Tennessee DUI Laws

Drinking alcohol and then get behind the wheel is a recipe for disaster. In Tennessee, drunk driving has been the number one killer since 2012 and the State aggressively pursues these cases. There are serious consequences for drivers who are caught driving after drinking alcohol. If you have been arrested and charged with a DUI, you should understand what that fully means going forward.

In Tennessee, a DUI is a Class A misdemeanor charge with a minimum sentence for a first conviction of DUI is 48 hours in jail, but can be as much as 11 months, 29 days in jail with fines, court costs, loss of license for a year and community service assessed.

2nd Offense DUI Laws in Tennessee

A second DUI conviction carries a sentence of a minimum 45 days in jail, but can be as much as 11 months, 29 days in jail with fines, court costs, loss of license for 2 years and community service assessed.  Never drive drunk, get a taxi or have a designated driver.

What to Do If You Get Pulled Over

Okay, so you have been pulled over by a police officer, probably late at night, and probably shortly after you’ve left an establishment that serves alcoholic beverages.  The officer has already asked for your license, insurance information and (possibly) registration, which you are required to provide, and begins to inquire about your recent alcohol consumption.  Asking how many drinks you had tonight, the officer suspects that you might be intoxicated.  What do you do?


Because the Fifth Amendment protects you from self-incrimination, you have the right to refrain from answering any and all questions that the police officer asks you.  This means that you do not have to tell the officer how many drinks you had (or tell him you only had 2, which is what everyone says).  You do not have to answer the interrogating questions.

Remember, you have a right to silence

If you are afraid that you might slur your words or fear your nervousness will cause your speech to stumble, you have the right to remain completely silent or cite your right to refrain from speaking.  If you do not say anything, the officer can’t testify later in court that you were slurring when he pulled you over.  Your refusal to speak cannot be held against you.

Don’t get out of the car, unless you’re told to

Do NOT get out of your car unless the officer asks you to do so.  First of all, police officers tend to get very defensive if you jump out of the car when they pull you over.  The officer doesn’t know if you are armed or what your intentions are when you suddenly flee your vehicle, therefore it is not wise to give them the wrong idea or a reason to draw their weapon on you.  The officer is likely experiencing some amount of nervousness (albeit not as much as you) when they pull you over.  Don’t make it worse!  If the officer orders you to get out of the car and asks you to perform any number of field sobriety tests, you are not required to complete any of these tests.

Know the difference between Field Sobriety vs Chemical Testing

Field sobriety tests are NOT the same as chemical testing which is discussed below.  Field sobriety tests check for coordination and balance–acts people don’t normally perform sober or drunk–can set you up for failure.  You are not required by law to complete these tests and refusal to comply cannot be held against you.  While these strange exercises are called “tests” to give them the feel of authority, they are merely subjective tests that are performed to give the police officer more “proof” that you are under the influence.

No matter how well you perform these “tests” they can be manipulated and used against you in a court of law and officers can arrest you even if you feel that you passed the tests because they are based on the officer’s subjective opinion.  Why incriminate yourself by trying to stand on one foot and touching your nose when you can barely do that stone sober?  If you are charged with DUI based on failing sobriety tests, a review of the field sobriety test video will be critical to the validity of the test.

Understand the Implied Consent Law

The breathalyzer is a device used by the police to determine your blood alcohol content.  Although these tests are widely used, they do not always provide correct information about one’s level of intoxication.  However, all states have what is called an Implied Consent Law. The government has decided that when you obtain a driver’s license, it is a privilege that comes with certain implicit obligations.

By obtaining a license, you (unknowingly) have agreed to submit to chemical testing of your blood, breath, or urine, at the request of a police officer.  If you refuse to comply with chemical testing, such as the Breathalyzer, you will receive automatic vehicle sanctions.  Usually, your license will be automatically suspended for failure to comply with chemical testing.  If a chemical test shows that you have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or greater, this is enough to prove that you are legally intoxicated and you may be arrested on criminal DUI charges.

While you must submit to chemical testing, these tests are not infallible and do not necessarily mean you will be convicted of a DUI.

What Is A DUI?

A DUI (Driving Under the Influence) charge in Tennessee means you were arrested due to being suspected of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It can be a serious and life-changing offense to be charged with. A DUI is not to be confused with a public intoxication charge. 

Is a DUI Charge A Felony Or A Misdemeanor?

The main difference between misdemeanors and felonies in the state of Tennessee is how much jail time each charge carries. Misdemeanors receive jail time amounting to less than one year.  The maximum sentence you can receive for a misdemeanor is 11 months and 29 days (one day less than a year). This time is often served in the county jail. A felony charge receives incarceration of a year or more, and the time is usually served in a state prison.

In Tennessee, a DUI offense is classified as a Class A misdemeanor. However, if you are convicted of a fourth DUI, it will be classified as a Class E felony. The first three convictions all carry sentences with potential jail time less than 11 months and 29 days. With each conviction, the amount of jail time will increase.

How Long Does A DUI Stay On Your Record?

Even though the first three DUI offenses will be classified as misdemeanors, they will carry harsh punishments that can affect your life dramatically. The convictions will also remain on your criminal record for life.

What Happens For Your First DUI Offense?

In Tennessee, a first-time DUI offender will be required to spend a minimum of 48 hours in the county jail or workhouse. First-time offenders will also have to pay fines that are no more than $1,500 and no less than $350. You will have your license revoked for one year, be required to attend a victim impact panel, alcohol safety program and be placed on probation for the next 11 months and 29 days.

If You’re Convicted of DUI, Can You Travel Internationally?

