Implied Consent Law in Tennessee
Few statutes are as complex, and generate as much litigation, as the implied consent statute (Tennessee Code Annotated 55-10-406) in Tennessee. The purpose of the statute is to advise officers and citizens of the circumstances in which an officer can request, and sometimes require, a person to submit to a chemical test (blood or breath) to determine the amount of alcohol in their system at the time. In laymen's terms, "implied consent" means that when a person drives on a public road in Tennessee, that person is implicitly consenting to giving a breath test if an officer has "probable cause" to believe that the person has committed DUI or a related offense, such as vehicular assault or vehicular homicide.
In July of 2017, the Implied Consent Statute was the subject of sweeping changes that altered the procedure for chemical tests and the consequences for refusing them. In line with recent Tennessee and United States' Supreme Court decisions, the new Tennessee Implied Consent Statute now provides specific guidance for the administration of blood and breath tests.
In short, it the new Tennessee Implied Consent Statute makes it easier for an officer to administer a breath test to individuals that they believe are operating a vehicle, or have operated a vehicle, under the influence of an intoxicant. An "intoxicant", can include alcohol, narcotic drugs, or any substance that affects the central nervous system. If the person refuses the breath test, and the officer has properly advised that person of the consequences for refusing the test, then the refusal will result in the suspension of the person's license for one year, among other consequences.
Under the new Tennessee Implied Consent Statute, it is now a misdemeanor criminal offense to refuse to refuse a breath test in certain circumstances. Most notably, an individual may now be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor for refusing a breath test if:
- The individual was involved in an accident that resulted in the injury or death of another person.
- The officer has properly procured a lawful search warrant.
- The individual has a prior conviction for DUI or a related offense.
- The individual is travelling with a passenger younger than 16.
An individual may also be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor for refusing a blood test if the officer has procured a lawful search warrant or if "one (1) or more of the recognized exigent circumstances to the search warrant requirement exist." However the new statute does clarify that an officer may not rely on "implied consent" to justify a blood draw. Rather, the subject must give actual, voluntary consent, or the officer is required to get a warrant, unless there are "exigent circumstances" that make it nearly impossible for the officer to get a warrant.
What does all this mean to a person who just wants to know what to say when an officer asks if you will agree to a blood draw or breath test? The answer is complicated, and will vary on a case-by-case basis. Protecting yourself in these situations means hiring an attorney who understands Tennessee Implied Consent and DUI law, and can use that knowledge to limit the damage to your life personally and professionally. If you or a loved one has been charged with an alcohol related driving offense, contact the attorneys at the Law Office of James A.H. Bell as soon as possible at (865) 637-2900.