DUI in Tennessee

What is a DUI in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) is the act of operating a vehicle while drunk or intoxicated. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security is tasked with enforcing the state's DUI statutes. According to federal and state laws, motorists must cease operating a vehicle if their BAC (blood alcohol content) is 0.08% or more. Road traffic offenders apprehended while violating the state's DUI laws will be penalized in various ways, depending on the severity of the crime and the offender's history. In most cases, DUI offenses are included in the offenders Tennessee's criminal record depending on the nature and severity of the crime.

What is the Difference Between a DUI and a DWI in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, DUI refers to driving under the influence of an intoxicant; in this case, the intoxicant may be alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription medication. On the other hand, DWI means driving while intoxicated, and in some states, DWI is the designation for drunk driving. The distinguishing factor between a DUI and a DWI are the substances that the offending motorist ingested before their arrest.

Tennessee DUI Laws

Tennessee DUI laws prohibit motorists from driving a vehicle or being in physical control of an automobile or any motor-driven vehicle if:

  • While driving a non-commercial vehicle, at under 21 years old, they have a BAC "blood alcohol content'' of 0.08% or more.
  • While driving a commercial vehicle, they have a BAC of 0.04% and above.
  • Under the influence of any intoxicant, narcotic drug, marijuana, or any controlled substance affecting the central nervous system

Tennessee laws consider a person to be 'under the influence' if they are impaired to the extent their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle is affected. A driver who has a BAC of 0.08% or more can be convicted of 'DUI Per Se,' which refers to a drunk or drugged driving charge based on BAC or quantity of drugs in the driver's system.

Tennessee motorists automatically agree to Tennessee's "implied consent law," which means that all drivers lawfully arrested for a DUI have legally given their consent to be tested to determine their alcohol blood content.

When a law enforcement officer suspects a motorist of intoxication, they are subjected to a breath or blood test.

Any protest or unlawful refusal will lead to the Department of Safety being notified by the court and the driver's license being suspended for between 12 months to 2 years.

DUI Penalties in Tennessee

Tennessee DUI laws and penalties are determined by the nature and severity of the offense and the offender's criminal history.

First-time Tennessee DUI offenders face jail time of between 48 hours to 11 months. They may also be fined between $350 to $1500 and face a one-year license suspension. The offender may also be subject to community service.

Repeat DUI offenders in Tennessee are typically mandated to attend an alcohol treatment program and may have their vehicles seized as well.

A Tennessee DUI offender who commits a DUI while a child under the age of 18 was present in the vehicle would be locked away for at least 30 days and fined a minimum of $1000 if the child was unharmed. If the child is harmed, the offender will be locked away for between 2 to 12 years and fined a minimum of $5000.

As the number of DUI offenses, a motorist commits increases, their potential jail time, fines, and sanctions increase alongside, depending on their severity.

While Tennessee has several laws that determine DUI penalties, the judge determines the final penalties. For instance, a DUI offender serving jail time could be allowed to do a jail sentence with a work-release. A work release enables the offender to continue employment and return to jail after working hours. Also, the judge can suspend the remainder of an offender's jail time on probation so long as the offender completes the minimum jail time sentence. DUI probation could include completing a substance abuse program and any other recommendations given by the judge.

Offenders may also be required to install an ignition interlock. In this case, the offender's vehicle is equipped with an ignition interlock device to monitor or restrict their driving while intoxicated.

What Happens When You Get a DWI in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, a DUI is not deemed different from a DWI. Tennessee does not consider a DUI or a DWI charge based on the substance used but on the offender's age. A DWI charge typically applies to an underage offender (an offender around the age range of 16-20), while a DUI charge applies to an offender over 21. While it is doubtful that a prosecutor will dismiss the charge of a DWI offense in Tennessee, the offender could get an attorney to plea for the reduction of a DWI charge to a lesser offense

What Happens When You Get a DUI for the First Time in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, a first DUI offense is considered a Class A misdemeanor charge. The penalties for a first-time DUI offense include jail time of between 48 hours to 11 months, mandatory fines, suspension of driver's license for one year, and community service. A judge could also order the offender to complete a substance abuse program.

