Five DUI Myths In Tennessee Debunked

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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Being charged with a DUI in Tennessee brings about many questions and concerns. You might be asking friends and searching the internet looking for answers, only to find a plethora of misinformation about DUI laws and their potential penalties. If you are in such a situation, it is important to separate fact from fiction. In this blog we’ll be debunking five common myths about DUIs in Tennessee, so you can make informed decisions about your defense and your future.

Myth #1: You Must Be Driving To Be Charged With DUI

A common misconception is that you must be actively driving a vehicle to be charged with DUI. You might think you can sit or sleep in your parked car while intoxicated, believing it to be a safe choice. Similarly, you might believe that being a passenger in a car with an intoxicated driver couldn’t possibly result in a DUI for yourself. The reality is more nuanced than you may think.

Physical Control In Tennessee DUI Cases

It’s possible to get a DUI in Tennessee without even driving. In Tennessee, a DUI extends beyond the act of driving to include just having “physical control” of a vehicle. This means if you are near the driver’s seat, with access to the keys, and capable of operating the vehicle, a police officer could determine that you are in physical control of the vehicle, and therefore subject to DUI charges. Even if you had no intention of driving or simply wanted to “sleep it off” after deciding you were too impaired, you could still be charged with a DUI in this situation.

The reasoning behind this law is prevention. Tennessee recognizes the risk posed by intoxicated individuals who could impulsively start a vehicle and drive while impaired, potentially causing a dangerous situation on the road. 

DUI By Allowing

If someone knowingly allows an impaired individual to drive their vehicle, both the owner of the vehicle and the impaired driver could be charged with DUI. In Tennessee, this is called “DUI by allowing.” This can even happen if the owner of the vehicle is sober but makes the poor judgment of allowing a friend who has been drinking to drive.

Being charged with DUI by allowing carries the same penalty as a regular DUI, including fines, loss of driving privileges, and potential jail time. This reflects Tennessee’s strict commitment to preventing DUI from all angles, recognizing that handing over the keys to someone under the influence is as dangerous as driving impaired yourself.

Myth #2: You Can Only Get A DUI From Alcohol

Many incorrectly believe that they can only be charged with DUI from drinking alcohol. However, Tennessee’s laws cast a wide net when it comes to impaired driving. Any substance that could inhibit a driver’s mental or physical faculties–legal or illegal–could potentially result in a DUI charge.

Marijuana And Other Illicit Drugs

There is a misconception that cannabis products such as marijuana and delta-8 have no legal standing in DUI cases. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. If your ability to safely operate a vehicle is compromised–whether it is from marijuana, cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamine, or any other drug–you are at risk of facing DUI charges.

Law enforcement officers are aware of the variety of substances that can cause DUI incidents and are trained to recognize many signs of impairment. This can include physical symptoms, driving patterns, and behavior during a traffic stop. If you are suspected of driving under the influence of drugs, police may obtain a warrant demanding a blood or urine test at a hospital, which can detect the presence of these substances in your system.

Risks of Prescription Medication

Many individuals are surprised to learn that prescription medications can also lead to DUI charges. It’s a common belief that if a medication is legally prescribed, it’s safe to engage in all usual activities, including driving. However, numerous prescription medications can impair your driving ability. Opioids, anti-anxiety medications, some antidepressants, sleep aids, and even certain types of antihistamines can make it unsafe to drive.

The critical issue is impairment. If a medication affects your coordination, reaction time, judgment, or cognitive functions, driving while under its influence could lead to a DUI charge. The law does not distinguish between medical necessity and recreational use; the focus is solely on the impact on your driving abilities. Medication labels and guidance from healthcare providers often include warnings about driving or operating machinery, which should be strictly adhered to.

Myth #3: You Can’t Refuse A Breathalyzer Or Field Sobriety Tests

The belief that drivers must always comply with breathalyzer or field sobriety tests during a DUI stop can lead to hasty decisions that may not serve their best legal interests. Let’s dive into the implications of refusing these tests in Tennessee.

Implied Consent in Tennessee

In Tennessee, drivers do have a right to refuse field sobriety tests, as well as chemical testing such as breathalyzers and blood draws. If you refuse these tests, police will likely charge you with “implied consent” in addition to DUI. Being convicted of implied consent can result in a revocation of your driver’s license for a year. Dealing with a DUI and an implied consent charge at the same time might seem undesirable, but there’s more to consider in this situation.

Implied Consent and DUI: Comparing Penalties

It’s important to understand a DUI conviction carries the same penalty as implied consent–revocation of one’s license for a year. With this in mind, it is often beneficial to refuse the breathalyzer and field sobriety tests if you believe it may lead to self-incrimination. While refusal can result in a license suspension under the implied consent law, it also prevents the prosecution from obtaining direct evidence of your blood alcohol content or impairment level at the time of the stop.

