How To Get Out Of A DUI First Offense In Tennessee

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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If you’re reading this, you might be dealing with the aftermath of a DUI charge in Tennessee. Facing a DUI for the first time can make you feel overwhelmed and uncertain about your future. What will happen next? How will this affect my life? It’s a situation no one wants to find themselves in, but depending on the circumstances of your case, there could be ways to get your DUI charge dismissed.

In this blog, we will explore potential defenses that could allow for a DUI first offense in Tennessee to be dismissed or reduced through negotiations or hearings. If you are needing skilled representation for a Tennessee DUI case, do not hesitate to reach out to attorneys in Knoxville.

What Are The Penalties For First Offense DUI In Tennessee?

Before we look into how to get a DUI dismissed in Tennessee, it’s important to understand what a DUI conviction entails. A first offense DUI conviction is a Class A misdemeanor and can result in a range of consequences, from mandatory jail time to substantial fines. Tennessee law mandates a minimum jail time of 48 hours, which may extend up to 11 months and 29 days for aggravated cases. The minimum will also increase to 7 days if the BAC is above a .20, and a minimum of 32 days if there is a child under 18 in the vehicle. Fines for a first offense DUI range from $350 to $1,500, not including additional court costs, mandatory DUI education programs, and potential increases in insurance premiums. License suspension for a year is another standard penalty, severely limiting mobility and independence.

A DUI conviction carries long-term implications. DUI’s, unlike most misdemeanors and some felonies, is not eligible for expungement meaning a DUI conviction remains on your record forever. A DUI conviction also includes mandatory participation in a DUI education program, installation of an ignition interlock device at your own expense, and the requirement for SR-22 insurance. These measures not only serve as a punitive response but also aim to rehabilitate offenders and prevent future incidents.

Can a First Offense DUI Be Dismissed?

Successfully defending against a DUI charge in Tennessee hinges on understanding and effectively leveraging legal grounds for dismissal. Prosecutors hold all the power and leverage so it is up to a skilled DUI defense lawyer to create leverage for negotiations and hearings. This can involve a range of defenses, from challenging the evidence and the manner in which it was obtained to identifying procedural errors that can invalidate the charge. In the following sections, we’ll look at some key legal strategies that could allow for a DUI case to be dismissed.

Challenging the Officer’s Observations and Testimony

The foundation of many DUI cases rests on the observations and testimony provided by the arresting officer. These observations often include the officer’s account of the driver’s behavior, appearance, and performance on field sobriety tests. However, the subjective nature of these observations presents an opportunity for defense, particularly when the evidence can be shown to be unreliable or inconsistent.

Subjectivity of Field Sobriety Tests

Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) are a standard method used by law enforcement to assess impairment. Yet, the results of these tests are highly subjective, depending on the officer’s interpretation. Factors such as nervousness, physical conditions, medical conditions, road conditions, and most commonly poor instructions and demonstrations can affect performance. An attorney can challenge the FSTs by questioning the officer’s interpretation of the results, the test conditions, and the officer’s qualifications to administer and evaluate the tests accurately.

The National Highway Traffic Administration (“NHTSA”) is the organization that creates the standards, training and protocols on DUI investigations. Through studies conducted by the NHTSA, among other organizations, it was determined that the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) is approximately 89% accurate, the walk and turn (W&T) 79% accurate and the one leg stand (OLS) is 83% accurate. As such, approximately 1/5 of individuals will fail field sobriety testing despite not being impaired when the officer instructs and demonstrates the test perfectly (rarely happens), and the test in conducted under the proper conditions and to a qualified individual. Those percentages decrease drastically and are no longer standardized if they are instructed or demonstrated incorrectly, the conditions are not appropriate, or the suspect is not a proper candidate because of age, weight or medical conditions.

Inconsistencies in Officer Testimony

An effective DUI defense attorney often scrutinizes the consistency and accuracy of the arresting officer’s testimony. Discrepancies between the officer’s account and other evidence, such as dashcam or bodycam footage, can be critical. This is because the officer’s statements on arrest warrants are sworn statements like the oath they take when they take the witness stand. As such, discrepancies is a great way to attack the officer’s credibility wherein officers are initially viewed as very credible witnesses. Defense strategies might include:

  • Comparing Testimony Against Video Evidence: Video evidence can provide an objective account of the events leading to the arrest, potentially contradicting the officer’s subjective observations.
  • Inconsistencies In The Traffic Stop: Any inconsistencies in the officer’s testimony about the driver’s behavior, the traffic stop, or the arrest procedure can undermine the credibility of the evidence against the defendant and the officer’s credibility. We routinely use the officer’s sworn statements against officers.

