DUI in Tennessee: Misdemeanor or Felony?

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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Man pulled over for DUI

Tennessee has some of the strictest DUI laws in the country, with serious penalties for those convicted. You may be wondering if a DUI is a misdemeanor or a felony in Tennessee. In this blog post, we will break down the key differences between misdemeanor and felony DUI offenses in Tennessee, focusing on the aspects that matter most to those wondering about the classification of their DUI charge.

Misdemeanor DUI Charges in Tennessee

In most cases, a first-time DUI offense in Tennessee is classified as a Class A misdemeanor. The penalties for a misdemeanor DUI include:

  • A maximum of 11 months and 29 days in the county jail
  • A minimum of 48 hours in jail, or 7 days if the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above .20 with the remaining 11 months and 29 days on either supervised or unsupervised probation depending on the county.
  • A minimum fine of $350
  • Loss of license for 1 year, but you can get a restricted license.

Additionally, a misdemeanor DUI conviction may result in the requirement to attend alcohol and drug education courses, perform community service, and/or have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle. These penalties can have a significant impact on your life, including your ability to work, your finances, and your personal relationships. 

When a DUI Becomes a Felony in Tennessee

Fourth or Subsequent DUI Offenses

A DUI becomes a Class E felony if it is the individual’s fourth or subsequent offense within ten (10) years, or potentially twenty (20) years. The penalties for a felony DUI are more severe than those for a misdemeanor DUI and may include:

  • A minimum of 150 consecutive days served in jail with the remainder of the 1 year sentence on supervised probation. However, you can face up to 1 year in jail even though the minimum is 150 days.
  • A mandatory fine ranging from $3,000 to $15,000
  • License revocation for 8 years, with restricted license availability
  • Potential vehicle seizure and forfeiture
  • Mandatory enrollment in an alcohol and drug treatment program
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device at your expense for 6 months after reinstatement if two convictions occurred within 5 years

Vehicular Assault

If a DUI accident results in serious bodily injury to another person, your DUI charge, even a first offense DUI with no criminal history, may be elevated to a Class D felony vehicular assault. In these cases, the penalties are more severe and may include:

  • Mandatory minimum sentences of incarceration, ranging from 48 hours to 150 days, depending on the number of prior alcohol-related offenses.
  • You can face up to 2-4 years with no criminal history in jail, or 2-4 years on probation following your jail sentence. However, depending on your criminal history you can face up to 12 years in jail.
  • Driving prohibition in Tennessee for varying periods, depending on the number of prior vehicular assault convictions, ranging from 1 year for a first offense to 5 years for fourth and subsequent convictions

Reckless Endangerment

Depending on the circumstances of your driving, you may be charged with reckless endangerment as a Class A misdemeanor or as a Class E felony. Reckless endangerment involves engaging in conduct that places or may place another person in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.

Reckless endangerment is typically charged as a Class A misdemeanor, but it can be elevated to a Class E felony if a deadly weapon is involved in the offense. Prosecutors and the Court can classify a vehicle as a deadly weapon, so this charge usually goes along with a vehicular assault charge. Felony reckless endangerment charges often times are brought when there was a child in the vehicle at the time of a DUI. This can lead to more severe penalties, including longer jail time and higher fines.

Some key distinctions about the different classes of reckless endangerment charges:

  • Reckless endangerment as a Class A misdemeanor may result in up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, along with potential fines.
  • Reckless endangerment as a Class E felony can lead to 1 to 6 years in prison and fines ranging from $3,000 to $15,000.
  • If reckless endangerment involves discharging a firearm into a habitation, the charge can be elevated to a Class C or D felony, depending on whether the habitation was occupied at the time of the offense.

Vehicular Homicide

If a DUI accident results in the death of another person, your DUI charge, even a first offense DUI with no criminal history, may be elevated to a Class B felony vehicular homicide. In these cases, the penalties are more severe and may include:

  • Mandatory minimum sentences of incarceration, ranging from 8-30 years depending on your criminal history.

Our attorneys have experience representing individuals charged with vehicular homicide at the trial level. In addition to the elements of a DUI that the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the state must also prove that the proximate cause of the accident and the proximate cause of the individual’s death was caused by the accident. Many times, there are other reasons for the accident other than impairment such as mechanical failures or distracted driving (although distracted driving many times will be attributed to impairment).  

Seek Legal Representation from Barnes & Fersten

If you or a loved one is facing a DUI charge in Knoxville, Tennessee, it’s essential to understand the differences between misdemeanor and felony DUI offenses. This knowledge will help you navigate the legal process more effectively and make informed decisions about your case.

At Barnes & Fersten, our experienced DUI defense attorneys are committed to providing the best possible defense for our clients and ensuring their rights are protected. Contact us today for a consultation, and let our team help you navigate the complexities of DUI charges in Tennessee.

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.