In Tennessee the offence of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) is often referred to as Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Drunk Driving.

DUI is a serious crime under Tennessee DUI law. DUI carries harsh penalties for offenders, and DUI cases are also among the most complex in our judicial system. One reason DUI cases can be complex is the many constitutional law issues relating police conduct around illegal traffic stops, illegal searches and seizures, which are often are encountered in drunk driving investigations. Another reason is the advanced science involved in the chemical (usually blood or breath) testing associated with DUI cases.

The Tennessee Constitution and the United States Constitution afford citizens a presumption of innocence—in other words, you cannot be found guilty of DUI or any other crime unless the State proves that you are guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. To be found guilty of Driving Under the Influence, Tennessee DUI laws require the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person was: (1) operating or in physical control of (2) a motor vehicle on (3) any public road, highway, alley, parking lot, or any other premises generally frequented by the public while (4) under the influence of alcohol or drugs (illicit or prescription drugs), or with a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher.

DUI is one of the few crimes for which a person can be convicted solely upon the opinion of a police officer. Officers are trained to evaluate certain criteria when determining whether to arrest an individual for Driving Under the Influence. Factors considered by police officers in Tennessee and across the country include very subjective opinions of the officer including:

- Driving behaviors, including a motorist’s reaction to the officer’s emergency equipment;
-Driver’s ability to divide attention once stopped (e.g. answer questions while providing driver’s license, proof of insurance and proof of vehicle registration);
-Driver’s physical demeanor, including speech (slurred?), eyes (bloodshot?), ability to walk (staggered?), odor (strong odor of alcoholic beverage on breath?), etc.; and
-Driver’s ability to perform field sobriety tests.

The Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of a person accused of Driving Under the Influence in Tennessee may be determined by a blood test, breath test, or urine test. Tennessee DUI laws allow the arresting officer to choose which test to administer. Accordingly, a Tennessee motorist cannot demand one form of test over another.

Many people who submit to a test and register above the Tennessee legal limit for alcohol (.08% for Driving Under the Influence, .04% for Commercial Motor Vehicle DUI, and .02% for Underage Driving While Impaired), often believe that their case cannot be successfully defended and choose not to retain a Tennessee DUI lawyer. However, an investigation of a case by a Tennessee DUI attorney often reveals evidence that can call into doubt the reliability of a blood, breath or urine test and may even result in keeping the test results from being introduced in court.

Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) are physical coordination tests commonly administered to motorists suspected of Driving Under the Influence. Law enforcement agencies in Knoxville, Tennessee and across the state of Tennessee commonly use these tests to determine if an individual is under the influence of alcohol, drug or another intoxicant.

The three tests that have been standardized (SFSTs) by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and are most commonly administered during Tennessee DUI investigations, are the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk and Turn, and One Leg Stand tests, which are briefly described below. The officer must administer all three tests in a very precise manner. Accordingly, it is important to discuss the details of the SFST administration and interpretation of the SFST results with us at your initial client interview. Often these are recorded on police “dash cam” and are obtainable for use by the prosecution and defense in court.

Other tests sometimes used and which may not be useful in court include the Finger count test. Backward count test, Alphabet test, Finger to nose test. These tests have not bee standardized and are not as reliable an indicator of DUI and may not be admissible into evidence.

An individual may also be charged with a Tennessee DUI offense based upon driving under the influence of drugs, or “drugged driving.” Tennessee law does not distinguish between illegal drugs and prescription medication when classifying someone as driving under the influence of drugs. In other words, driving with a prescribed medication in your system is not a defense to DUI in Tennessee.

If you have been accused of driving while under the influence of drugs, or DUI by a combination of alcohol and drugs, we will carefully review the facts of your case and the DUI/DRE investigation with you and advise of the best course of action in your particular circumstance.

If a person charged with a DUI in Tennessee refuses to submit to a blood, breath, or urine test to determine the drug or alcohol content of his blood, he may also be charged with a TN Implied Consent Violation. If an offender does submit to a blood, breath or urine test, he is then entitled to request an independent test of his choice. However, the officer has no obligation to inform a Tennessee motorist of this right and need only provide very limited assistance in obtaining the independent test. A Tennessee motorist does not have a right to speak with a DUI attorney or anyone else before deciding whether or not to submit to a chemical test.


The following summary of penalties for a TN Implied Consent Violation (TN chemical test refusal) is intended to be general in nature. The exact penalties will vary in each case depending upon the individual facts and circumstances; and therefore, this information should not be relied upon without individual consultation.

On a first offence, with a valid license it is not a criminal offense to refuse to take the chemical tests. However, if a motorist is driving on a suspended, revoked or cancelled license, then this could be a misdemeanor and carry a 5 day to 11 month 29 day jail sentence, a $1,000 fine and may require a ignition interlock device but a restricted license may be granted.

On a first offence the license is revoked usually for one year and a restricted drivers license is usually granted and an ignition interlock device may be required.

On a second or subsequent offense, license revocation is usually 2 years and a restricted drivers license may be granted and an ignition interlock device may be required.

If there is a DUI charge and an accident is involved the penalties change and specific consultation is necessary especially if a death was involved.


Whether a person is charged in Knox County, Tennessee or any other location in the state, each person has certain rights, which include at every stage of the case the right to:

A lawyer. The court must appoint a Tennessee attorney if the court determines that the defendant cannot afford to hire a lawyer;
A preliminary hearing in most cases. This allows a Tennessee judge to determine the issue of whether probable cause exists to continue the case to have it heard by a Grand Jury;
A jury trial;
The right to Remain silent (please use this right and only speak to ask for an attorney);
Be presumed not guilty and to have the State prove your guilt at each stage;
Plead not guilty;
Confront each and every witness against you in court and to cross-examine witnesses who give testimony against you; and
Subpoena witnesses to come to court and testify on your behalf, among others

Contact us at 865-983-6333 now to discuss the details of your case..