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The Tennessee DUI Guide

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What is the difference between a DUI, DWI, OWI, OUI, OVI, DUII, etc.?


These terms are all acronyms that refer to the offense commonly known as "drunk driving."  Different states have slightly different names for the crime.  For example, in Missouri, North Carolina, and many other states the charge is known as driving while intoxicated or DWI. Most states like Kentucky, Alabama, and Georgia use the terms driving under the influence or DUI. Tennessee law also uses the phrase driving under the influence, so the term DUI is most commonly used here.  There are about 30,000 DUI arrests in Tennessee each year.


Note:  Prior to July 1, 2003, Tennessee law used the term driving while impaired.  This website uses the terms DUI and DWI interchangeably. 


I just got arrested for a Tennessee DUI offense.  What happens next?


ISSUE ONE:  The Tennessee Implied Consent Proceeding:  Under Tennessee law, any person who drives a motor vehicle in Tennessee  is deemed to have given consent to a test or tests for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content of that person's blood, a test or tests for the purpose of determining the drug content of the person's blood, or both tests. 


If you refused to submit to a chemical (breath / blood) test following your arrest for a TN DUI offense, your Tennessee drivers license (or your right to drive in Tennessee if you're not a Tennessee licensed driver) was most likely revoked for one to two years.



ISSUE TWO:  The Tennessee DUI Criminal Case:  Separate from the administrative (implied consent) suspension  is the criminal charge for driving under the influence.  Under Tennessee law, it is unlawful for a person to be in physical control of any motor driven vehicle on any of the public roads and highways of the state, or on any streets or alleys, or while on the premises of any shopping center, trailer park or any apartment house complex, or any other premises that is generally frequented by the public at large while: 

  • under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, narcotic drug, or drug producing stimulating effects on the central nervous system; or

  • the alcohol concentration in the person's blood or breath is .08 percent or more (commonly referred to as a "per se DUI").

Important:  The implied consent suspension and the criminal DUI / OWI case are completely separate proceedings from one another. 


Will my Tennessee drivers license be revoked or suspended?


RELATED TO ISSUE ONE ABOVE:  Your Tennessee drivers license (or your right to drive in Tennessee if you do not have a valid Tennessee license) may be revoked under implied consent law for refusing to submit to a chemical (breath) test.  This revocation typically lasts one to two years depending on your prior DUI history (if any).



RELATED TO ISSUE TWO ABOVE:  If you are convicted of the Tennessee DUI offense, you will also lose your license (or your right to drive in Tennessee if you don't have a valid Tennessee license) for a year or more.  This revocation is separate and distinct from the implied consent revocation.  Talk to your Tennessee DUI lawyer for possible revocation lengths for your situation.



Also keep in mind that your license can be suspended for a variety of reasons unrelated to a OWI arrest e.g. excessive points on your license, etc.


What happens if I get caught driving while my license is revoked?


Driving while your license is under revocation for a DUI offense should be avoided as it is a new new misdemeanor crime.  Penalties include fines, jail time, and an additional license revocation of one year.  Further, if you are on probation for the DUI offense when you're arrested for operating while revoked, you will face a probation violation allegation as well.  Speak to a Tennessee DUI lawyer about specific penalties that you may face.


I really need to drive.  Will I be able to get a restricted license / hardship permit / probationary driving privileges?


A restricted license may be available to you if you face a revocation for refusing a chemical test.  Application must be made to the court in the county in which you reside or in the county where your license was suspended.  A restricted license allows driving under the following circumstances: 

  • to and from your regular place of employment;

  • to and from a court-ordered alcohol safety program (DUI school / treatment classes);

  • to and from a college or university if you're enrolled as a full time student; and

  • to and from a scheduled interlock monitoring appointment.

A restricted license may also be available to you if you face a revocation for a DUI conviction.  Your trial judge can issue you a restricted license if you do not have any prior DUI convictions within the past 10 years.  This restricted license allows driving:

  • to and from your regular place of employment and on the job;

  • to visit your probation officer;

  • to and from alcohol / drug treatment;

  • to and from a court-ordered alcohol safety program;

  • to and from litter pick up;

  • to and from church / place of worship;

  • to and from a college or university if you're enrolled as a full time student; and

  • to and from a scheduled interlock monitoring appointment

Talk to your Tennessee DUI lawyer about whether you qualify and how to apply for a restricted drivers license.


