Does It Matter If I Was Barely Over The Legal Alcohol Limit?

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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DUIs are among the most common criminal charges filed in Knoxville. There is no question: Authorities take drunk driving seriously. The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) reports that 114 DUI citations were issued by its officers in Knox County in 2022. Other drivers were arrested for intoxicated driving by the Knoxville Police Department or the Knox County Sheriff’s Department.

You may be wondering: Will I still be charged with a DUI if I was barely over the legal alcohol limit? The short answer is “yes”—but you could be in a better position to challenge the accuracy of the test and you may face less severe penalties. Here, our Knoxville DUI defense attorney explains the key things to know about being charged with a DUI if you were barely over the limit in Tennessee.

You Can Be Still Arrested For A DUI Even If Barely Over The Limit

As a starting point, it is important to clarify the law: Drivers caught operating a motor vehicle while over the legal alcohol limit can be arrested and charged with a criminal DUI offense. The maximum allowable blood alcohol concentration is as follows:

  • A driver 21 years of age or older: 0.08
  • A driver operating a commercial vehicle: 0.04
  • An underage driver: 0.02

In this respect, the limit is the limit. A driver who is observed with a BAC of 0.09 is over the legal limit. They can be arrested and charged with a DUI. Likewise, a driver with a BAC of 0.081 is over the limited—even if just barely. They too can be arrested and charged with drunk driving.

Defending DUI Charges—Challenging The Validity Of BAC Results

While the BAC limit is the limit, it would be a mistake to say that it makes no difference if you tested barely over the maximum allowable BAC level. It is important to understand how blood alcohol testing works in Tennessee. Although blood alcohol testing is broadly accepted as valid, Tennessee courts also recognize that it is not perfect.

You have the right to challenge the results of a blood alcohol test on the grounds that they are inaccurate. The closer the test “results” are to the legal limit, the greater the likelihood that a challenge of the test will be successful. In fact, it is possible that you may have been below the Tennessee state legal limit at the time of the blood alcohol test.

If you are considering challenging the results of the BAC test, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced Knoxville, TN DUI defense lawyer. An attorney who has handled these types of cases will be able to review the circumstances and help you determine the best defense strategy to protect your legal rights.

Level Of Intoxication Matters: An Overview Of DUI Penalties In Tennessee

The level of a driver’s alleged intoxication can also impact the penalties that they are facing. In Tennessee, drunk driving penalties are largely based on a person’s history of DUI offenses, or lack thereof. The penalties for a second-time DUI conviction are more severe than for a first-time drunk driving offense. From there, penalties increase even more with each future offense. That being said, past history of DUI offenses is not the only factor that matters when determining criminal sanctions: 

  • Highly Intoxicated Drivers (0.20+) Face More Severe Penalties: Under Tennessee state law, a driver who is highly intoxicated—defined as a BAC level of 0.20 or higher—can face enhanced criminal penalties for a first-time DUI offense. If you were arrested while (allegedly) being well over the legal limit, you need professional representation.
  • A Driver Barely Over the Limit has a Better Case for Low-End Penalties: Courts have some discretion in determining the appropriate penalties in a criminal case. The closer a driver is to the BAC limit, the better case they have for receiving penalties that are on the lower end of the sentencing spectrum.

Contact Our Knoxville, TN DUI Defense Lawyers For Help

At the Barnes and Fersten Law Firm, our Tennessee drunk driving defense attorney provides five-star representation to clients. If you were arrested while allegedly being barely over the legal limit, we can help. Call us now at 865-805-5703 or send us a message online to arrange your strictly confidential initial case evaluation. With an office in Knoxville, we provide DUI defense services throughout the whole region, including in Oak Ridge, Lenoir City, Maryville, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Powell, and Kodak.

Attorney At Law, Managing Partner

Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUIcriminal 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.