While you can travel across state lines after taking care of your DUI conviction, there will be some restrictions on traveling internationally. How your conviction is going to affect your ability to travel out of the country will depend on where you plan to travel. 

Some countries, like Mexico and Australia, view DUIs as serious criminal offenses, even if you were convicted of a misdemeanor in the United States. However, certain locations, like the United Kingdom and the European Union, do not have strict travel regulations for DUI offenders.

Can You Get Into Canada With A DUI?

Canada has strict restrictions on drug and alcohol misdemeanor charges for international travelers. United States citizens may be eligible to enter Canada with a misdemeanor DUI temporarily. To do so, it would be necessary to apply for the country’s “Temporary Resident Permit” or go through the “Criminal Rehabilitation” process.

Can You Get A CDL With A DUI?

Drivers with CDL licenses are held to a higher standard than regular drivers with non-commercial licenses. In the state of Tennessee, any CDL driver who gets convicted of a DUI will lose their license for one year, even if the offense happened while driving a personal vehicle. If you are caught driving under the influence in Tennessee while driving a commercial vehicle, the legal limit drops from .08 to .04 BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration). In many cases, a single DUI conviction will mean loss of a job and livelihood for CDL drivers.

Can You Drive For Lyft Or Uber With A DUI?

Most rideshare companies will not allow their drivers to have recent DUI convictions on their records. While the time limit changes, Lyft and Uber may allow drivers to work if their conviction is more than seven years old. If you get a DUI while working for Uber or Lyft, you will ultimately lose your gig.

Can You Join The Military With A DUI?

All branches of the United States Armed Forces will not allow an individual to join the military if they have a DUI conviction on their record. The reason is that individuals with no license or one that is suspended will not be able to perform all duties required of them. Those with criminal records can also find it difficult to obtain necessary security clearances. In rare cases, an individual will be able to get a waiver to join a branch in the military. A conversation with your local recruiter is best to find out what your options are.

How Many Points Is A DUI?

If you are convicted of your first DUI, you will not simply obtain points on your license. In Tennessee, the “Points” system is used to suspend your license after you get too many points (12) in a specified time period. Since first-time DUI offenses automatically result in a one-year suspension of your license, there is no reason to assign points to your license. Additionally, second offenses result in a two-year suspension, and third offenses result in a six-year suspension.

Can You Beat A DUI?

Tennessee has tough DUI laws. If you failed a field sobriety test, you may be convinced a conviction is coming. However, the results of a conviction require many factors, including a breath test, field sobriety test, and a urine or blood test. These do not always result in an immediate conviction.

There can be ways to beat a Tennessee DUI charge. Many relate to how the DUI stop was performed by the officer. Any mistakes on the police report regarding the incident could decrease the officer’s credibility and result in charges not sticking. Additionally, if a police officer did not have probable cause to pull you over, the evidence surrounding the arrest might be inadmissible during your trial.

How Much Is A DUI?

A DUI conviction in Tennessee can be extremely expensive. The actual cost a person convicted of a DUI will pay can vary. Some costs everyone will have to assume are:

  • Bail
  • Towing Fees
  • Restitution (if another party was harmed)
  • Fines from $465 to $1,500 for first-time offenders in Tennessee.
  • Court costs
  • Fees for license reinstatement
  • Ignition interlock device installation. This may cost more than $1,000.
  • Increase in auto insurance premiums.
  • Drug and alcohol treatment programs if the judge requires them.
  • Attorney’s fees
  • Costs associated with missing work, going to jail, treatments, classes, etc.

How Much Does A DUI Lawyer Cost?

There is no set cost for a DUI lawyer. Hiring a Tennessee attorney for your first DUI offense could cost anywhere between mid-four-figures to low five-figures. This is in addition to the fines, court costs and other monetary fees associated with the conviction. 

Even if it may seem that the costs of hiring a lawyer are high, it is crucial to have legal help during your trial. The right attorney may get your charges lowered or dropped. Also, attorneys can lay out all of your options and help you make the best decisions about your case.

Can You Be Charged With DUI Without Evidence?

Each DUI case is unique. In some cases, charges may be dropped without sufficient evidence or evidence that is considered inadmissible for the trial. Under the Tennessee law, drivers are required to submit to a BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) test once being arrested for a DUI. Because your arrest was completed due to the officer having probable cause, you are required under the implied consent law to take the BAC tests. The arresting officer must also warn you that failure to comply with this test will result in your license being revoked.

Does A DUI Show Up On A Background Check?

A DUI conviction is a criminal offense and will show up on criminal background checks. In Tennessee, a DUI will stay on your record permanently.

Do You Lose Your License Immediately After A DUI?

In Tennessee, your license will not be suspended right away. There is no administrative suspension until a judge orders it. You will be able to drive while your DUI case is pending. Generally speaking, your driver’s license will not be affected until your court case has been completed. If you are found guilty or plead guilty at the end of your trial for Implied Consent or DUI, the judge will have to suspend your license for a minimum of one year after your first offense. In some cases, you may be able to apply for a restricted license to attend school or work.

What To Do If You’ve Been Charged With A DUI?

A DUI conviction in Tennessee can come with serious, life-altering consequences. It is important not to go through the process and trial alone. Hiring a reputable DUI attorney is important to improve your chances of winning or receiving lesser charges. 

Hire Jed McKeehan as your personal DUI attorney so he can evaluate and fully examine your DUI arrest to formulate a defense for your case. You’re sure to appreciate having a well-practiced and expert attorney that cares about you. Call Jed today at (865) 294-8008 for your free DUI consultation.


Portions of this article originally published on KnoxFocus.com.