As part of a DUI investigation, it's common for an officer to ask the driver to take a breath or blood alcohol test to determine the amount of alcohol or drugs in the driver's system. To prove a DUI in court, it's often important for the prosecution to precisely show the driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or the concentration of drugs in the driver's blood.
This article gives an overview of what Tennessee law says about when a driver is required to submit to DUI chemical testing and the consequences of an unlawful refusal.
Tennessee's implied consent law specifies that any person who operates a vehicle within the state is deemed to have consented to a breath test to determine the driver's BAC. However, the requirement to submit to testing is triggered only if the officer has probable cause to believe the driver was operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
Unlike the laws of many other states, Tennessee's implied consent law does not extend to blood tests. An officer can ask a driver to take a blood test. But generally, a driver can't be penalized for refusing unless the officer has a warrant or there are exigent circumstances that excuse the warrant requirement.
License suspension. Refusal of a lawfully requested BAC test is a class A misdemeanor in Tennessee. Class A misdemeanors normally carry up to 11 months and 29 days in jail and a maximum of $2,500 in fines. However, a refusal isn't considered a criminal offense or sentenced as such. Instead, a refusal is penalized by license suspension.
There's a one-year license suspension if the driver has no DUI convictions that occurred within the past ten years. And if the driver does have priors within the past ten years, the suspension for a refusal will be two years. Depending on the circumstances, a refusal suspension might run consecutively to any suspension imposed for a DUI conviction.
Restricted license. Drivers who have their license suspended for a refusal are eligible for a temporary restricted license to the driver only for certain purposes like work, school, and treatment. But the court might order the driver to install and use an ignition interlock device (IID) as a condition of the restricted license.
Evidentiary uses. It may be more difficult for a prosecutor to prove a DUI without a valid chemical test. However, the fact that a driver refused to submit to testing can actually be used against him or her at trial. While refusal doesn't exactly prove intoxication, prosecutors often argue a refusal is indicative that the person was trying to hide intoxication.
If you've been arrested or cited for refusing a chemical test in Tennessee, it's a good idea to get in touch with a DUI lawyer. DUI law is complicated and every case is different. A qualified DUI attorney can tell you how the law applies to your case and help you decide on the best course of action.