Is a DUI offense in Tennessee a misdemeanor or felony charge?


In Tennessee, a DUI is usually a misdemeanor offense.  However, a Tennessee DUI becomes a felony offense if it is your fourth or subsequent offense.  A DUI will also be a felony if the following apply:

  • Vehicular Assault (DUI and causing serious injury to another person);

  • Vehicular Homicide (DUI and causing death to another individual);

  • Aggravated Vehicular Homicide;

What type of penalties might I face if I am convicted of a Tennessee DUI offense?


Upon conviction of a Tennessee DUI offense, a defendant can receive a variety of penalties including probation.  A range of minimum penalties is set forth below: 


  • at least 48 hours jail (7 day minimum if your BAC is .20+);
  • one year license revocation;
  • DUI school;
  • fines of at least $350;
  • possible ignition interlock device.
second conviction within past 10 years
  • at least 45 days jail;
  • two year license revocation (one year wait for restricted license);
  • DUI school;
  • fines of at least $600;
  • possible ignition interlock device.
at least one prior within past 10 years
  • at least 120 days jail;
  • at least three year license revocation (no restricted license available);
  • DUI school;
  • fines of at least $1100;
  • possible ignition interlock device.
  • at least 150 days jail;
  • five year license revocation (no restricted license available);
  • DUI school;
  • fines of at least $3000;
  • possible ignition interlock device.

Note 1.  If at the time of the offense, the person was accompanied by a child under 18 year, the person shall be punished by a mandatory minimum incarceration of 30 days and a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000.

Will my defense lawyer be able to plea bargain / negotiate my Tennessee DUI charge down to another (lesser) offense?

Perhaps.  Negotiating a client's case with the prosecutor is something that your Tennessee lawyer can advise you about.  In some cases, your only option will be to plead to the DUI offense or take your case to trial.

Will a Tennessee DUI conviction go on "my driving record?"

Yes.  A DUI conviction will go on your Tennessee driving record and will stay on your record forever.  You cannot expunge an Tennessee DUI conviction.  You may be able to expunge your DUI arrest record if the DUI offense is dismissed.

Just how much jail / prison time will I have to do if I am convicted of a DUI offense in Tennessee?

The amount of incarceration (jail or prison) received for a Tennessee DUI conviction will depend on a number of factors, including (but not limited to) the following:

•  your prior driving record especially your DUI history (including any DWI's / DUI's outside of the State of Tennessee);

•  your level of intoxication / blood alcohol content (BAC's of 0.20 or greater can result in greater jail time);

•  whether there was a collision involved;

•  whether there was bodily injury to another person in the collision;

•  which Tennessee court your case is in;

•  what judge you are sentenced by;

•  whether there was a passenger / child in your car;

•  whether the court feels you have accepted responsibility for your actions.


I am licensed to drive in a state other than Tennessee and I was arrested for a Tennessee DUI.  Will my drivers license be suspended?

The State of Tennessee only has the authority to revoke your right to drive in Tennessee. 

Tennessee is NOT one of the 45 states (along withy the District of Columbia) that are members of an agreement known as the "Driver License Compact."  These Compact states report out of state DWI / DUI type convictions to the driver's home state.  Keep in mind that even though Tennessee is not a member of the Drivers License Compact, your home state may very well still learn of a Tennessee DUI conviction.  If your home state does learn of the conviction, they will generally take action to suspend or revoke your license. 

If you are licensed in Tennessee and you are convicted of a DUI / DWI offense in another state, Tennessee will usually take steps to revoke your license if it learns of the out of state DUI / DWI conviction. 

What happens if I was already on probation when I got arrested for my Tennessee DUI?

Committing a new crime while you're on probation for a previous crime creates at least two concerns.  First, you face the new Tennessee DUI charge.  Second, you face a probation violation hearing for failing to obey all laws (a standard condition of any probation).  The most serious scenario is when you receive a new Tennessee DUI when you're already on probation for a previous DUI conviction (in Tennessee or elsewhere).  When this happens, its in your best interest to speak to a Tennessee DUI lawyer as soon as possible.

Will I have to install an Ignition Interlock Device on my car?


