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Tennessee DUI Penalties

Tennessee’s DUI penalties are extremely severe.  Tennessee DUI law establishes criminal consequences and penalties for a person who drives while he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drunk driving is considered to be a major public health problem and Tennessee law enforcement takes a tough stance against those who drive while impaired or under the influence.  Tennessee DUI penalties are among the toughest in the nation.  Many are shocked to learn that jail time is mandatory for anyone convicted of a DUI.  Along with hefty fines, court costs, and alcohol treatment classes, this penalty of mandatory jail time applies to even a first time offender in Tennessee.  A successful defense of your Tennessee DUI charge would result in these penalties being mitigated or avoided.  It is wise to consult with an experienced Tennessee DUI attorney immediately.

If you have been arrested for a DUI in Tennessee, you need to take the charges very seriously because the DUI penalties could affect the rest of your life. These penalties could follow you for the rest of your life and result in loss of economic opportunities.  A Nashville DUI lawyer can help you to explore options including defending yourself, going to trial, or plea bargaining to mitigate the penalties that you may face.  Because the penalties are so severe, it is not advisable to represent yourself in court.  Please do not go to court unprepared and assume that the truth will surely win out.  Remember, it is the job of the prosecution to secure a DUI conviction against you.  The police officer will not come to court and simply admit that he made a mistake when he arrested you for DUI.

DUI Penalties under Tennessee Law

Tennessee establishes DUI laws in section 55-10-401 of the Tennessee Code Annotated. Under the relevant code section:

(a)  It is unlawful for any person to drive or to be in physical control of any automobile or other motor driven vehicle on any of the public roads and highways of the state, or on any streets or alleys, or while on the premises of any shopping center, trailer park or any apartment complex, or any other premises which is generally frequented by the public at large, while: 

(1)  Under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, narcotic drug, or drug producing stimulating effects on the central nervous system; or

(2)  The alcohol concentration in such person's blood or breath is eight-hundredths of one percent (.08%) or more.

Part (b) of this code section makes clear that many different drugs can be considered to produce stimulating effects on the central nervous system.

When you are violate these laws, the penalties will vary depending upon whether you have a previous record for driving while impaired.  Tennessee will also use prior DUI offenses from other states in order to increase your DUI penalties.

Editor’s note:  In short, any road, alley, or parking lot that is open to the public will be sufficient under Tennessee law.  Your private driveway or yard would not count under Tennessee law and would constitute a valid defense.  In addition, you only have to be in physical control of the automobile.  The police do not have to actually catch you in the act of driving.  They can prove physical control by circumstantial evidence.

Enforcing Tennessee DUI Penalties

Tennessee’s DUI penalties become progressively harsher in order to discourage repeat offenders. The harsher penalties for repeat offenders apply regardless of whether you were convicted of a DUI in Tennessee or in another state. For example:

A first time DUI offender will face:

  • Fines between $350 and $1,500.  These fines are mandatory and cannot be waived by the court.
  • A minimum of 48 hours in jail for any DUI offense.  If your BAC exceeds .20, then you face a minimum of 7 consecutive days of jail time. You may also face a longer sentence and could serve up to 11 months and 29 days of time incarcerated.
  • A one-year driver’s license revocation.  An ignition interlock device will most likely be ordered as a condition for getting a Tennessee restricted driver’s license.
  • A requirement to perform 24 hours of mandatory community service consisting of liter/trash removal.

A repeat DUI offender who has had one previous conviction will face for his second offense:

  • Fines between $600 and $3,500
  • A minimum of 45 days of jail time and a maximum of 11 months and 29 days in jail.  It is possible to substitute 28 days of inpatient treatment for drugs or alcohol for some of the jail time.  However, the jail time must be served consecutively.
  • A two-year driver’s license revocation.
  • The possible forfeiture of the car that you used when driving while drunk or high.

A repeat DUI offender with two prior offenses will face upon his third conviction:

  • A fine between $1,000 and $10,000
  • A minimum of 120 days of jail time and up to 11 months and 29 days of incarceration.  The jail time of 120 days must be served consecutively.
  • A six-year driver’s license revocation.
  • The possible forfeiture of the car used when driving while drunk or high.

Finally, someone convicted of a fourth DUI offense or greater will be convicted of a class E felony. Penalties include:

  • Fines between $3,000 and $15,000
  • Between 150 days and 6 years of incarceration.  Again, the 150 days in jail must be served at one time consecutively.
  • An eight-year driver’s license revocation
  • The possible forfeiture of the vehicle used when driving while drunk or high

Drivers will typically be placed on probation after serving the minimum jail sentence. Conditions of your probation may include community service work including trash removal; participation in drug or alcohol counseling; and paying restitution to anyone who was injured or who experienced property damage as a result of your drunk driving.

Getting Help from a Tennessee DUI Lawyer

A Tennessee DUI conviction carries serious penalties. The mandatory minimums mean that the judge has no discretion in the case; if you are convicted, you will face at least the minimum jail time and will have no choice but to pay the fine and lose your privilege to drive.

Therefore, it is important to get help from a Nashville lawyer whose primary focus is on DUI cases.  Lee Martin, a Nashville attorney with a focus on DUI, can help you to arrange a plea bargain to reduce your penalties or raise defenses that may allow you to avoid conviction and any consequences of a drunken driving charge.

The sooner you get legal help, the better your chances, so contact a Tennessee DUI lawyer at the Law Offices of Lee Martin today. It is important to try to avoid Tennessee DUI penalties when possible.

I help good people restore their lives

-Lee Martin is a Nashville criminal defense lawyer who has gained national recognition as a DUI and criminal defense attorney.  With over a decade of experience, he knows how to get results in DUI cases.  If you are seeking an experienced DUI defense attorney, use his experiences to your advantage.  If you need help with a pending DUI charge, give him a call at 615-345-1988.

National Trial Lawyers Top 100 in the areas of DUI and criminal defense.

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