Tennessee’s “No Refusal” Law May Violate Your RightsFor the last few years, Tennessee has been running “no refusal” campaigns around the holidays in various parts of the state. (So far, Sevier County has escaped participation.) The supposed goal of the campaigns is to stop people from drinking and driving. In reality, these campaigns attempt to short-cut important constitutional protections by essentially forcing drivers to submit to a blood test.

The THP can do this because of an amendment to the law in 2012, which allows them to “seek search warrants” and then subject the driver to the blood test by court order by having readily-available magistrates on site. The problem with this amendment, of course, it that it forces drivers to take a test when there may not have been probable cause to do so – and that is in violation of your rights.

What Tennessee’s DUI laws actually say: implied consent and your right to refusal

The most recent incarnation of the law (as of 2014) says this:

“Any person who drives a motor vehicle in this state

[of Tennessee] 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. However, no such test or tests may be administered pursuant to this section unless conducted at the direction of a law enforcement officer having reasonable grounds to believe the person was driving while under the influence of alcohol, a drug, any other intoxicant or any combination of alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicants” (emphasis ours).

In layman’s terms, this means that when you drive in Tennessee, you automatically grant consent to be tested for driving under the influence so long as the officer has reasonable grounds to believe you are under the influence of alcohol.

However, the law also says this:

“Any law enforcement officer who requests that the driver of a motor vehicle submit to either or both tests authorized pursuant to this section, for the purpose of determining the alcohol or drug content, or both, of the driver’s blood, shall, prior to conducting either test or tests, advise the driver that refusal to submit to the test or tests will result in the suspension by the court of the driver’s operator’s license” (emphasis ours).

Thus, you have the right to refuse the test, even if it means your driver’s license will be automatically suspended.

Why might someone refuse to take the test?

There are several reasons people decline to subject themselves to testing, especially since most counties draw blood. Most motorists are not inclined to want to travel with an officer to a hospital just to have vials of blood taken by a nurse in the Emergency Room. Further, not all DUI stops are legal. In fact, one of the most important things we do as DUI defense attorneys is look into whether the officer had reasonable suspicion or probable cause to support his stop of a motorist in the first place.

For example: let us say that you swerved over a double line, and an officer pulls you over. Although swerving while driving may be a result of being too intoxicated to drive, it also happens when you are distracted, when a squirrel runs out in the front of the car, or when you are trying to take a corner turn and the air pressure if off in your tires. A THP officer might be in his or her rights to ticket you for your driving, but not to seek a search warrant and demand a blood test – a blood test you will be compelled to submit to even if you are not intoxicated, and even if you exercise your right to refuse.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that not every county in Tennessee is participating. According to the state’s website, the only counties involved in this year’s holiday campaign were:

  • Davidson (Nashville District)
  • Hamilton (Chattanooga District)
  • Hardin (Jackson District)
  • Knox (Knoxville District)
  • Lawrence (Lawrenceburg District)
  • Putnam (Cookeville District)
  • Shelby (Memphis District)
  • Washington (Fall Branch District)

So if you take a trip form Sevierville to Knoxville, you could be subject to an entirely different set of rules, which can make it even more confusing for you to exercise your rights.

At the Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, we protect the rights of Tennessee residents and visitors. If you were subject to a blood test by means of a court-ordered warrant, or if you are facing DUI charges, we invite you to contact us and learn more about your options. From our office in Sevierville, our DUI defense attorneys serve clients in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and across Tennessee.