An ignition interlock device (IID) is a breath alcohol measuring device that is connected to your motor vehicle ignition.  In order to start the vehicle, a driver must blow a breath sample into the device which then measures alcohol concentration.  If the alcohol concentration exceeds the startup set point on the interlock device, the vehicle will not start.  You also need to blow into the device periodically while you drive the vehicle.  This is called a "rolling re-test."


If your BAC is 0.15% or higher or you refused a breath test or you had a child in the car with you then you must install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle following a DUI conviction even if its your first conviction.  Otherwise, the court has the discretion to order those convicted of a DUI offense to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle for a specified period.  Contact a Tennessee DUI lawyer to see if this requirement applies to your situation.

What will a Tennessee DUI do to my insurability?

If your insurance company finds out about a DUI conviction one of two things typically happen.  Either your insurer will raise your insurance rates or you may be cancelled or non-renewed.  Your insurance company will learn of your DUI conviction if you have to file an SR-22.

What is an SR-22?

An SR-22 is a certificate from a Tennessee licensed insurance company certifying that you have purchased liability insurance that meets the State's minimum required coverage limits.  The SR-22 provides proof to the Tennessee Department of Safety that you are insured.  If you cancel your insurance or the insurance company cancels your policy before your suspension period is over, the company must notify the State that the certificate is canceled. 

You will generally need to file an SR-22 in order to obtain a restricted license and / or to reinstate your license following the end of your revocation period. 

I'm not a United States citizen.  Will a conviction for a Tennessee DUI offense result in my removal from this country?

Probably not.  Typical, first offense Tennessee DUI offenses (no priors; no injuries) are not considered crimes of moral turpitude or aggravated felonies resulting in removal.  It is important to consult an experienced immigration attorney about your situation just as you should consult with an experienced Tennessee DUI lawyer about your pending DUI charge. 

Keep two points in mind.  First, it is very important to answer honestly all questions about prior arrests / convictions on immigration and Visa applications and forms.  Lying on these forms is often considered more serious than any OWI / DUI conviction.  Second, non-citizens must take extra care not to drive on a suspended or revoked license.

Are there any concerns for a licensed pilot who gets a Tennessee DUI?


Yes.  The FAA has special reporting requirements for certain Motor Vehicle Actions including Tennessee DUI convictions and certain implied consent revocations.  Learn more about FAA requirements here.

I missed my Tennessee court appearance.  What happens now?

Failing to appear (FTA) for court is to be avoided.  When you miss a court appearance, bad things happen.  At a minimum, the Tennessee court typically issues a warrant for your arrest (commonly known as a bench warrant).  You may also face a new criminal charge known as failure to appear. 

Talk to a Tennessee DUI attorney as soon as possible.  Your lawyer may be able to schedule a hearing to get the warrant recalled.  Sometimes, your only option is to turn yourself in on the outstanding warrant.  A new court date will then be scheduled.

Can I represent myself on my Tennessee DUI and my other criminal charge(s)?

Yes.  You have a constitutional right to represent yourself on any criminal charge no matter how serious the offense including a Tennessee DUI offense.  Keep in mind that Tennessee DUI law is complex as shown by the information here.  If you cannot afford to hire your own Tennessee lawyer, you definitely should apply for a court appointed attorney to represent you.  You have no right to court appointed counsel at any implied consent (civil) proceeding.

Copyright 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

Websites, including this one, provide general Tennessee DUI / DWI information but do not provide legal advice or create an attorney / client relationship.  General information cannot replace specific legal advice regarding your criminal charge, problem, or situation.  Consult qualified Tennessee Drunk Driving - DUI lawyers / attorneys for advice about any specific problem or any TN DUI charge that you face.  Tennessee attorneys are governed by the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct.  This website may be considered an advertisement for services under these Rules.  Information contained in this website is believed to be accurate but is not warranted or guaranteed in any way.  No lawyer associated with this website is specialized or certified in any way.  This site is not a solicitation; rather, it is purely informational.  Certifications of Specialization are available to Tennessee lawyers in all areas of practice relating to or included in the areas of Civil Trial, Criminal Trial, Business Bankruptcy, Consumer Bankruptcy, Creditor's Rights, Medical Malpractice, Legal Malpractice, Accounting Malpractice, Elder Law, Estate Planning and Family Law.  Listing of related or included practice areas herein does not constitute or imply a representation of certification of specialization.


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