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New DUI Legislation in Tennessee
Tennessee has passed new legislation preventing people who are stopped for driving under the influence from refusing to take a breath test or provide a blood sample in certain instances. The new law, which takes effect January 1, 2012, requires law enforcement officials to take the samples with or without the driver's consent if the driver has a prior DUI conviction or is driving with a child in the car under the age of 16.
Under the current law, breath and blood tests were only mandated after an accident that involved an injury or death. While courts have upheld this required testing in these situations for the past 20 years, drivers have never had an actual right to refuse the tests. The refusal was based upon Tennessee's theory of implied consent. This resulted in the suspension of the operator's driver's license when he or she refused the test. The length of the suspension depended upon how many prior offenses the driver had and if the driver was involved a wreck that caused an injury or fatality.
According to proponents of the new changes, the previous law was failing to accomplish its goal and drivers would continue to drive under the suspended license.
Of the 4,000 multiple offender DUI arrests each year in Tennessee, about 41 percent of those refuse to submit to breath or chemical testing. The average blood alcohol content (BAC) level of a multiple offender is .15 according to the Century Council. The National Traffic Safety Board notes that hard-core drinkers - multiple offenders and those with a BAC of .15 percent at the time of arrest - account for only 1 percent of the population but are involved in 70 percent of wrecks related to alcohol consumption.
The new changes have raised serious constitutional questions regarding the admission of these test results at trial. Under current Tennessee law, jurors are not allowed to hear about previous convictions until they find the defendant guilty of the current offense. The new law undermines this by requiring the test, which means jurors will always get to hear the test results.
This change shows that law enforcement officials and prosecutors will continue to aggressively pursue DUI cases. For those facing drunk driving charges, it is important to contact an experienced attorney to discuss their options.