If you’re dealing with a DUI arrest in Tennessee, you may be filled with questions about the future of your case. The Volunteer State has stringent laws against impaired driving, even for those arrested for the first time. Despite this, there are scenarios where the charges against you can be reduced, such as negotiating them down to reckless driving or another lesser offense. This blog post aims to guide you through the multiple elements that can influence the possibility of reducing your DUI charges in Tennessee.
Our attorneys focus from day 1 of a client hiring us on a DUI case is to prepare the case for a jury trial. While jury trials are rare in DUI cases, preparing the case for trial from day 1 allows us to get ahead of the prosecutor to show the prosecutor why they may lose at trial or through us filing a motion to suppress evidence based on an unlawful stop, arrest, or seizure. Preparing for trial allows us to get favorable plea agreements such as reckless driving in many cases in lieu of the risk of jury trials. Thus, while we focus on preparing to go to trial, we often avoid trial through favorable plea agreements by creating leverage by investigating every possible legal defense. At the end of the day, we strive to put each client in the best position possible to make an informed decision to accept a favorable offer or proceed to a hearing or trial.
Factors Influencing a DUI Charge Reduction
When facing a DUI charge in Tennessee, it’s important to understand the variables that can influence whether your charge could be reduced. Here are some of the key factors that courts typically consider:
Strength or Weakness of the Evidence
The evidence against you is the cornerstone of the prosecution’s case. This often includes your blood alcohol content (BAC), performance on field sobriety tests, and the arresting officer’s observations. However, if there were inconsistencies in how the evidence was collected or if the equipment used was not calibrated correctly, these could serve as weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. Skilled defense attorneys can exploit these loopholes to argue for a reduced charge.
Legal Issues in Court
Even minor procedural errors can have significant ramifications in a court of law. For instance, if the arresting officer lacked reasonable suspicion for the initial stop or to request you to do field sobriety testing in the first place these could be viable grounds for challenging the charges against you. Failing to read you your Miranda rights may result in the State’s primary evidence against you through admissions of guilt being deemed inadmissible. A trained DUI defense attorney can identify such legal issues, thereby weakening the prosecution’s case and enhancing the chances of a charge reduction.
Impact of Prior Convictions
If this is your first DUI offense, the chances of getting a reduced charge may be more favorable compared to someone with a history of DUIs or other criminal activities. Prosecutors and judges tend to be less lenient with repeat offenders, making the role of an experienced DUI attorney even more critical in such cases. However, regardless of whether it is a first or subsequent DUI charge, a legal defense may result in a favorable plea agreement or a dismissal through a contested hearing. Our attorneys at Barnes & Fersten routinely find legal issues in each of the three phases of a DUI investigation that result in reduced charges such as a reckless driving or cases being dismissed by the State or the judge at a contested hearing.
Your conduct following the arrest can also play a crucial role. Courts often look favorably upon defendants who take immediate action to remedy their behavior. Enrolling in an alcohol education program or seeking counseling can demonstrate to the prosecutor that you’re proactive and committed to making positive changes. This may increase the likelihood of the court considering a plea deal involving a reduced charge. This is because rehabilitation is one of the goals of the justice system and therefore being able to prove to the prosecutor that you are not someone who will commit another DUI is a contributing factor in getting a DUI reduced. Prosecutors routinely tell us they are concerned the defendant will kill or injure someone the next time they commit DUI so we need to put that notion to rest by taking positive steps towards establishing a lack of alcohol or substance abuse issues, or treatment in cases where individuals are in need of help.
Addressing Substance Abuse
If your DUI arrest is a symptom of a larger issue, such as alcoholism or substance abuse, addressing it head-on can positively influence your case. A proactive approach, like voluntarily entering a treatment program, can not only benefit you personally but also demonstrate to the court that you’re committed to long-term improvement. This could sway the prosecutor’s decision when contemplating dismissal or a lesser charge.
Case Dismissal vs. Charge Reduction
Two primary outcomes are often targeted by DUI defense attorneys: case dismissal and charge reduction.
A case dismissal is often the result of a lack of convincing evidence against you. This can include inconsistencies in your blood alcohol content (BAC) readings, flaws in field sobriety tests, or even procedural errors such as the arresting officer not having probable cause for the initial stop. Dismissal means you’re entirely cleared of the DUI charge and can move forward without a criminal record affecting your life. Dismissal is also possible through convincing a jury of your peers that the State cannot prove all the elements of DUI beyond a reasonable doubt.
Alternatively, charge reduction comes into play when complete dismissal seems unlikely but there’s room for legal maneuvering. This usually involves negotiating your DUI charge down to a lesser offense like reckless driving. Sometimes, a reduced charge may be favorable instead of taking a case all the way to a jury trial and getting a non-guilty verdict at trial to avoid the uncertainty of trial if the offer is reasonable enough, but it is always the client’s decision to make with our attorneys’ advice.
Why Reckless Driving is Preferable to a DUI Conviction
Having the charge reduced to reckless driving can be a strategic move. In Tennessee, a reckless driving conviction typically carries less severe penalties than a DUI. For instance, unlike a DUI, it usually involves six months of unsupervised probation, no automatic license suspension and no jail time. Also, a reckless driving conviction has a softer impact on your auto insurance premiums compared to a DUI. Additionally, while a DUI conviction remains permanently on your record in Tennessee, a reckless driving conviction can be expunged under specific conditions after a certain period, and it is also judicial diversion eligible meaning your case may be dismissed and expunged despite a plea to reckless driving under a judicial diversion plea. Furthermore, the social stigma associated with a reckless driving conviction is generally less severe compared to a DUI, making it easier to move forward both personally and professionally. An experienced DUI attorney will often aim for a charge reduction to reckless driving because prosecutors usually will not agree to dismiss a DUI by agreement. As such, a reckless driving avoids the risk of losing at trial or in a motion that we use as leverage for a negotiated plea.
Choose the Right Defense for Your DUI Case
Every DUI case is unique, so getting a personalized assessment from an experienced DUI attorney is important. With Barnes & Fersten by your side, you’re just merely hiring an attorney–you’re teaming up with a group of professionals committed to advocating for your rights. Reach out to Barnes & Fersten today for a free consultation.
Attorney At Law, Managing Partner
Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUI, criminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.