I was recently surprised to learn that Tennessee has a “loophole” in its DUI laws according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. My life has been devoted exclusively to DUI defense for the past 17 years of practicing law and this was news to me. Naturally, this headline drew my attention and I had to read this article. Maybe I would learn something new and be able to apply this new found information to my practice. Unfortunately, I found the Commercial Appeals article to be both misleading and simply wrong. Their interpretation to Tennessee’s DUI laws was clearly lacking and ill informed. They failed to conduct any meaningful investigation into Tennessee’s DUI laws.
This “loophole” they alluded to has been around since 1989 and it is not a loophole. This report resulted from the paper investigating three Shelby County vehicular homicide convictions. They were surprised to learn that the defendants in those three cases received probation for their offenses. The Commercial Appeal incorrectly concluded that probation in these cases was a result of some “loophole” contained within Tennessee’s DUI laws. This simply is not the case. The Judges followed the law. Vehicular homicide and vehicular assault cases allow for probationary sentences. The Judge is not confined to mandatory minimum sentencing in these types of cases. On the other hand, Tennessee DUI laws do require mandatory minimum sentences. A judge is required to order both first time and multiple offenders to jail. This rule of law simply does not apply to vehicular homicide and assault cases.
Why the difference? These offenses are separate from Tennessee’s DUI statute. The mandatory sentences and sentencing considerations are completely different from those contained with the DUI statute. Under Tennessee law, both vehicular homicide and assault are eligible for alternative sentencing. This means that the court can consider probation or split confinement. These sentencing considerations allowed the Shelby County Judges to order probation in the above cases rather than incarceration. Again, this is not a loop hole as reported by Beth Warren. It is simply the law.
This is simply poor reporting. Commercial Appeal reporter Beth Warren and her editor should have done their research before running this inaccurate article. This is commonplace in DUI issues. Many reporters and advocacy groups simply report inaccurate facts and stories as being true. In turn, this leads to irresponsible legislation and public policies for those accused of DUI. This type of behavior should be questioned by the general public and not tolerated. A half-truth is a complete lie. Now, many people who read Ms. Warren’s article will believe that some quasi-corrupt defense attorney and judge found a loop hole in Tennessee’s DUI laws. Furthermore, they will believe that the system is corrupt and let these DUI victims down. This is simply not the case. The Judges followed the law and they did not rely on some loophole.
I help good people restore their lives.
-Lee Martin is a Nashville area criminal defense attorney who limits his practice exclusively to DUI and criminal matters. If you are looking for premier legal services, give him a call at 615-345-1988.