What is DUI and its criminal penalty?

What is Driving Under Influence (DUI), or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) under Tennessee law? A driver would be considered as driving “under the influence” if the following two conditions are met:

  • Driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or greater, or
  • Driving under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, controlled substance, controlled substance analog, drug, substance that impairs the driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle by depriving the driver of the clearness of mind and control of oneself.



In Tennessee DUI is a criminal charge classified as a misdemeanor. But as with any criminal charge, a person charged with DWI or DUI is presumed to innocent until proven guilty. When a person is convicted of a DUI, the judge will decide the appropriate jail time and fines. Jail time and fines may be increased under certain aggravating circumstances. Penalties may also be decided based on whether a person is a first, second or third time offender. The following chart indicates the jail time and fines under the Tennessee DUI law:


1st offense 2nd offense 3rd offense
Jail 48 hours to 11 months, 29 days (minimum 7 days if .20% BAC or more) 45 days to 11 months, 29 days 120 days to 11 months, 29 days
Fines $350 to $1, 500 $600 to $3, 500 $1,100 to $10, 000



For any first time DUI offender, Tennessee provides the opportunity for a probation after the minimum jail sentence is served, pending the discretion of the sentencing judge. That is, the convicted DUI driver shall remove litter during the daylight hours from public roadways or publicly owned property for a period of twenty-four (24) hours in three (3) shifts of eight (8) consecutive hours each.

For the person convicted of second or third DUI offense, the sentencing judge shall order the person to participate in a “substance abuse treatment” program and follow any recommendations authorized by the department of mental health and substance abuse services. Completing that program constitutes a condition of probation, and thus the court shall order the person committed to the jail to serve the full period of mandatory minimum confinement or any remaining portion of confinement in excess of the minimum imposed by the court. [T.C.A. § 55-10-402 (h)(4)].

Whether the judge grants a substance abuse treatment as a condition of probation is solely within the judge’s discretion. Failure to grant such person such treatment is not appealable, except for abuse of discretion. [T.C.A. § 55-10-402 (i)(1)]



However, DUIL or DWI may also be classified as a felony punishable by several months to several years. Under T.C.A. § 55-10-402, a person convicted for fourth or subsequent offense shall be sentenced as a felon to serve not less than one hundred fifty (150) consecutive days nor more than the maximum punishment within the range of Class E felony.

There are other aggravating circumstances that can lead to stricter sentencing. For instance, if at the time of the offence, the person was accompanied by a child under eighteen (18) years of age, the person’s sentence shall be enhanced by a mandatory minimum period of incarceration of thirty (30) days. The mandatory jail term shall be served in addition to any period of incarceration received for the DUI offense. [T.C.A. § 55-10-402]

If the child suffers serious bodily injury as the proximate result of the person’s violation of DUI, then the person commits a Class D felony on the charge of vehicular assault. The court shall impose a mandatory minimum sentence of forty-eight (48) consecutive hours of incarceration. No release from confinement on probation shall be allowed until the entire 48-hour minimum mandatory sentence has been served. The court shall also prohibit the convicted person from driving a vehicle for a period of one (1) year. [T.C.A. § 39-13-106]

If the child was killed, the person commits a Class B felony on the charge of vehicular homicide. [T.C.A. § 39-13-213] Like a Class D felon, any sentence imposed for a first time DUI violator shall include a mandatory minimum sentence of forty-eight (48) consecutive hours of incarceration, and the person shall not be eligible for release from confinement on probation until the entire 48-hour minimum mandatory sentence has  been served. But more serious than Class D felony, the court shall prohibit the convicted person from driving for a longer period of time, not less than three (3) years nor more than ten (10) years.

Sentence length will depend on criminal history and other factors like injuries. In the case of aggravated vehicular homicide, or killing another while drunk driving with at least two prior DUIs, vehicular assaults, or a prior vehicular homicide or one prior DUI and a BAC of .20 is a Class A Felony subject to 15-60 years in prison and a fine of up to $50, 000.


More Questions?

If you are facing a DUI charge in Tennessee and want to reach out to an experienced attorney to learn about your conditions and option, please call our office at 615-369-7069. We will do our best to get you back in the driver’s seat as soon as possible.

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