A criminal charge of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) can have a long lasting, if not permanent, impact on a person’s personal life, career, and overall image. Someone with absolutely no criminal history still faces significant consequences, even from the charge alone. For example, a person may face termination or other forms of discipline at work, face the potential of separation or divorce, or be treated differently by friends and family who know of the charge.

Under Tennessee Law, generally speaking, a person may be charged with DUI when the person is in “physical control” of a motor driven vehicle (not limited to automobiles) in certain locations while either:

  • Under the influence of certain drugs, intoxicants, or controlled substances depriving the driver of the ability to safely operate the vehicle; or
  • Having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of eight-hundredths of one percent (0.08%) while operating the vehicle (or four-hundredths of one percent (0.04%) if the vehicle is a commercial one).
  • Scenarios that give rise to a charge of DUI include:
  • Being stopped by a law enforcement officer on a public road or highway due to violation of a traffic law, including failure to maintain a lane, speeding, or even improper lighting;
  • Being found asleep in a parked car with the key in the ignition or within possession of the driver;
  • Operating a tractor or lawn mower down a road;
  • Being stopped at a scheduled checkpoint at predetermined locations throughout the state; and
  • Being involved in an accident, even if the person suspected of DUI is not the one at fault in the accident.

When approaching a suspect, officers often attempt to, among other things, smell for the odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from the suspect, look for signs of bloodshot eyes, and listen for slurred speech. Should the officer suspect the person of being under the influence of an intoxicating substance, including marijuana or even prescription medication, the officer will ask the suspect to consent to perform Standard Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). These tests are given to attempt to provide an objective assessment as to whether a person is suitable to be operating a motor vehicle. It is important to have an attorney with knowledge of these tests, including their proper administration, when evaluating a charge of DUI.

Additionally, the officers may ask for the person’s consent to provide a blood or breath sample to the officers. Should a suspect refuse to provide blood or breath, the officer may warn the suspect of what is called the “Implied Consent” law, where a person refusing can have his/her license revoked for at least one (1) year, without the right to a jury trial. Further, if a person refuses blood/breath, the officers can still seek a search warrant to force the suspect to provide a sample anyway, where the license can be revoked even if the breath or blood results later help to vindicate the suspect of any wrongdoing.

If a person is convicted of even a first offense DUI, the ramifications are significant. The person will lose his/her license for one (1) calendar year, face mandatory jail time of never less than two (2) days, be placed on probation for the remainder of the sentence, be required to perform DUI classes as part of probation, assessed a minimum fine (in addition to court costs), and have a criminal record. Further, subsequent convictions carry additional fines, increased mandatory jail time, and increased license revocation, which the court must notify you of when found or pleading guilty.

It is important to understand that the offense of DUI is ineligible for what is known as a Diversion under Tennessee law. A diversion is a form of probation where, if a person successfully completes the terms of the diversion, including any length of probation, fines, and any other requirements, the person can typically have the conviction completely erased from his/her record. Current diversion eligible offenses include domestic assault, simple possession, vandalism, etc. DUI, however, is not.

It is also important to understand that being charged does not mean guilt to the offense. Cases may arise where a person’s blood results do not indicate either alcohol or any illicit substance usage. In fact, current case law, as of the time of this writing, calls in to question the legality of the blood results. Therefore, it is important to understand that a mere charge alone does not equate to guilt, and it is important that any person being charged has their day in court to dispute it.

Ultimately, the offense of DUI in Tennessee is significant and can carry major consequences. If you or someone you know has been charged, it is important that the person charged seek legal advice through a consultation. Contact Batson Nolan for more information and to schedule a consultation with an attorney experienced in handling DUI cases.