DUI PENALTIES AND LAWS IN TENNESSEE


Driving under the influence is a serious offense in the state of Tennessee and can have extremely negative consequences for the offender both financially and professionally. If you are charged with a DUI offense in the state of Tennessee, please consult with a qualified DUI attorney in Tennessee on your case. It is also advised to ask your attorney whether a period of time in a residential alcohol and drug rehabilitation program will bolster your defense or reduce your penalties.

What elements need to be present for someone to be charged with DUI?

In order to be charged with DUI, driving under the influence, in the state of Tennessee, you must have a BAC (blood alcohol concentrate) of .08% or higher in a motor vehicle. You do not necessarily have to be operating a car or truck to be charged with this offense. You must, however, be in a motor vehicle with the keys either in the ignition or on your persons.

What is implied consent?

Implied consent is a term that refers to the state of Tennessee’s requirement for you to take one or more sobriety tests if a law enforcement officer suspects you are under the influence of mind-altering  substances (alcohol, marijuana, etc).

Failure to comply with an officer’s request to take a sobriety test results in an automatic loss of your driver’s license for a period of one year. It is not possible to refuse field sobriety tests without legal consequences. An officer cannot, however, force you to take the test.

If your license is already suspended, you refused to take a chemical test in the past, or the circumstances involve a traffic accident, the penalties become more severe. In these situations, you can expect your driver’s license to be suspended for a minimum of 2 years.

You can read more about implied consent via the actual law at the state of Tennessee’s website.

Does refusing to take a chemical test bolster my DUI defense?

It is not advised to refuse sobriety tests. In some cases, district attorneys can use non-consent as proof that you were intoxicated. The prosecution can also prove that you were under the influence without concrete evidence via chemical testing.

What are the penalties for refusing chemical testing?

  • 1st offense: loss of driving privileges for one year.
  • 2nd offense: loss of driving privileges for two years.
  • You will lose your driver’s license for 2 years if a traffic accident occurred in the course of the offense.
  • You will lose your driver’s license for 5 years if a fatality occurred in the course of the offense.

Can I serve some/all of my mandatory jail time in a residential alcohol and drug recovery program?

Yes. Depending on the nature of your offense, you may be able to serve some or all of your mandatory jail time in a residential recovery program. Please contact Discovery Place at 1.800.725.0922 for more information.

What are the penalties for DUI 1st offense?

The penalties for DUI 1st offense are:

  • Class A misdemeanor.
  • Alcohol safety class, DUI School and/or MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) Victim Impact Panel is mandatory. Offender is responsible for fees associated with these classes.
  • Fines vary from as little as $350 to as high as $1,500.
  • Mandatory 48 hours of incarceration.
  • Probation for a period of 11 months and 29 days. In the event an offender violates the terms of probation, he or she may have their probation sentence “put into effect.” This means the offender will serve almost one year in jail.
  • Loss of driver’s license for no less than one year.
  • The following penalties are left to the judge’s discretion: community service and participation in an alcohol/drug rehabilitation program.
  • For BAC’s of .20 and higher, there is a mandatory minimum of 7 days of incarceration, served consecutively (an offender cannot serve this time on the weekends).
  • Average cost to the offender for a 1st offense DUI is almost $5,000.
  • You are required to perform 24 hours of roadside litter pickup. This is also known as “work crew.” In some cases, alternative forms of community service are acceptable.
  • Penalties for a DUI 1st offense that involve a traffic accident or fatality are much more severe and may include substantial increase in fines, time spent incarcerated/on probation and additional elements like an Ignition Interlock device.
  • Additional fines may be levied in the event someone incurred harm to their persons or property in the course of the offense.

What are the penalties for DUI 2nd offense?

