Over the last several decades there has been a concerted effort by both governmental agencies and private advocacy groups to bring awareness to the dangers of drinking and driving. As a result of those efforts, most states across the nation have strengthened their drinking and driving laws as well as increased the penalties for a violation of those laws. The State of Tennessee is no exception. A conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) may now carry with it a number of negative judicial and non-judicial consequences. Most people who are arrested for DUI are not career criminals. Instead, they are otherwise law abiding citizens who may have had a momentary lapse of judgment. If you are one of those people, you probably have a number of questions and concerns about your arrest, the charges against you, and the potential outcome of your case. While specific questions should always be addressed in an in-person consultation, the experienced Tennessee DUI defense attorneys at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby have prepared some frequently asked questions and answers relating to DUI prosecutions.
1. Does a law enforcement officer need a legal reason to stop me?
Although it may appear that police officers stop vehicles on a regular basis for no apparent reason, the law requires an officer to have a legal reason for effectuating any traffic stop. That reason may be something minor, such as a missing license plate light or a loud muffler, but it must exit for a stop to be legal.
2. Am I required to perform the field sobriety tests?
Once a police officer has a motorist stopped, the officer may turn the stop into a DUI investigation if there is reason to do so. As part of that investigation, the officer might ask a driver to step out of the vehicle and perform some field sobriety tests (FST). These tests are designed to test a driver’s balance, coordination, and memory. The result of a FST is not admissible in a trial down the road, but may be used to established the probable cause to arrest the motorist. A driver cannot be forced to take the FSTs.
3. Can I refuse the breath test?
If an officer believes you are driving under the influence, the officer may place you under arrest and transport you to the station/jail. Once there, you will likely be asked to submit to a chemical test designed to check for the amount alcohol in your system. Like most states, Tennessee has an implied consent law that effectively means you consent to submit to a chemical test if asked to do so by a law enforcement officer. Despite the implied consent law, you have an absolute right to refuse to submit to the chemical test; however, if you do refuse you will face another set of consequences for doing so, including suspension of your driver’s license.
4. What are the potential penalties for a DUI conviction?
The potential penalties you face if convicted of a DUI in Tennessee will depend on a number of factors, including whether you have a history of DUI convictions, if an accident was involved, and the results of your chemical breath test. Even a first-time DUI conviction, however, carries the possibility of jail time, fines, license suspension and/or a period of time on probation.
5. Will I be able to drive a vehicle after a DUI arrest?
The status of your driving privileges following an arrest and/or conviction for driving under the influence will depend on several factors such as your history of DUI convictions, whether you refused the chemical test, and your BAC level if you took the test. It may be possible to obtain a hardship license with, or without, the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID).
6. What are some of the non-judicial consequences of a DUI conviction?
The sentence imposed on you by a court is not the only thing you need to worry about if convicted of a DUI. For some people, the non-judicial consequences of a DUI conviction are more problematic than the judicial consequences. Some of those potential consequences include:
- Increased insurance rates
- Professional discipline
- Impact on immigration change of status
- Influence on visitation and/or custody with minor children
7. What are some possible defenses to a DUI charge?
Because every DUI stop involves a unique set of facts and circumstances, the best way to determine what defenses might work in your case is to consult with an experienced DUI defense attorney. Some common defense strategies, however, include:
- Challenging the legality of the original stop
- Questioning the officer’s memory of events
- Challenging the chemical test results
- Using the Rising Alcohol Level defense
8. Aren’t the results of a breath test always accurate?
No! Although the prosecutor and law enforcement officials would like you to believe a breath test is always accurate, the truth is that there are a number of reasons why the results of a breath test might not be accurate, including:
- The machine was not properly and/or recently calibrated
- The examiner was not properly trained to use the machine
- The required observation period was not honored prior to the test
- You have a medical condition that can skew the results
If you have additional questions or concerns about a DUI stop or a pending DUI prosecution in the State of Tennessee, please feel free to contact the DUI defense lawyers at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.