First-time DUI offenders in Tennessee may be issued a work-release while still serving jail time, while some areas may permit the offender to complete 400 hours of community service in place of the 48 hours and 7-days jail minimums. A judge may also cancel the remaining jail time after the minimum jail time has been served, and the offender is released on probation with an order to complete a substance abuse program and DUI education course.

First-time DUI offenders may be granted a temporary restricted license on suspension of license. This will permit the driver to operate a vehicle for work, school, or health, but this is also issued with an order that an Ignition interlock device is used during the suspension period to regulate the driver's movement.

What is the Penalty for a Second DUI in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, a driver is considered a second DUI offender when the driver has one prior DUI conviction within the past ten years. However, a judge has the ultimate power within the already set parameters to consider any prior DUIs within the past 20 years and determine the offender's actual fines and jail times as factors such as injury, accidents, and deaths could affect the penalties.

A second DUI offender could be charged with a minimum jail time of 45 days with a possible maximum jail time of 11 months, 29 days with a two-year license suspension. If there happened to be an underage passenger present in the vehicle, an extra 30 days could be added to the minimum jail time of 45 days making 75 days minimum jail time instead. On suspension of a driver's license, the judge could also order the forfeiture of the vehicle used in the DUI. Offenders could be allowed a work release permit with a restricted license and the use of an ignition interlock device. A judge could also order the second-time offender to do community service and to be released on probation after serving a minimum jail time sentence. As usual, a DUI offender must complete a substance abuse program and could be ordered to wear an alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelet. A mandatory fine of $600 - $3500 is also required of the offender.

What Happens After a Third DUI in Tennessee?

A third DUI in Tennessee is also considered a misdemeanor that carries a minimum of 120 days of jail time and a maximum of 11 months and 29 days of jail time. A judge could release an offender on probation after successfully serving the minimum jail time. Still, the probation period could last for as long as 11 months and 29 days with an order to complete a substance abuse assessment. A mandatory fine of $1100 to $10000 is required of the offender, and the driver's license is revoked for six years with the forfeiture of the vehicle.

How Long Does a DUI Stay on Your Record in Tennessee?

Technically, a Tennessee DUI stays on an offender's record for life. It also stays on an offender's criminal record for life. However, the look-back period is ten years for repeat offenders; that is, succeeding DUI charges must be made within ten years, from the date of the present offense back to the date of the prior offenses, to be considered a repeat offense.

Out-of-state DUI charges also count in an offender's record. Hence, if an offender is arrested for a second DUI offense within ten years of the prior offense, though it may be an out-of-state arrest, it is still counted as a DUI charge nonetheless and treated as a repeat DUI charge. If a driver is arrested for a DUI but happens to be conducted on a lesser charge like reckless driving, the offender's record will still show the original charge as a DUI charge.

DUI Expungement in Tennessee

A DUI conviction in Tennessee cannot be expunged from an offender's record except for dismissed DUI cases or cases where the offender was not found guilty.

DUI charges reduced to reckless endangerment, or reckless driving can be eligible for expungement.

Under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-32-101(G), Tennessee law provides parameters for expungement as follows:

  • An offender must not have been convicted of any other crimes.
  • Five years must have elapsed since completing the sentence imposed on an offender.
  • An offender must meet all the requirements of the sentence imposed, such as the fines, court costs, and payments of all other fees imposed by the judge. Also, all conditions of probation must be satisfied.

How Likely is Jail Time After a First DUI in Tennessee?

While some other states may be more lenient with first time DUI offenders and tend to let first time offenders go on probation, the state of a Tennessee gives mandatory jail time to first time offenders of at least 48hours and with a BAC of 0.2% or higher, the minimum jail time is 7 days and the maximum could be 11 months and 29days for even a first time DUI offenders and a mandatory fine of $350-$1500

What is the Average Cost of DUI in Tennessee?

A DUI charge in Tennessee can be very financially demanding as the Tennessee laws and penalties are structured to discourage drivers from driving 'under the influence.'