A lack of concrete evidence can sometimes lead to a stronger defensive position in DUI cases, as the prosecution must rely on less definitive evidence to prove impairment. However, refusing these tests does not guarantee avoidance of a DUI conviction–officers can and do use other evidence of impairment to justify an arrest, such as erratic driving behavior, physical indicators of intoxication, or the presence of alcohol or drugs in the vehicle. This underscores the need of retaining a DUI lawyer in Tennessee that can leverage this position to obtain a positive outcome in your case.

Myth #4: A DUI In Tennessee Isn’t A Serious Crime

Those unfamiliar with Tennessee laws, usually individuals visiting from out-of-state, might believe that a DUI charge is a minor inconvenience. The fact of the matter is that Tennessee has some of the strictest DUI laws on the books.

Severity of DUI in Tennessee

A DUI in Tennessee is a criminal offense with serious penalties, even for first-time offenders. If convicted of DUI, a conviction includes mandatory: (1) fines, (2) jail time, and (3) license suspension; although individuals can get a restricted license requiring installation of an ignition interlock device on your vehicle. The specific consequences depend on various factors in each case, including the defendant’s blood alcohol content at the time of the arrest, and having any prior DUI convictions or criminal history.

Perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of a DUI conviction in Tennessee is its permanence on your criminal record. Unlike certain criminal convictions which can be expunged or sealed, a DUI conviction in Tennessee remains on your record for life. This can have far-reaching effects, including:

  • Difficulty securing employment, as many employers conduct background checks.
  • Challenges in securing housing, as some landlords also perform background checks.
  • Increased insurance rates or the possibility of being uninsurable.
  • Restrictions on traveling to certain countries, including Canada, which has strict entry requirements regarding criminal records.

Understanding the gravity of a DUI charge in Tennessee is critical. It affects your immediate freedom and financial status in addition to having long-term implications on your personal and professional life. This underscores the importance of making responsible decisions when it comes to alcohol and driving, as well as the need for experienced legal representation if you find yourself facing a DUI.

Myth #5: Any Lawyer Can Handle A DUI Case

While many lawyers are capable of providing legal representation for a wide variety of matters, it’s important to retain a lawyer with extensive experience in DUI cases, especially given the stakes of a DUI charge in Tennessee. An experienced DUI lawyer brings a combination of legal expertise and technical knowledge, including:

  • In-depth Understanding of DUI Laws: Laws governing DUI cases are complex and constantly evolving. A DUI lawyer stays abreast of legislative changes and understands how these laws apply to your specific situation.
  • Scientific Knowledge of BAC Testing: Challenging the accuracy of BAC tests requires knowledge of the devices used and the potential for operator error. Experienced DUI lawyers can question the reliability of these tests, potentially undermining the prosecution’s case.
  • Familiarity with Sobriety Testing Procedures: Field sobriety tests can be subjective and prone to misinterpretation. A lawyer with extensive knowledge in DUI cases can identify improper administration or interpretation of these tests.
  • Experience with DUI Case Precedents: Understanding past court decisions in similar cases can offer insights and strategies for defending current cases. A DUI lawyer in Tennessee will be familiar with relevant precedents and how they might influence your case.
  • Understanding of the NHTSA Training: Understanding the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) training manual is essential to a successful defense in a DUI case. Our attorneys routinely question officers’ mistakes during DUI investigations with the officers’ own manual that trains them on how to properly complete their investigation. This includes medical conditions that mimic alcohol impairment, the 7 drug classifications, SFST’s, each issue within each of the 3 phases of a DUI investigation, among others.
  • Challenging Blood and Breath Results: Our attorneys look at a number of issues when it comes to the admissibility and reliability of blood and breath tests. A high BAC does not mean someone will be convicted of DUI. We routinely help individuals with above a .08 to as high as a .30 BAC avoid a DUI conviction.

In advocating for your case, an effective DUI lawyer can do even more than just challenge evidence. They scrutinize every aspect of the prosecution, including:

  • Constitutional Violations: Examining the legality of the traffic stop, arrest, and evidence collection. Illegal stops or improper handling of evidence can lead to dismissals or reduced charges.
  • Procedural Errors: Identifying mistakes in the arrest process, paperwork, or BAC testing procedure that could affect the case’s outcome.
  • Negotiation Skills: Experienced DUI lawyers often have established relationships with prosecutors and understand how to negotiate effectively, which can lead to reduced charges or alternative sentencing options that minimize impact on the defendant’s life.

Additionally, their familiarity with the local court system, including judges and prosecutors, can be invaluable. Understanding the tendencies of particular courtrooms and how to present cases effectively to different judges can influence the outcome of a DUI case.

Facing DUI Charges In Tennessee? Reach Out Today

Confronting a DUI charge in Tennessee is a serious matter with potentially life-altering consequences. Understanding the myths versus the realities is the first step towards navigating this challenging situation. If you’re facing DUI charges, retaining a DUI defense lawyer is crucial.

Barnes & Fersten is here to help. Our dedicated team combines deep legal knowledge with a personalized approach, to both defend your rights and pursue the best possible outcome in your case. Don’t let myths guide your decisions; let our experience be your guide. Contact us today to discuss your case and how we can help you move forward.

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.