How Tennessee’s New DUI Law Could Affect You

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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Tennessee has recently enacted a significant change to its DUI laws, lowering the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) threshold for enhanced penalties from 0.20% to 0.15%. This adjustment means that first-time DUI offenders with a BAC of 0.15% or higher now face a mandatory minimum jail sentence of seven (7) consecutive days. Drivers in Tennessee need to be aware of this new law, as it requires them to be more mindful of their drinking habits to avoid serious legal consequences on the road. In this blog, we will explore the implications of this legislative change and what it means for you.

Summary of the New Tennessee DUI Law

On May 28th, 2024, Governor Bill Lee signed House Bill 587/Senate Bill 1055 into law, introducing significant changes to Tennessee’s DUI regulations. Effective July 1st, this legislation lowers the blood alcohol concentration threshold for enhanced penalties from 0.20% to 0.15%. This means that drivers with a BAC of 0.15% or higher will now face a mandatory minimum of seven days in jail.

For drivers with a BAC below 0.15% but above the legal limit of 0.08%, the standard penalty remains unchanged, requiring a minimum of 48 hours in jail. This distinction aims to deter higher levels of intoxication and encourage safer driving habits, underscoring Tennessee’s commitment to reducing DUI-related incidents throughout the state.

It is important to note that the State must prove your BAC was above a .15% at the time of driving, not only at the time of a breath or blood draw. Consequently, your lawyer should always argue that the State cannot establish your BAC was above a .15% at the time of driving to avoid the enhanced punishment of 7 days. However, your BAC being above a .15% does not necessarily mean you are guilty of DUI. There is still a lot our attorneys can do to potentially avoid a DUI. We have received countless dismissals and reductions on cases with BAC’s above a .15% but every case is different so it is imperative you hire the best DUI lawyers at Barnes & Fersten to prepare your case and strategize to provide the best chance at avoiding a conviction.

Can I Refuse Blood Or Breath Testing And/Or Field Sobriety Tests?

Absolutely, and it is generally in most cases going to be beneficial to refuse these tests. Under the implied consent law, if the court found probable cause that you refused the blood or breath test when an officer had probable cause to believe you were impaired, the State can take your license for 1 year. However, being convicted of DUI also causes you to lose your license for 1 year but with the addition of mandatory jailtime, probation, fines, court costs and classes. As such, the less evidence you provide to the State, the more you increase your likelihood of not being convicted of DUI and potentially avoiding the implied consent law violation as well. Being charged with DUI and/or implied consent does not cause you to automatically lose your license, only being convicted causes you to lose your license.

How a Lawyer Can Help in DUI Cases Where BAC is Over the Limit

When facing a DUI charge with a BAC over the legal limit, the consequences can be severe. An experienced DUI lawyer can provide invaluable assistance to help you through this challenging situation. Here’s how a lawyer can help:

Challenging the Traffic Stop

A DUI lawyer will first examine the legality of the traffic stop. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, meaning the police must have a valid reason, or “probable cause,” to stop your vehicle. If the stop is found to be unlawful, any evidence obtained, including BAC test results, could be inadmissible in court.

  • Additionally, the reason for the stop is important in a DUI case. Although a traffic violation for speeding or a light violation provides the officer with a legally valid reason to pull a vehicle over, it is not indicative of impaired driving. In such a case, we will provide a timeline of your driving and potentially GPS to show a significant amount of driving without any indicators of impairment. There are 24 indicators of impairment during the driving phase of a DUI investigation. As such, not having any indicators of impairment helps to establish your clearness of mind was not effected by alcohol or drugs because the driving was not indicative of such.