Challenging the Basis of the Traffic Stop

The initial traffic stop is a critical component of a DUI case. An attorney can argue that the stop was made without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, potentially leading to the exclusion of evidence obtained during the stop and weakening the prosecution’s case.

Our best Knoxville DUI lawyers have accomplished dismissals at hearings and used traffic stop issues to negotiate favorable resolutions for our clients. For example, failure to maintain lane is likely the most common allegation in DUI cases. However, officers routinely have difficulty testifying whether the client crossed the line or merely touched the line with the tires, which would not be sufficient for a stop.

Contesting the Reliability of Chemical Tests

Chemical tests, including breathalyzers and blood tests, are central to the prosecution’s case in DUI charges, serving as the primary evidence of a driver’s intoxication level. However, the reliability of these tests is not infallible and can be contested on several grounds, making this a potent area of defense in DUI cases.

Breathalyzer Test Reliability

Breathalyzer tests are commonly used at the roadside to estimate a driver’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). Yet, several factors can affect the accuracy of these readings:

  • Device Calibration and Maintenance: Defense can challenge whether the breathalyzer was properly calibrated and maintained according to the manufacturer’s specifications and state regulations.
  • Operator Error: The results can also be contested on the basis that the officer administering the test lacked proper training or did not follow the correct testing protocol.
  • Physiological Conditions: Conditions such as diabetes, acid reflux, or even recent use of mouthwash can produce falsely high BAC readings. The defense can introduce evidence of such conditions to question the reliability of the test results.
  • Mouth Alcohol: similar to the physiological conditions, other issues of officers failing to observe the individual for 20 minutes can result in false readings because of mouth alcohol. For example, an individual who takes a shot immediately before a breathalyzer will have a much higher reading than the true level in their blood.

Blood Test Handling and Analysis

Blood tests are considered more accurate than breath tests, but are not without their vulnerabilities:

  • Chain of Custody: An attorney can scrutinize the chain of custody for the blood sample, looking for lapses that could lead to contamination.
  • Storage and Preservation: How the blood sample was stored and preserved can impact its composition. Inappropriate storage can lead to fermentation or degradation of the sample, a point an attorney can raise to question the test results.
  • Laboratory Procedures: Errors in the laboratory analysis, including the use of outdated techniques or equipment, can also be grounds for challenging blood test results.

Assessing the Impact of Medical Conditions

Medical conditions can significantly influence the outcome of DUI charges, often in ways that are not immediately apparent to law enforcement during a DUI stop. An understanding of how certain health issues can mimic impairment or interfere with the accuracy of chemical tests is crucial for crafting a defense strategy.

Medical Conditions Mimicking Impairment

Some medical conditions can produce symptoms that closely resemble those of alcohol or drug impairment. Conditions such as diabetes, hypoglycemia, or neurological disorders can affect a person’s balance, speech, and cognitive functions. An attorney can introduce medical records and expert testimony to demonstrate that what may have appeared as signs of intoxication were actually symptoms of an underlying medical condition.

Interference of Medical Conditions with BAC Testing

As mentioned earlier, certain health conditions can also affect the results of breathalyzer tests. For instance, individuals with diabetes or those on specific diets may produce ketones, which can be converted into isopropyl alcohol and result in falsely high BAC readings. Additionally, conditions like acid reflux or GERD can lead to the regurgitation of stomach contents into the mouth, contaminating the breath sample.

By thoroughly assessing and presenting evidence related to relevant medical conditions, an attorney can create a compelling argument that challenges the basis of the DUI charge. This approach not only highlights the importance of considering individual health factors in DUI cases but also underscores the need for a defense strategy that accounts for these complexities.

Get A DUI Attorney You Can Count On

If you or a loved one are facing a DUI first offense in Tennessee, it is crucial to have a DUI defense attorney on your side. At Barnes & Fersten, our team is dedicated to examining every aspect of your case, employing a comprehensive defense strategy tailored to your specific circumstances. Let us help you take control of your situation and fight for the best possible outcome. Reach out to Barnes & Fersten today to empower your DUI defense.

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.