Capitol Hill Review: State legislators tackle issues involving DUI and testing laws
by Eric Watson
Nov 04, 2012 | 828 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Legislation was approved by the 2012 General Assembly requiring blood alcohol testing or a breath sample for a suspected drunk driver who violates the state’s implied consent law if a court order or search warrant is issued.

Under present law, persons are charged with violating the state’s “implied consent” law if they refuse to be tested, but they must give up the right to drive, unless they are being charged for the first time, in which an exception can be made for travel to and from work for a period of one year. This applies even if the suspect is found not guilty.

The implied consent legislation passed this year clarifies that the provision regarding not administering the blood alcohol content, or BAC, test if the person refuses to submit does not apply if testing is mandated by a court order or search warrant. The new law also applies to testing mandated if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that the driver of a motor vehicle involved in an accident resulting in the injury or death of another is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security reported 2,241 drivers were convicted for rejecting the tests during the last one-year reporting period.

A new law was approved which authorizes judges to order the use of an ignition interlock device for any person granted a restricted driver license. The order may be with or without geographical restrictions, but if the device is ordered, then it must remain on the vehicle during the entire period of the restricted license. The Department of Safety reported a total of 22,119 DUI convictions during the last one-year reporting period.

State legislators approved House Bill 2750 which brings clarity to Tennessee’s law regarding driving while under the influence of prescription drugs. The legislation ensures that state law does not provide an excuse or a defense for offenders who do not have physical control of their vehicles due to them being under the influence of an intoxicant drug prescribed lawfully.

A new law was passed that ensures a multiple DUI offender receives the appropriate punishment when he or she endangers a child in their vehicle by driving under the influence. Currently, multiple offenders do not receive an enhanced sentence like first offenders due to ambiguity in the language of a 2005 law which enhanced penalties for child endangerment for DUI offenders. House Bill 2751 makes sure state law is clear for multiple DUI offenders that the punishment for child endangerment, which is 30 days, runs consecutively with any other sentence received.

Parties and their counsel will now have financial incentive not to file frivolous claims under legislation passed by the General Assembly this year. When a trial court grants or denies a motion to dismiss for a claim deemed invalid under Tennessee law, reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees up to $10,000 can be paid to the prevailing party under the new law. This “loser pays” legislation, which encourages parties not to file lawsuits until they have confirmed they have a claim that is valid, is an important protection for small businesses.