Questioning the Accuracy of BAC Tests

BAC tests, whether breath, blood, or urine, are not infallible. Several factors can affect their accuracy:

  • Calibration of Breathalyzers: Breathalyzers need proper maintenance and regular calibration. A lawyer can request maintenance records to ensure the device was functioning correctly.
    • Breathalyzers always have a measurement uncertainty that is not provided unless requested in discovery. As such, it is important for your lawyer to seek the measurement certainty to establish that the breath results are not above the .15 BAC threshold.
  • Administration of Tests: Proper procedures must be followed during the administration of these tests. Any deviation from standard protocol can lead to inaccurate results. A lawyer can investigate whether the tests were conducted according to guidelines.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions and medications can affect BAC readings. For example, individuals with diabetes or those on a high-protein diet may have elevated acetone levels, which can interfere with breathalyzer results.
    • This is true for both blood and breath tests.
      • Breath tests: Many medical conditions such as GERD or acid reflux can significantly affect a breathalyzer reading. This is because individuals with GERD or acid reflux are likely to have “mouth alcohol,” causing a higher reading than the BAC of the blood. Like taking a shot then immediately doing a breath sample, wherein you have alcohol still in your breath causing a high reading, the same is true for GERD or acid reflux.
      • Blood tests:  High sugar levels from hyperglycemia of an individual with diabetes can increase BAC levels by up to .10 %, or more than the legal limit. Essentially, the blood in the human suspect’s body is likely to have a lower concentration than the level of blood in the vile of blood. Essentially, fermentation occurs wherein the sugar turns into ethanol or alcohol causing a higher reading in the blood sample than the human body. This is why the body cam evidence becomes so important to establish an individual is clearly not at the level alleged by the State, then the medical condition provides an explanation for the jury of why that occurred.

Challenging The Accuracy of Field Sobriety Testing

Under perfect conditions, where the officers instructs and demonstrates the standardized field sobriety tests correctly and proper conditions, wherein it is not on a slanted roadway or wet roads for example, as well as on the proper candidate, meaning less than 65 (or potentially 60) years old, less than 50 pounds overweight and no medical conditions effecting an individual’s potential balance, these tests are still not 100% accurate. Studies have validated the walk-and-turn to be roughly 79% accurate and the one legged stand to be 83% accurate.  Thus, under perfect conditions, which are rare, 1/5th of individuals are below a .08% BAC yet failing those tests.

  • Also, remember, field sobriety tests are a fully voluntary test. You can refuse to complete these tests. Officers are trained that field sobriety tests are an important tool because it prevents them from making an arbitrary arrest decision. So although you may be arrested, it may decrease the chances of you being convicted of DUI.

Examining the Arrest Process

An attorney will scrutinize the arrest process to ensure your rights were upheld throughout. This includes checking if you were read your Miranda rights and ensuring you were treated fairly. Any violations of protocol can be used to challenge the charges against you.

Representing You in Court

A knowledgeable DUI lawyer acts as your steadfast advocate in the criminal justice system. Here’s how they can assist:

  • Presenting a Strong Defense: Your lawyer will prepare a solid defense strategy by gathering evidence, identifying weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, and presenting any mitigating factors that could reduce the severity of your penalties.
  • Negotiating with Prosecutors: A significant part of your lawyer’s role will be negotiating with prosecutors. They can advocate for reduced charges or alternative sentencing options, such as probation instead of jail time.
  • Handling Pre-Trial Motions: Your attorney can file pre-trial motions to suppress evidence, dismiss charges, or compel discovery. This legal maneuvering can significantly impact the outcome of your case by weakening the prosecution’s evidence.
  • Representing You During Hearings: A lawyer will represent you during all hearings, ensuring that your rights are protected and that you have a strong advocate speaking on your behalf. They can cross-examine witnesses, challenge the prosecution’s evidence, and argue for the best possible outcome.
  • Advising on Plea Agreements: If a plea agreement is offered, your lawyer will help you understand the terms and implications, advising you on whether accepting the deal is in your best interest.

DUI In Knoxville? Barnes & Fersten Can Help

A high BAC DUI charge in Knoxville is a grave matter with far-reaching effects. Contact Barnes & Fersten for expert legal assistance. Our DUI attorneys bring extensive experience and dedication to defending your case. We stay up to date on the latest changes to DUI laws and are committed to protecting your rights and future. Don’t face these charges on your own—get in touch with us for a consultation. Let Barnes & Fersten help you pursue the best possible outcome.

DUI & Criminal Defense Attorney Brandon Fersten

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.