Changes In The DUI Implied Consent Law In Tennessee

In Tennessee under the Implied Consent statute, every driver has consented to having his or her blood drawn should a police officer have probable cause to believe that the driver is under the influence of an intoxicant.

Tennessee Code Annotated 55-10-406  states:

Any person who drives a motor vehicle in this state 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.

This means that by virtue of having been granted the privilege of holding a Tennessee driver’s license, you have, in effect, consented to a DUI, Blood, Consent, Tennesseemandatory blood draw. If the driver refuses to provide blood, the State will take away your driving privileges for one year.

That was good law until a March 11, 2014 ruling by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville in State of Tennessee v. James Dean Wells.

In this case, James Wells refused to have his blood drawn, so it was taken by force at a nearby hospital in Williamson County. The county had a magistrate on standby to prepare warrants 24 hours a day, but the arresting officer made no attempt to obtain one. Prosecutors at trial argued that no warrant was needed because there were exigent circumstances and the implied consent statute allowed it. The Defendant moved to suppress evidence of his blood alcohol content, alleging that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. The trial court granted the motion to suppress, concluding that the Implied Consent Statute was unconstitutional.

The State was granted permission to appeal, arguing that “the blood was taken under exigent circumstances and that the implied consent law functioned to satisfy the consent exception to the warrant requirement.”  The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling stating the evidence was obtained in violation of the Defendent’s Fourth Amendment rights, and, therefore, the blood evidence must be suppressed.

In writing for the Court, Judge John Everett Williams concluded:

While the state may attempt to persuade the accused to submit to a search by providing consequences for a failure to submit to a test ordered upon probable cause, we hold that the privilege of driving does not alone create consent for a forcible blood draw. Given the gravity of the intrusion into privacy inherent in a forcible blood draw, we conclude that such a search is not reasonable unless performed pursuant to a warrant or to an exception to the warrant requirement. The implied consent law does not, in itself, create such an exception.

If you have been charged with a DUI, you should seek the services of a competent criminal defense attorney who stays on top of Tennessee law and has experience in Davidson, Wilson and other middle Tennessee criminal courts. Contact Donna Wagner for a consultation.

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