It was supposed to be a fun night of dinner theatre for you and the family. You went to see the production of Little Women at The Larry Keaton Theatre and you brought that special bottle of Chardonnay you had been saving to have with the meal. Although you meant to share the wine with your wife, you ended up drinking most of the bottle yourself. You insisted you were "fine" when your wife asked whether she should drive. Truth was you were a little tipsy. You got to Lebanon Pike and next thing you knew there were lights behind you. Then you were pulled over and charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI). What happens now? What should you do? Here is some basic information to help you with your DUI in the Music City.
The Law in Tennessee
Tennessee DUI aw provides that it is unlawful to drive or "be in physical control" of a motor driven vehicle on any of the public roads and highways, on any streets or alleys, and a variety of other public areas while under the influence of any intoxicant or with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher.
If you are convicted of even a basic first offense DUI, the penalties can be severe and can include fines, suspension of your driver's license, jail time and participation in a litter removal program while wearing a vest that identifies you as a "drunk driver."
What Happens During The Traffic Stop?
If you are pulled over on suspicion of Driving Under the Influence in Nashville, it is likely that it is by an officer from the Tennessee Highway Patrol or the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.
Generally speaking, there must be reasonable suspicion of criminal activity (e.g. erratic driving, illegal turn, etc.) before the officer can pull you over for a DUI stop. Once you have been stopped, the officer will usually ask you a few questions and ask you to submit to a field sobriety test. These tests are used to assist the officer determine whether you are, in fact, impaired. You are not required to take these tests.
If he has probable cause, the officer will likely place you under arrest. You will then be asked to submit to a chemical test to measure the alcohol content in your body. Tennessee is an "implied consent" state, which means that by driving in Tennessee, you have already agreed to take such a test. You may refuse to take the test under certain circumstances, but there are penalties for doing so.
Booking and Bail
After you are arrested, you will likely be taken to the police station or jail for "booking." During this process, you will usually be fingerprinted and photographed, and all of your contact information will be entered into the system.
In order to be released you may have to post bail (money that guarantees you will show up at your scheduled court date) or you may be released on your own recognizance (essentially, your promise that you will show up at your scheduled court date).
See the FindLaw section on DUI Booking and Bail for additional information about the process.
Your first court date will probably be the arraignment. Typically during this hearing the criminal charges will be read against you, you will be asked how you plead (guilty, not guilty or no contest) and you will be advised of the upcoming court dates. An attorney from the office of the District Attorney General for the 20th Judicial District will prosecute the case.
It may be a good idea to retain a defense attorney to represent your interests. DUI cases can be complicated and having a specialist represent you can help minimize the negative consequences a DUI can have on your personal, professional, and social life. For more information about why a DUI lawyer is important and what to expect from one, you may want to refer to the FindLaw section on using a DUI lawyer. If you cannot afford an attorney, contact the Public Defender's office to see whether they can help you.
Depending on the specifics of your case you may have additional court appearances, such as a preliminary hearing or even a trial.
As noted, the penalties associated with a DUI conviction vary depending on whether you have previous convictions, whether injury or death resulted, and other factors. Here is a useful outline from the Public Safety division of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security that shows some of the consequences.
Under certain circumstances, you may be eligible to apply for a restricted license, which can allow you to drive to and from specified locations (such as school or work). Here is some additional information regarding the requirements for obtaining a restricted license and some common reasons for being denied one.