A jail fee of $650 is charged for a 48 hour jail time, and a fee of $44 is charged for each additional day in jail. A fee of $17.50 is charged for a breath test refusal. A first-time DUI offender must pay a mandatory fine of $350, a second timer $600, a third timer $1100. A fee of $250 is fined for reckless driving.

Probation fees are also charged depending on the length of time. Six months probation fee costs $346, while a 12 months cost $466, and a monthly probation fee costs $30. A pre-trial release fee, public service work fee, alcohol safety school, and a restricted license fee of $35, $132, $270, $67, respectively, are also charged.

There is a special insurance premium an offender will have to pay upon obtaining a restricted license known as SR-22, and this cost varies based on circumstances but can begin from $50.

How Much is Bail for a DUI in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, the estimated cost of a DUI bail is around $1500 for a misdemeanor DUI charge. However, the amount is $2000 for a felony DUI charge, from a fourth DUI charge and above. Notwithstanding, other factors such as the presence of a child passenger in the car could aggravate the circumstances and likewise affect presumptive amounts.

How to Get My License Back After a DUI in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, a person convicted of DUI usually has the license revoked, even as a first-time offender.

A person seeking to have their license reinstated after a suspension will be required to satisfy all the court-ordered requirements. In addition:

  • The offender would have to retake the driver's examination.
  • The offender would have to pay a mandatory reinstatement of $100.
  • The offender will have to pay an SR-22 form fee of $50 in the absence of proof of SR-22 insurance for up to 3 years. Alternatively, the offender will have to pay $75 if they fail to return the suspended license to the Department of Safety in time.
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device on a vehicle may be applicable.

These fees do not exempt an offender from jail time or substantial financial penalties, as these fees are for reinstatement and alcohol monitoring.

How Does a DUI Affect Your Life in Tennessee?

A DUI offender's life becomes altered from the point of arrest. The offender will have to deal with a DUI conviction, jail time, mandatory fines, probation and community service, attendance of a substance abuse assessment program, license suspension, and installation of an ignition interlock device. However, there are other non-court related consequences of a DUI conviction that an offender has to deal with, such as:

  • Suspension of a commercial driver's license for a year and for a second DUI offense, the license is revoked for life.
  • Increased insurance costs; some life insurance companies may completely deny policy issuance.
  • Requirement of an SR-22 for several years after conviction.
  • An immigrant DUI offender would have certain privileges withdrawn, such as; neutralization could be revoked for an immigrant, a green card and renewal of work permit may be denied to an immigrant, and an immigrant offender could face deportation.

Can You Get Fired for a DUI in Tennessee?

Yes, a DUI offender could get fired from one's job, but this depends on the type of job in question and the nature of the conviction.

Employers do not have to wait for a conviction; being arrested is enough legal ground for a DUI offender to be fired legally in Tennessee.

A commercial driver faces the highest risk of losing their job since insurance companies are unlikely to provide coverage to DUI offenders.

How Do I Find DUI Checkpoints in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, DUI checkpoints are legal, and drivers are legally detained for a short while for questioning by an officer who suspects them of driving 'under the influence.'

State law enforcement officials set up sobriety checkpoints and interrogate and test drivers per Tennessee's implied consent laws.

The best way to find a checkpoint in Tennessee is through mass media outlets such as TV, radio, PSAs ( Print Service Announcements), billboards, and brochures, as over the years, they have been heavily publicized on these platforms. Over time, it has been believed that advertising the locations and programs of the checkpoints through media outlets would increase awareness and spread the message against driving 'under the influence' since mass media outlets strongly influence society.

Which is Worse, DUI vs DWI?

In states that recognize a DUI and a DWI as two separate offenses, a DWI charge is usually the more severe one. It signals a higher level of intoxication, so DWI offenders are issued harsher penalties.

DUI stands for 'Driving Under Influence' while DWI means 'Driving While Intoxicated or Impaired'. In some cases, however, a first-time DWI offender can get a DWI charge reduced to a DUI charge instead.

In Tennessee, the only distinction between these two charges is the offender's age.

Offenders under 21 are charged with a DWI, while a DUI charge is given to a person above 21. Notwithstanding, persons within 18-20 can be charged with either one.