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What Tennessee Drivers Should Know About the Implied Consent Law

Tennessee drivers can benefit from understanding their rights and the penalties that they may face under the state’s implied consent laws.

Most people in Nashville are aware that they have the option of refusing chemical testing if they are suspected of driving under the influence. However, declining this testing is a violation of the Implied Consent law in Tennessee. When deciding whether to agree to chemical testing, drivers may misunderstand this law or the consequences of a violation. It's important for drivers to be familiar with implied consent so that they can better understand their options if they are accused of DUI.

Violation of Implied Consent Law Tennessee

Like a drunk driving conviction, an implied consent violation can result in a driver's license suspension. According to the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security, the mandatory suspension periods are as follows:

  • A first-time offense results in a one-year license suspension period.
  • A second-time offense is punishable with a license suspension period of two years.
  • A violation that occurs after a crash that causes injury is also sanctioned with two years of license suspension.
  • A violation that occurs after a fatal accident can result in five years of license suspension.

Drivers should note that refusing to take a chemical test is a civil rather than criminal offense. Therefore, drivers cannot be punished with jail time for implied consent violations. However, drivers may be charged with DUI in addition to these violations, and a DUI conviction may lead to incarceration.

Role in DUI cases

Many drivers decline to take chemical tests due to concerns that a test will provide evidence that supports a DUI charge. However, drivers should understand that refusal to take a test may also be used as evidence in a DUI case. Therefore, declining a field sobriety test does not guarantee that a driver will avoid a DUI conviction.

'No Refusal' laws

Many drivers who are familiar with Tennessee's implied consent law may be confused about their rights during "No Refusal" DUI campaigns. The TDSHS explains that during these campaigns, law enforcement authorities can more easily obtain warrants giving them the right to take blood samples from suspected drunk drivers. Such warrants override a driver's right to refuse blood testing.

WMC Action News notes that state law also allows forcible blood draws when a warrant is obtained and a driver still refuses to consent to testing. In the past, such forcible draws were only permitted in extreme cases, such as fatal accidents in which drivers were accused of vehicular homicide. Now, these blood draws are allowed whenever authorities have secured a warrant.

Seeking legal help

The confusion that many people have regarding implied consent laws helps show why legal advice can be beneficial. Immediately after a DUI arrest, an attorney may be able to help an accused driver understand his or her rights and options. An attorney also may be able to help a person challenge DUI charges and any related evidence, from field sobriety test results to chemical test refusal.

Frequently Asked Questions About Implied Consent

What is implied consent?

When a person applies for a driver's license in Tennessee, he or she gives "consent" to be tested for impairment. This "consent" is not made expressly by direct communication; rather, the consent is made implicitly. Stated another way, by applying for a driver's license, a person provides unspoken consent to be tested for impairment.

Is refusing to submit to a sobriety test your right by law?

Absolutely. You can refuse to submit to a breath test or blood draw. But if you do, your driver's license will be automatically suspended. That doesn't mean you won't be tested. As stated above, the police can obtain a warrant and forcibly draw blood.

What constitutes an equivocal or unequivocal refusal?

The word "equivocal" refers to a statement that has several meanings or an indeterminate meaning. In the context of blood alcohol testing, what types of responses could be considered equivocal? Hemming and hawing repeatedly when you are asked to submit to testing could be interpreted as an equivocal refusal. Likewise, making sport of the officer or joking about being tested could also be equivocal. On the other hand, explicitly saying "no" when asked to submit to testing is an "unequivocal" refusal.

What happens if I refuse a breathalyzer test?

Your driver's license will be automatically suspended for one year or longer. It may be possible to successfully appeal the suspension in a civil hearing, but positive results will depend on the specific circumstances of your case.

Is it better to refuse a breathalyzer test?

The answer depends on your specific situation. You have the right to consult with an attorney before consenting to a blood alcohol test, so you may want to take advantage of this right by speaking with a lawyer who is familiar with the implied consent laws of Tennessee.