Tennessee Drugged Driving

In Tennessee, a person is guilty of a DUI if he or she drives or to be in physical control of any motor driven vehicle while under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, or narcotic drug. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-401(a) (West 2010).

Affirmative Defense

The fact that any person or persons who drive while under the influence of narcotic drugs, or shall drive while under the influence of barbital drugs, is or has been entitled to use such drugs under the laws of this state, shall not constitute a defense to the violation. Id. § 55-10-402.

Implied Consent

  • Any person who drives a motor vehicle in this state 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. Id. § 55-10-406(a)(1).
  • If a person refuses to submit to testing, no test shall be given; however, the court shall revoke the license of the driver for a period of one year if the person has no prior convictions, and two years if consent has been withdrawn on another occasion. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-406(4)(A).
  • Driving while intoxicated defendant’s refusal to take blood alcohol test is admissible in court. State v. Ford, 721 S.W.2d 828 (1986).
  • Accused has no right to speak with attorney before deciding whether to submit blood or breath test. State v. Frasier, 914 S.W.2d 467(1996).
  • A person who has been tested may have a qualified professional of their choice perform another test, but driver who has refused to submit to test can not invoke right to blood test at driver’s own expense because he or she was not a ‘person who has been tested.’ Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-406 (West 2010); State v. Choate, 667 S.W.2d 111 (1983).


  • First offense – fine of not less than $350, nor more than $1,500; driver’s license suspended for 1 year. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-403(a)(1)(A)(i) (West 2010).
  • Second offense (w/i 10 years) – fine of not less than $600, nor more than $3,500; imprisonment for not less than 45 days, nor more than 11 months and 29 days; driver’s license suspended for 2 years; court may mandate participation in a drug treatment program. Id. § 55-10-403(a)(3); Id. § 55-10-403(a)(1)(A)(iv).
  • Third offense (w/i 10 years) – fine of not less than $1,100 nor more than $10,000; imprisonment for not less than 120 days, nor more than 11 months and 29 days; driver’s license suspended not less than 3 years, nor more than 10 years. Id. § 55-10-403(a)(3); Id. § 55-10-403(a)(1)(A)(v).
  • Fourth and subsequent offense Class E Felony – fine of not less than $3,000, nor more than $15,000; imprisonment for a term of not less than 150 consecutive days; driver’s license suspended not less than 5 years. Id. § 55-10-403(a)(1)(A)(vi).

Other Penalties & Penalty Enhancers

  • DUI with child under 18 years of age in vehicle is punished by a mandatory minimum imprisonment for 30 days, and a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000. Id. §55-10-403(a)(1)(B)(i)

Sobriety Checkpoints

In Tennessee, law enforcement officials are entitled to conduct sobriety checkpoints under both the state and federal constitutions.

  • Properly conducted sobriety checkpoints do not violate the state constitution, so long as officer discretion is limited and no motorist is unfairly singled out or unduly burdened. State v. Downey, 945 S.W.2d 102 (1997)
  • Conspicuously avoiding a sobriety checkpoint may justify an investigatory stop, but avoiding a checkpoint via a legal maneuver (including a legal U-turn) does not necessarily justify a stop. State v. Binion, 900 S.W. 2d 702 (1994).
  • Checkpoints serving as combined DWI and drug trafficking deterrents are not condoned by the Tennessee constitution or the federal constitution. . U.S. v. Huguenin, 154 F.3d 547 (1998); State v. Walker, 1998 WL 608220, (1998).

Case Law

State v. Dobbins, 265 S.W.3d 419 (2007) – Defendant stopped while attempting to leave parking lot could not be convicted for DUI. State was required, and failed, to prove that he used the public roads while intoxicated (i.e. when he pulled into the parking structure).

State v. Greenwood, 115 S.W.3d 527 (2003) — Evidence of defendant’s physical condition at the time of administration of test is admissible.

State v. Corder, 854 S.W.2d 653 (1992) — DUI conviction can be achieved using circumstantial evidence.

State v. Lemacks, 996 S.W.2d 166 (1999) — Defendant who allowed his friend to drive car while friend was ‘very intoxicated’ was guilty of a DUI based on theory of defendant’s criminal responsibility for permitting his friend to drive.

State v. Beech, 744 S.W.2d 585 (1987) — Defendant’s convictions for DUI and possession of marijuana was proper in light of testimony of arresting officer who observed driver weave across lanes, turn off headlights while driving, and who witnessed defendant drop a bag of marijuana during his arrest.