Tennessee DUI Laws

Tennessee DUI Laws

by Corie Lynn Rosen, December 2009

With the country music capital of the world at the heart of Tennessee, many out of state residents visit each year, bringing their cars and love of music with them. Whether you are a longtime denizen or just a tourist passing through, if you plan to drive in Tennessee, there are some of the basic facts you should know before you get into the car drunk after a night on the town.

Like most states, prosecutors in Tennessee have some choice in the theories they use in any given drunk driving proceeding. The two possible prosecutorial theories are the per se theory of liability and the driving while under the influence theory.

In order to establish per se liability, the court must be given proof that the driver was contaminated at a level commensurate with or greater than the legal limit for blood alcohol contamination. In Tennessee, the legal limit for persons over 21 is .08 percent. Evidence to support the per se theory is gathered from chemical testing, generally from blood, breath, or urine samples taken at the time of arrest. Because of some complications, namely the physiological variation that a person's blood alcohol content may undergo from the time he is asked to "step out of the vehicle" to the time he gives the sample, blood alcohol testing is not always as reliable as many would like to believe.

The variability problems in blood alcohol tests, in addition to the fact that a person's driving ability may be impaired even if his blood alcohol content does not meet or exceed the legal limit, are dealt with through an alternate theory of culpability. Under Tennessee law, a person whose blood alcohol does not meet or exceed the limit, or whose blood alcohol tests are indeterminate, may be found guilty if he was operating or in physical control of a vehicle at a time when he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Any evidence from the arrest that indicates the arrestee was not able to operate the vehicle with the same reasonable care that an ordinary person in a similar circumstance would use may be introduced as proof of intoxication. General appearance, conduct with the officer, performance on field sobriety tests, and of course, driving pattern, are all relevant observations that may be used in court.

All DUI arrests trigger both a criminal trial and an administrative hearing with the Tennessee driving authority. The courts take DUI offenses very seriously, and a first time offender should not be comforted by the "misdemeanor" nature of the charges. A first offense carries with it a one-year license suspension, fines, and a jail sentence up to almost one year. Tennessee does not take driving under the influence lightly - and if you plan to drive in the country music capital state, neither should you.