  • Class A misdemeanor.
  • Alcohol safety class, DUI School and/or MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) Victim Impact Panel is left to the court’s discretion. Offender is responsible for fees associated with these classes.
  • Fines no greater than $3,500 and no less than $600.
  • Loss of driver’s license for a minimum of two years. In the 1st year of license suspension, an offender will not be allowed a restricted license. After the 1st year, an offender may petition the court for a Restricted License.
  • Period of incarceration for no less than 45 days and no greater than 11 months, 29 days.
  • An offender’s automobile may be forfeited or seized.
  • -In some cases, an offender may participate in a residential/inpatient alcohol and drug treatment program for 30 days. This time can be substituted for a jail sentence. For example, if an offender was sentenced to 60 days of jail and attended an inpatient alcohol treatment program for 30 days, he or she would only have to serve 30 days of incarceration.
  • An Ignition Interlock Device will be ordered in cases where the 2nd offense DUI occurred within 5 years of the 1st offense DUI. The offender will be responsible for all fees associated with an Ignition Interlock device. The device will be installed after an offender’s license is reinstated. It must be operational in the offender’s vehicle for 6 months.
  • Penalties for a DUI 2nd offense that involve a traffic accident or fatality are much more severe and may include substantial increase in fines, time spent incarcerated/on probation and additional elements like an Ignition Interlock device.
  • Additional fines may be levied in the event someone incurred harm to their persons or property in the course of the offense.

What are the penalties for DUI 3rd offense?

  • Class A misdemeanor.
  • Community service, alcohol safety class, DUI School and/or MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) Victim Impact Panel is left to the court’s discretion. Offender is responsible for fees associated with these classes.
  • Fines of no less than $1,100 and no greater than $10,000.
  • Mandatory inpatient alcohol and drug treatment program. The time served a residential program varies, with 30 days usually being the minimum amount of time. In some cases, the time served in an inpatient alcohol/drug treatment program can shorten mandatory periods of incarceration.
  • Loss of driver’s license with no option for a restricted license for a period of 6-10 years.
  • Period of incarceration for no less than 120 days, with a maximum of 11 months and 29 days in jail.
  • An offender’s vehicle can be forfeited or seized.
  • It is very likely an Ignition Interlock Device will be required for a period of 6 months after an offender’s license is reinstated. The offender is responsible for all fees associated with this.
  • Penalties for a DUI 3rd offense that involve a traffic accident or fatality are much more severe and may include substantial increase in fines, time spent incarcerated/on probation and additional elements like an Ignition Interlock device.
  • Additional fines may be levied in the event someone incurred harm to their persons or property in the course of the offense.

What are the penalties for DUI 4th offense (or greater)?

  • Class E Felony.
  • Community service, alcohol safety class, DUI School and/or MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) Victim Impact Panel is left to the court’s discretion. Offender is responsible for fees associated with these classes.
  • Fines of no less than $3,000 and no greater than $15,000.
  • Mandatory inpatient alcohol and drug treatment program. The time served a residential program varies, with 30 days usually being the minimum amount of time. In some cases, the time served in an inpatient alcohol/drug treatment program can shorten mandatory periods of incarceration.
  • Loss of driver’s license with no option for a restricted license for a period of 8 years.
  • Period of incarceration for no less than 1 year with a maximum of 150 consecutive days served in jail.
  • An offender’s vehicle can be forfeited or seized.
  • It is very likely an Ignition Interlock Device will be required for a period of 6 months after an offender’s license is reinstated. The offender is responsible for all fees associated with this.
  • Penalties for a DUI 4th offense that involve a traffic accident or fatality are much more severe and may include substantial increase in fines, time spent incarcerated/on probation and additional elements like an Ignition Interlock device.
  • Additional fines may be levied in the event someone incurred harm to their persons or property in the course of the offense.

What happens if a traffic accident occurred in my DUI case?

Additional charges, including vehicular assault, aggravated vehicular assault or vehicular homicide (in cases of death) may be levied against you if someone else was harmed in the course of your offense.

Other Resources

DUI Offenses via Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security

Tennessee DUI Laws, Fines and Penalties via DrivingLaws.com

Tennessee Drug Laws via Discovery Place