Supreme Court Ruling on Implied Consent Laws Will Affect Tennessee’s Laws, TooEvery state in the country has their own laws when it comes to DUI. All states also have some form of “implied consent” laws that require drivers to submit to blood alcohol tests. The U.S. Supreme Court in the recent case of Birchfield v. North Dakota has weighed in on these laws, causing uncertainty for how states should proceed in implied consent cases and changing the landscape of law in this area.

A common nationwide penalty for drunk driving and refused submission to blood alcohol or breath tests is driver’s license suspension. However, Tennessee and ten other states have extra layers of punishment for refused submission, and this U.S. Supreme Court ruling could potentially improve Tennessee’s ability to punish those that refuse to consent to BAC tests. Further, the Supreme Court ruling potentially limits drivers’ right to refuse warrantless submissions to BAC tests by breathalyzer.

What are the current laws regarding implied consent in Tennessee?

Under current Tennessee state law, if a driver is arrested for DUI, he or she is deemed to have given “implied consent” to submit to a blood alcohol, breath, and/or urine test in order to determine whether he or she is truly impaired. This implied consent statute provides that if an officer arrests a driver and has probable cause that said driver was driving under the influence, then that driver has the option of submitting to a BAC test of the officer’s choosing. Should the driver refuse to submit to the test, any refusal to submit to a blood alcohol, breath, and/or urine test leads to penalties. Generally, that penalty is suspension of the driver’s license; however, in certain situations, violation of implied consent can be a separate criminal charge. Even if the driver prevails in having the DUI charge dismissed, his or her license may still be taken as a punishment for violating the implied consent statute.

What are the current penalties for implied consent and DUI in Tennessee?

Punishment for refused chemical test submission starts with authorities suspending the arrestee’s driver’s license. The suspension of a first-time offender’s driver’s license usually lasts twelve months, unless the suspension came about due to an auto accident that led to another individual sustaining severe injuries or death; then the suspension can last up to five years. Moreover, if a driver refused to submit to a blood alcohol, breath, and/or urine test a second time, the suspension of his or her driver’s license lasts longer than two years, and the length of the suspension increases as the number of refused submissions increases.

A DUI arrestee also faces jail time and/or steep fines, which increase over time. For instance, a first-time offender faces at least 48 hours, but no more than eleven months in jail and a fine somewhere in the $350-$1,500 range. A second-time offender endures at least 45 days, but no more than twelve months in jail and pays a fine somewhere in the $600-$3,500 range. A third-time offender spends at least 120 days, but no more than twelve months in jail and pays a fine somewhere in the $1,100-$10,000 range, and a fourth-time offender spends at least 150 days, but no more than six years in jail and faces a fine somewhere in the $3,000-$15,000 range.

How does the Supreme Court’s ruling affect this?

Interestingly, the Supreme Court in Birchfield decided to draw a distinction between the constitutional protections afforded a breath test and blood test. Tennessee law has considered the constitutional principles surrounding both blood and breath tests with the same analysis; however, the Supreme Court has stated that the Fourth Amendment permits warrantless breath tests incident to arrest for a drunk driver but that blood tests, which are more intrusive, require a warrant.

The Supreme Court specifically ruled that “

[m]otorists may not be criminally punished for refusing to submit to a blood test based on legally implied consent to submit to them.” Thus, it appears that the criminal penalties for violation of the Tennessee’s implied consent statue are no longer constitutionally valid when the motorist refuses a blood test. However, a motorist may be criminally prosecuted for refusing a breath test. Regardless, the majority of implied consent prosecutions in Tennessee are civil in nature, therefore the Supreme Court’s holding does not drastically alter the available penalties in Tennessee law.

Before Birchfield, we have seen a shift in law enforcement favoring blood tests because they’re perceived to be more accurate. We believe that, since the Supreme Court has essentially waived the warrant requirement for administering breath tests, law enforcement will begin to start utilizing breathalyzer machines more frequently. Also, the Birchfield decision may cause state legislatures to start utilizing criminal penalties in implied consent cases where breath samples are requested and refused. This is potentially a major shift in DUI enforcement.

If you have been arrested and charged for driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol or another crime, contact the Sevierville criminal defense attorneys of Delius & McKenzie. We know what it takes to help you. To schedule an appointment with a member of our team, call us at (865) 428-8780 or fill out our contact form. We proudly serve Sevierville, Gatlinburg, Seymour and Pigeon Forge.