Tennessee DUI Laws

Tennessee DUI Basics

In most states, driving under the influence offenses have varying degrees of penalties and are considered misdemeanors in most cases. In Tennessee, driving under the influence offenses are considered Class E Felonies upon a fourth offense, while all previous offenses are considered misdemeanors.

Tennessee also has more severe punishments than most other states. For an individual to be convicted of driving under the influence offense, the court must agree that the individual was physically controlling a motor vehicle while on a highway, public road, parking lot, alley, or other public premise while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two. The court may also rule that the individual had a blood alcohol content level that exceeded the 0.08 legal limit.

Per Se

Individuals arrested for driving under the influence and with blood alcohol contents above the legal limit can be prosecuted on per se laws. These laws are based on the body’s chemistry and state that the offender was driving at an illegal level. Whether or not an individual was impaired does not matter to per se charges.


Individuals may also be charged with operating under the influence charges where the prosecution will attempt to prove impairment. Evidence will be shown to prove whether this is true, including blood alcohol content levels, driving patterns, field sobriety tests, urine tests, and physical appearance. An individual may or may not be convicted based on blood alcohol content since some are not impaired at the legal limit.


Convictions for driving under the influence are based on prior offenses and aggravating factors. The more offenses an individual has, the more severe his or her punishments will be. The circumstances around an arrest can also increase an individual’s sentencing. These can include harming another, having a minor in the motor vehicle, driving over the speed limit, having a blood alcohol content twice the legal limit, and others.


Refusing to submit to chemical testing can result in driver’s license suspension. Federal law states that when an individual obtains a driver’s license, he or she gives implied consent to submit to chemical testing. If a test is refused, he or she will receive charges outside of driving under the influence.


A first offense can earn up to eleven months in jail, a fine as high as fifteen hundred dollars, one year of driver’s license suspension, an ignition interlock device, litter patrol, and alcohol treatment program attendance. A second offense can earn up to one year in jail, two years of driver’s license suspension, and up to thirty-five hundred dollars in fines.

Individuals may also have their motor vehicles seized and must attend drug and alcohol treatment assessments. Third offenses increase fines to ten thousand dollars and suspension up to ten years. A felony offense under drunken driving can earn up to fifteen thousand dollars in fines, driver’s license suspension between five years and expulsion, and incarceration in state prison for a maximum Class E Felony offense.

Key DUI defense strategies in Tennessee

If you are facing a DUI charge in Tennessee, it is essential to understand the key defense strategies that can be used to fight the charge. While every case is unique, there are some common strategies that DUI defense attorneys use to protect their client’s rights and interests.

One of the most effective defense strategies is to challenge the validity of the initial traffic stop. Police officers must have probable cause to pull over a driver, and if they do not, any evidence obtained during the stop may be inadmissible in court. For example, if an officer claims that they pulled you over for swerving, but you have dashcam footage showing you were driving in a straight line, this could challenge the validity of the traffic stop.

Another strategy is challenging the accuracy of any field sobriety or blood alcohol tests. These tests are not infallible, and many factors can affect their accuracy. For example, if you have a medical condition or were taking medication at the time of the test, this could have influenced the results.

A skilled DUI defense attorney may also be able to negotiate a plea bargain or reduced sentence on your behalf. This could involve pleading guilty to a lesser charge, such as reckless driving, or negotiating a reduced sentence with the prosecution.

Ultimately, the key to a successful DUI defense in Tennessee is to work with an experienced attorney who understands the nuances of the state’s DUI laws and can develop a customized strategy tailored to your unique circumstances. You can fight the charges and protect your legal rights with the right defense team.

Importance of plea bargaining in DUI cases

Plea bargaining is an essential aspect of DUI cases in Tennessee. It is a process in which the accused and the prosecution agree on a lesser charge or a reduced sentence for the accused in exchange for a guilty plea. The plea bargain agreement is a mutually beneficial arrangement that helps both parties avoid the time, expense, and uncertainty of a full trial.
In DUI cases, plea bargaining is often the best option for the accused. A DUI conviction can have severe consequences, including jail time, hefty fines, loss of driving privileges, and damage to one’s reputation. By accepting a plea bargain, the accused can avoid a prolonged legal battle and a potentially harsh sentence.

Additionally, plea bargaining can also benefit the prosecution. It allows them to secure a conviction without going through the lengthy and costly process of a full trial. This can free up resources and time, allowing them to focus on other cases.

However, it’s important to note that not all DUI cases are eligible for plea bargaining. The prosecutor may be less inclined to offer a plea bargain if the defendant has a prior criminal record or if the case involves an accident with injuries. In such cases, it may be necessary to go to trial.
In conclusion, plea bargaining can be a valuable tool in navigating Tennessee DUI laws. It can help the accused avoid a harsh sentence, and the prosecution secure a conviction efficiently. However, it is crucial to consult with an experienced DUI attorney who can advise you on the best course of action for your particular case.

How to reinstate your driver’s license after a DUI conviction

If you’ve been convicted of a DUI in Tennessee, you may have had your driver’s license suspended or revoked. The process to reinstate your driver’s license can be complicated, but knowing what steps you need to take is important.

First, serving any required jail time is necessary before reinstating your driver’s license. After that, you’ll need to complete an alcohol and drug treatment program, which can take up to a year. You’ll receive a certificate of completion that you’ll need to provide to the court.

You’ll also need to pay a reinstatement fee to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. This fee can range from $100 to $300, depending on the circumstances of your conviction.

Depending on the severity of your conviction, you may also need to have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle. This device measures your blood alcohol content and will prevent your car from starting if you’ve been drinking.

Once you’ve completed all of these steps, you can apply for your driver’s license reinstatement. You’ll need to provide all necessary documentation, including your certificate of completion from the alcohol and drug treatment program, proof of insurance, and any required fees.

It’s important to note that reinstating your driver’s license can take several weeks or months, so it’s best to begin the process as soon as possible. You can successfully navigate Tennessee DUI laws and get back on the road with patience and persistence.

Resources on DUI in Tennessee

If you or someone you know has been charged with a DUI in Tennessee, it’s important to know the available resources to help navigate the legal process.

First and foremost, it’s highly recommended to seek out a qualified DUI attorney who is familiar with Tennessee DUI laws and has experience in defending DUI cases. They can provide guidance and representation throughout the legal process, from the initial arrest to court appearances and sentencing.

Additionally, several organizations and resources are available to individuals charged with a DUI in Tennessee. The TN Department of Safety and Homeland Security has a comprehensive website on DUI laws, penalties, and resources for those charged with a DUI.

The Tennessee chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is another valuable resource, offering support and resources for victims of drunk driving as well as those who have been charged with a DUI. Other organizations, such as the Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program (TLAP) provide confidential assistance to attorneys, judges, and law students struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues.

Remember that a DUI charge can have serious consequences, including fines, license suspension, and even possible jail time. By utilizing the available resources and seeking out qualified legal representation, those charged with a DUI in Tennessee can work towards the best possible outcome in their case.

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