinking under the influence of DUI case in the state of Tennessee, you can simply do these two things:

The most important thing for you to take on is simply to treat your case with utmost seriousness. This is because a conviction for DUI is actually a very serious offense. It may even come to a point wherein your possibilities for employment, your future, as well as your personal freedom may be trampled on. All because you have been convicted with a DUI case.

Another equally important thing that you should do is to hire an experienced Tennessee DUI lawyer or attorney who has a great background in the rules and laws that apply to the state of Tennessee. When you do, you will find that the result of your case would improve tremendously. Instead of being charged with a guilty plea, you may just be given some probations and the like. Also, you will also come to realize that it isn’t difficult at all to find an attorney or lawyer for DUI of your choice because a lot of options for one are available out there for you. You will find it easy to understand the whole concept as well when you entrust your case to a DUI lawyer or attorney that you can greatly trust.

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