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. In order for an individual to be convicted of a 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 who are arrested for driving under the influence and have blood alcohol contents above the legal limit can be prosecuted on per se laws. These laws are based on the chemistry of the body and state that the offender was driving with an illegal level. Whether or not an individual was impaired does not matter to per se charges.


Individuals may also be charged on operating under the influence charges where the prosecution will attempt to prove impairment. Evidence will be shown to prove whether or not this is true and can include 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 charges.


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 be required to attend drug and alcohol treatment assessment. Third offenses increase fines up 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 a state prison for a maximum Class E Felony offense.

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