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Holiday Drinking & Driving: Understanding DUI Tests & Your Rights

Joshua S. Reed Dec. 17, 2021

It can be difficult during the holiday season to not drive after you have enjoyed some holiday cheer and beer. Law enforcement knows this, which is why you will see patrol cars out in force. In case you see those red lights flashing behind you, or if you already have, you should understand the tests administered to assess your sobriety and ability to operate a vehicle safely. You should also know your rights around submitting to them under Tennessee law.

Some 5,000 to 7,000 people have DUI charges filed against them in Tennessee courts every year. At the Law Office of Joshua S. Reed, we have represented many of those who found themselves pulled over while driving or subjected to a sobriety checkpoint during the holidays in Knoxville and Farragut, Tennessee, and in the surrounding counties including Anderson, Blount, Union, Maryville, Oak Ridge, and Clinton.

Our Team can help you understand sobriety tests, your rights to refuse, and the consequences of doing so.

What Is Implied Consent?

Tennessee law provides that if you operate a motor vehicle in the state, you do so while granting implied consent to submit to a breathalyzer test and/or blood test to measure for alcohol or drugs. Law enforcement must have probable cause to pull you over. Although there are lower BAC limits for drivers under the age of 21 and those with commercial driver’s licenses, the general legal limit is .08.

What Are the Tests for Sobriety?

Other than the breath test, there are blood alcohol tests and field sobriety tests. If you are arrested, law enforcement can request that you submit to a blood test that will measure the amount of alcohol or drugs in your system.

Field sobriety tests allow the officer to assess your balance, focus, and level of impairment. Tests are done on the roadway, shoulder, or an adjacent street or parking lot.

Field sobriety tests are non-scientific and highly problematic. For these reasons, they are not subject to the implied consent law, and you can refuse to take them when asked. In fact, people can perform badly on field sobriety tests for all kinds of reasons unrelated to alcohol or drugs, including poor physical coordination or health, uneven roadway surfaces, interference from flashing and bright lights, and general anxiety. They do not accurately reflect a person’s sobriety or potential impairment.

What Are Field Sobriety Tests?

There are three key field sobriety tests used by Tennessee law enforcement:

  1. The horizontal gaze test involves the driver standing still and following a finger, pen, or another object with their eyes as the officer moves the object from side to side. The officer is looking for the moment of nystagmus, which is the involuntary jerking movement of the eye.

  2. The walk-and-turn test involves having the driver take nine heel-to-toe steps in a straight line, then turning 180 degrees and taking nine steps back to the beginning location. The officer observes multiple aspects, including whether nine steps are counted accurately, balance, stopping, stepping off the line, and the turn.

  3. The one-leg stand instruction is to raise one foot six inches off the ground, focus your eyes on the raised foot, and keep your hands down at your sides. You will be instructed to count aloud until the officer advises to put the foot down. The officer will be assessing your ability to count and your balance.

What Happens If I Refuse
a Test in Tennessee?

If you refuse to take the field sobriety test, there are no consequences. In fact, refusing is a wise decision since you can perform poorly on them even when you are completely sober. Do be polite when refusing any field sobriety tests.

There are ramifications for refusing a BAC test, namely being charged with a Class A misdemeanor and having your driver’s license suspended. The suspension is for one year if you have not been convicted of a DUI in the past 10 years. If you have a recent DUI conviction, the suspension will be two years.

The court may grant you the opportunity to obtain a restricted license that would allow you to drive only for certain reasons such as to and from work or school. This is typically accompanied by an order to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in your vehicle and carry special auto insurance. You pay all costs associated with the installation, testing, inspection, and calibration of the IID and the increased cost of insurance.

Bear in mind that the license suspension for refusal is separate from prosecution for DUI. Although the prosecuting attorney will not have your BAC to present as evidence, they can make a case against you by other means, including use of the refusal as likely evidence you were intoxicated at the time of the stop. If convicted, you would be subject to the punishment of the DUI conviction as well as the misdemeanor refusal.

Don’t Risk Your Future.
Get Legal Guidance.

Even a first DUI conviction can destroy your opportunities for education, employment, and housing, and affect custody of children. It takes a tremendous toll on your personal relationships and your finances, so hire a criminal defense attorney experienced with DUI defense to represent you.

If you have been arrested for DUI in Knoxville, Farragut, or the surrounding Tennessee counties, contact the Law Office of Joshua S. Reed. There’s a lot at stake, so call now.