What Does the Implied Consent Law Mean in Tennessee?
In Tennessee, “implied consent” means that by driving within Tennessee, you have given your consent to submit to a blood and/or breath test for alcohol, if there is probable cause to believe you’ve committed an offense such as DUI.
All 50 states in the country have some type of “implied consent” law, and many of them are similar. While a separate hearing may be held regarding an implied consent violation, many jurisdictions in Tennessee do not enforce them and use the violation as leverage in the ultimate DUI prosecution.
Breath and Blood Tests:
TCA § 55-10-406(d)(1)
“The operator of a motor vehicle in this state is deemed to have given implied consent to breath tests, blood tests, or both tests, for the purpose of determining the alcohol or drug content of that operator's blood. However, no such tests may be administered pursuant to this section unless conducted at the direction of a law enforcement officer having probable cause to believe the operator was in violation of one (1) or more of the offenses set out in subsection (a) and the operator signs a standardized waiver developed by the department of safety and made available to law enforcement agencies.”
As mentioned in the first part of the statute, consent is not implicitly given in every situation, but it is when there is enough probable cause to believe you have committed an offense in subsection a. This includes the crimes DUI, Vehicular Assault, and Vehicular Homicide. So unless an officer has reason to believe you are under the influence, the implied consent law in Tennessee does not apply to the common, minor traffic infractions like speeding or busted lights.
One of the other ways implied consent differs between states is the penalty for refusing a test. An officer is always allowed to ask you to submit to searches and testing, and in many situations, you maintain the right to say no. Implied consent works a little differently, and as long as probable cause exists, like mentioned before, you have given up your right to say no by driving. Because you have already impliedly given your consent to a test by operating a vehicle, refusing a test carries certain administrative penalties in Tennessee:
TCA § 55-10-406(d)(2)
“Any law enforcement officer who requests that the operator of a motor vehicle submit to breath tests, blood tests, or both tests, authorized pursuant to subsection (a), shall, prior to conducting the test, advise the operator that refusal to submit to the tests:
Will result in the suspension by the court of the operator’s driver's license; and
May result, depending on the operator's prior criminal history, in the operator being required to operate only a motor vehicle equipped with a functioning ignition interlock device if the operator is convicted of a violation of § 55-10-401, as described in § 55-10-405.”
As mentioned above, refusing a test will result in a suspended license, and may result in having to install an interlock device on your vehicle, if you end up convicted of DUI specifically.
In jurisdictions where they do not attempt to get warrants for blood, this can be a helpful part of your defense. Oftentimes, the goal is to have a guilty plea to the implied consent which is a civil penalty, and then get the criminal DUI charge dismissed.
This is important to consider as a driver, because even if you do refuse, an officer may still apply for a search warrant for the evidence of alcohol within your blood. If granted, a search warrant does not require your consent, and even though you refused, a test may still be performed legally.
Once blood is obtained via search warrant, the implied consent charge is effectively moot and will not be proceeded on.
In any situation, it is always best to speak to an attorney about the specific facts of your case.