How Likely Is Jail For First Offense DUI In Tennessee?

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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Hands behind bars in jail

Did you know that even a first offense DUI in Tennessee can lead to significant jail time? It’s a startling reality that many drivers aren’t aware of until they’re facing the consequences themselves. Individuals charged with DUI in Tennessee often find themselves fearing the worst, unaware of the options and defenses available to them.

In this blog, we’ll talk about the likelihood of jail time for a first offense DUI in Tennessee. We will explore the legal penalties, key factors that could influence sentencing, and the importance of having a DUI lawyer that can pursue the best outcome in your case.

Understanding DUI Charges In Tennessee

Tennessee takes a strict stance against driving under the influence. If you’re caught driving while impaired by alcohol, you could be facing severe penalties. The state enforces the following blood alcohol content (BAC) limits to determine legal impairment:

  • Drivers 21 and older: BAC limit of 0.08%
  • Drivers under 21: BAC limit of 0.02%
  • CDL drivers operating commercial vehicles: BAC limit of 0.04%

Many people can exceed the legal limit by drinking just two or three alcoholic beverages within an hour. However, a DUI charge in Tennessee is not solely based on BAC levels. Drugs that can impact one’s ability to drive, such as marijuana or certain prescription medications, could result in a DUI charge. Law enforcement officers also consider other signs of impairment during a DUI investigation, such as erratic driving patterns and failure to perform field sobriety tests adequately, in addition to visible signs of intoxication such as bloodshot eyes.

Can You Go To Jail For A DUI In Tennessee?

For a first offense DUI in Tennessee, the law mandates a minimum jail time of 48 hours, which can extend up to 11 months and 29 days for those convicted. The exact duration of incarceration is influenced by the specific details of each case, including the driver’s BAC at the time of the arrest. Below are some of the factors that can increase jail time associated with a DUI conviction:

  1. High Blood Alcohol Content: Higher BAC levels are more heavily scrutinized by the court. Having a BAC level of 0.20% or higher automatically increases the minimum jail time to seven consecutive days.
  2. Presence of Minors: Driving under the influence with a child in the vehicle is considered a serious crime in Tennessee, underscoring the risk posed to young passengers in such situations. This adds an additional 30 days of jail time to the existing penalties.
  3. Causing an Accident: If the DUI causes an accident, especially one that results in injury or property damage, the chance of facing a lengthy jail sentence is higher. This could result in felony charges such as vehicular assault, which can result in a prison sentence of two years or more.
  4. Causing an Accident with Death: If the accident is caused by impairment and it results in the death of the victim, then it becomes a Class B felony for vehicular homicide that must be served at 100%, meaning 8-12 years for an individual with no criminal history.
  5. Prior Criminal Charges: Any previous criminal history, even if not DUI-related, can influence the court’s sentencing decisions. Judges often consider the overall character and past behavior of the defendant.
  6. Prior DUI Convictions: While we are focusing on first offense DUIs, it’s important to note that consecutive DUI convictions can greatly increase jail time. A second DUI offense in Tennessee carries a minimum of 45 days in jail, while a third DUI offense can result in 120 days. A fourth DUI is a Class E felony, demanding one year (365) days of jail time with a minimum of 150 consecutive days served.

Beyond jail time, individuals convicted of a first offense DUI also face a range of additional penalties. These include a fine ranging from $350 to $1,500, mandatory participation in a DUI education program, and the suspension of driving privileges for one year. Additionally, the court may require the installation of an ignition interlock device on the defendant’s vehicle at their own expense.

It’s also worth noting that the penalties for a DUI in Tennessee do not stop at the legal realm. Convicted individuals may experience increased car insurance rates, difficulty in finding employment, and other long-term repercussions that affect various aspects of life.

How To Avoid Jail Time For A First Offense DUI In Tennessee

A first offense DUI charge is a stressful and overwhelming experience for many. However, with the right legal representation on your side, it is possible to challenge the charges and have them reduced or even dismissed. Here are some of the ways an experienced Tennessee DUI lawyer can make a difference in your case:

Representing You In Court

A DUI lawyer can move your first court date, giving ample time to gather and review evidence regarding your case, such as police bodycam footage and BAC test results. In court, your DUI lawyer serves as your voice and zealous advocate, articulating a defense that highlights the strengths of your case and mitigating any weaknesses.

Challenging the Traffic Stop

A foundational strategy involves questioning the legality of the initial traffic stop. If a lawyer can demonstrate that police lacked probable cause for the stop, any evidence gathered as a result could be deemed inadmissible, potentially leading to a dismissal of the charges.

Evaluating Field Sobriety And BAC Testing

DUI lawyers are skilled in questioning the accuracy of field sobriety tests and BAC testing. Issues such as police improperly evaluating field sobriety tests or engaging in non-standard tests (such as reciting ABCs backwards) can cast doubt on DUI charges. Additionally, BAC testing must adhere to strict protocols, and any discrepancies found in the administration of the test could cause the BAC results to come into question.

Presenting Mitigating Circumstances

Highlighting mitigating factors, such as the defendant’s lack of prior criminal history, their behavior at the time of arrest, and personal circumstances, can influence the court’s sentencing decisions. A lawyer can present these factors compellingly to argue for reduced penalties.

Exploring Plea Bargains

An adept DUI lawyer will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case to negotiate plea bargains effectively. This might involve reducing a DUI charge to a lesser offense such as reckless driving, which carries lighter penalties and could potentially be expunged off of one’s record.

Advocating for Alternative Sentences

Instead of jail time, an experienced lawyer might secure alternative sentencing options for their client, such as probation, community service, or enrollment in DUI education programs. These alternatives not only serve the court’s interest in rehabilitation but also allow the defendant to maintain their daily life.

Take Control Of Your Case With Barnes & Fersten

A first offense DUI in Tennessee can be intimidating, bringing with it the fear of jail time, fines, and long-term consequences on one’s life. The stress of facing the legal system alone, uncertain of your rights or the potential for a favorable outcome, can exacerbate an already challenging situation. Without guidance in your case, you risk facing harsher penalties than necessary, impacting both your freedom and future.

At Barnes & Fersten, our attorneys have created positive outcomes for hundreds of DUI cases throughout East Tennessee. Our legal team will explore every possible avenue to defend your case, fighting on your behalf every step of the way. Take the first step towards overcoming this obstacle–contact us for a free consultation. Together, we can work towards a resolution that allows you to move forward with confidence.

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.