DUI Checkpoints in Tennessee- What’s Legal, and What’s Not

You’ve been out to dinner with some friends, and you had a drink or two. You’re sure you’re fine: you ate a big meal, you were there for hours, and you feel sober. As you’re driving home, you see the ominous line of cars and flashing blue lights and realize you’ve stumbled into a DUI checkpoint. 

We understand that these checkpoints can be nerve wracking, even when you haven’t had a glass of wine with dinner. There are some strict rules about what you can and cannot do – and what law enforcement can and cannot do – when it comes to checkpoints, and today we want to address those rules and regulations.  

Are DUI checkpoints even legal in Tennessee? 

The short answer is yes, they are. Law enforcement has the right to set up sobriety checkpoints whenever and wherever they feel it is necessary because the dangers of drunk driving are greater than the risk to your privacy. Furthermore, Tennessee has implied consent laws on the books; simply by getting behind the wheel of your car, truck or motorcycle, you have already given your consent to be tested if there is reasonable cause for the cop to do so. So, if you go through a checkpoint and the officer believes you might be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then your consent to a chemical test is implied. The rules used be stricter about those tests, but a 2016 Supreme Court ruling changed the game a bit. 

Does Tennessee have to announce where the checkpoints are? 

Yes, it does. Tennessee Highway Patrol is required to provide a list of upcoming checkpoint enforcement locations, along with dates, so you can avoid them entirely. Failure to provide adequate and proper notice of a DUI checkpoint can render the checkpoint illegal. 

You can find the DUI checkpoint enforcement list here, on the TN Department of Safety & Homeland Security website. Sevier County DUI checkpoints are listed, so check the dates and places before you go out.  

Do I have to go through a DUI checkpoint? 

You are not required to go through a DUI checkpoint. If you can legally turn around before you enter the line, then you are free to do so.  

Can I be pulled over for drug use at a DUI checkpoint? 

Legally, driving under the influence can include alcohol or drugs. While there is no such thing as an approved roadside test for drug use, law enforcement can use other “signs” – bloodshot eyes, incoherence, slurred speech patterns, etc. – to say they have reason to arrest you for suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs.  

Do I have to submit to breath and/or field sobriety tests at a DUI checkpoint? 

You have the right to refuse the tests, both at the checkpoint or even at the station. There are good reasons to refuse these tests. Breath test machines are notoriously unreliable, and field sobriety tests cannot account for mitigating circumstances. Denying a test also denies police a crucial piece of “evidence” to use against you.  

However, if you refuse to provide blood or breath after an officer has formed probable cause, you may lose your license anyway as a penalty for failing to comply with the implied consent law.   

Can law enforcement search my car at a DUI checkpoint? 

If they don’t have probable cause or a warrant, law enforcement cannot search your car at a DUI checkpoint. If they ask to search your car, you are legally within your rights to say “no.”  

What do I do if I get arrested for DUI at a checkpoint? 

If you go through a DUI checkpoint and are arrested for driving under the influence, call a lawyer as soon as possible. Even a first-time DUI conviction will result in jail time and fines. Our Sevierville DUI defense attorneys have represented clients who were arrested for driving under the influence after going through a checkpoint. There ARE defenses available to you. We may argue: 

  • The checkpoint stop was illegal, and therefore any “evidence” obtained during the stop must be excluded.
  • The search of your car was illegal, and therefore a violation of your Constitutional rights. 
  • Errors were made with the roadside tests or breath tests at the station, including using non-standard tests. 
  • There are mitigating circumstances that would make it impossible for you to perform a test. 

We argue to have your charges dropped entirely. If we cannot, we will argue to have the purported evidence against you suppressed.  

Remember: you don’t have to answer any questions. Don’t be rude – yelling and screaming won’t help – but you don’t need to do any more than politely hand over your license, registration, and insurance cards. Have these documents ready in advance so that you aren’t fumbling around should an officer ask you for them. You do not have to admit you had anything to drink or provide any additional information. 

At Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, our Tennessee DUI attorneys fight on behalf of drivers and passengers charged with DUIs in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Seymour, Gatlinburg, and the surrounding areas. To find out more about what we do, or to schedule a consultation with an experienced Sevierville DUI defense attorney, please call 865-428-8780, or fill out our contact form.