2 Example Defenses DUI Attorneys Can Use in Tennessee

Tennessee’s DUI law, which appears at Tennessee Code section 55-10-401, is very broad. It prohibits driving on any roads, highways, streets, or public premises while under the influence of an intoxicant that “impairs the driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.”

This makes it sound like getting arrested for DUI is guaranteed to end in a conviction. However, there are defenses that can be raised by a DUI attorney in response to such charges.

This is critically important because Tennessee imposes strict penalties on people who are convicted of DUI:

  • Jail time: Tennessee has mandatory jail time even for first time offenders. Everyone convicted of DUI must spend at least two days in jail. For repeat offenders, DUI can be charged as a Class E felony punishable by a mandatory one year in jail and a $3,000 fine.
  • License suspension: Everyone convicted of a DUI will have his or her driver’s license suspended. First-time offenders receive a one-year suspension while repeat offenders may have their licenses suspended for eight years.
  • Ignition interlock device: A DUI sentence could include a mandatory ignition interlock device which requires the driver to blow into a breathalyzer device before starting the vehicle.
  • Fines: Fines can range from $350 for first time offenses to $15,000 for repeat offenders.
  • Vehicle seizure: Repeat offenders can have their cars seized by the state of Tennessee.

Here are two example defenses that a DUI attorney may be able to raise to prevent these onerous penalties. Keep in mind that every case is unique and this is not intended as legal advice. Rather, this is intended to illustrate what a DUI defense attorney can do to help defend DUI cases.


Tennessee’s DUI law only applies to public places, such as roads, highways, streets, and alleys. It also covers parking lots at shopping centers, trailer parks, and apartment complexes.

Tennessee’s DUI law does not cover private property. To pick an extreme example, Tennessee’s DUI law would not apply if you get drunk and do donuts in your yard or a horse pasture, as long as you do not cross any public roads to get there. You might be liable for other charges if you disturb your neighbors or damage someone’s property. However, a criminal defense lawyer can argue that you are not liable for DUI if you were not on-premises generally frequented by the public.

Not Intoxicated

Intoxication can be proven under Tennessee’s DUI law in two ways:

  1. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is greater than 0.08%, you are subject to the DUI laws regardless of whether it affected your driving. The only proof needed to establish intoxication is a blood or breath test that reported a BAC above the legal limit.
  2. If a witness, such as a law enforcement officer, observes that your driving has been affected by an intoxicant to the point that your mental clarity and physical control are impaired, you are subject to the DUI laws.

The first form of proof is self-explanatory. The second form of proof is used when you either refuse to take a breath or blood BAC test or are under the influence of something other than alcohol which cannot be scored on a BAC test. In order to prove impairment without a breath or blood test, officers will typically rely on standardized field sobriety tests, such as the HGN, Walk and Turn, and One Leg Stand.

Keep in mind that the Tennessee DUI laws do not make an exception for intoxication that results from prescription medication that has been acquired and used legally. Therefore, a DUI Attorney likely cannot raise the defense that the impairment was caused by legally prescribed medication.

Although the majority of DUI’s arrests are based on impairment due to alcohol, you can also be arrested for an impairment based on the ingestion of illegal drugs, such as marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin, etc. These drugs will also alter your ability to safely drive a vehicle, thus rendering you impaired. Without a blood test for the presence of these drugs, officers will rely on non-standardized field sobriety tests and other clues observed during the stop to help determine impairment.

However, a DUI attorney can defend you against DUI charges by arguing that any impairment was not due to an intoxicant. For example, if your driving is affected by a physical or mental disability, you may be liable for injuries or damage you cause, but you would likely not be subject to the DUI laws.

If you are charged with DUI in Tennessee, your freedom and financial future may hinge on your ability to defend yourself. Contact a local DUI attorney Knoxville residents are familiar with to help craft your defense.