Must I Take a Chemical Test When Stopped for Drunken Driving?
Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious criminal offense, and one of only a few that requires mandatory incarceration. If you are found guilty of drunk driving, you are subject to time in jail, loss of license, fines, court costs, and other penalties.
Any person who drives in the State of Tennessee is deemed to have given consent to a test for determining the alcohol or drug content of their blood, provided the test is administered at the direction of a police officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that the person was driving while under the influence of an intoxicant or drug. The arresting officer may choose whether to administer a blood, urine, or breath test.
Prior to requesting the suspected driver to submit to a test, the officer must advise him or her that refusal to submit to the test will result in a revocation of the driver’s license by the court. Failure of the officer to advise the driver of this fact may prevent the court from imposing any penalty associated with the refusal.
These tests are designed to determine your blood alcohol or drug level––to find out how much alcohol or drugs is in your bloodstream. The test results can be used against you in court as evidence of your intoxication. Evidence of a blood-alcohol level of .08% or higher would be sufficient to convict a person of DUI, even if he or she appeared sober and was driving normally. Evidence of a blood-alcohol level of .20% or higher may automatically lead to more time in jail if convicted of DUI.
You may request to contact your attorney prior to taking the test; however, the police do not have to wait until you’ve consulted an attorney before requesting the test. You do have the right to have a blood or urine sample tested by a laboratory of your choice at your own expense, but only after you take the test that the police administer. Even where you refuse to take the test offered by the arresting officer, the police may not interfere with your attempt to obtain an independent sample.
If you are found to have violated the Implied Consent law, the trial court will revoke your driving privilege for twelve (12) months. In deciding whether to suspend your license, the court must consider three things. First, the officer must have had reasonable grounds to believe that the driver was driving while intoxicated or drugged. Second, the officer must have properly advised the driver of the legal consequences for refusing to take the test. Finally, the driver must have refused to submit to the test when requested. Of course, there may be other issues in your particular case, and you may want to consult an attorney for advice about such a hearing.
Remember that you are not required by law to take the test, but your refusal to do so may subject you to a revocation of your driver’s license. The results can be used against you in a court of law if you are tried on charges of driving under the influence. Should you refuse to take the test, that refusal may likewise be used as evidence. If you have refused to take the test, your license may be suspended even if you are later found not guilty of the Driving Under the Influence charge.
Even though an attorney can’t be with you at the time of the test or in any way prevent you from having to take it, you may consult an attorney if you feel your rights have been violated in any way.
Should I Fight a Traffic Ticket?
If you have received a traffic ticket that you feel you did not deserve, you may wonder whether it is worth your time to go to court or if you should simply pay the fine. Traffic violations are difficult to fight. For this reason, many people who receive traffic tickets do not bother to go to court, even though they believe a court appearance might clear their record of the violation for which they have been cited. You will have to decide for yourself whether you want to take the time to fight a ticket. However, if you are concerned about your driving record and protecting your automobile insurance, or if there are unusual circumstances––for instance, if you have been given a speeding ticket while rushing someone to the hospital––you should think over your decision carefully.
People normally associate traffic tickets with the ordinance violations heard in municipal, or city court. However, motor vehicle offenses also include crimes for which you can be arrested, and are actually divided into three categories: City ordinance violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. Traffic tickets are always issued in lieu of an arrest for municipal ordinance violations, sometimes issued for misdemeanor offenses, and never issued for felony offenses.
A city ordinance violation––for example speeding or failure to stop at a stop sign––is punishable by a fine only but no imprisonment. Drivers charged with a violation are not placed under arrest, but instead are given a ticket which serves as a summons to court. A driver who receives a ticket has the option of mailing payment of costs and a fine to the court in lieu of a personal appearance, or appearing in court on the designated date to contest the charge or plead guilty to the violation. There may be a hearing before the judge, but no jury trial. Cases are heard in the municipal court for the city or town where the violation occurred.
By contrast, a misdemeanor traffic offense is punishable by a fine and up to 11 months and 29 days in a county workhouse. There will be a jury trial unless it is waived––that is, unless you and the prosecutor do not want a jury to hear the case and are willing to let a judge decide the case. A felony traffic violation––vehicular homicide, for instance––is punishable by a minimum term of one (1) year in state prison. There will be a jury trial unless you and the prosecutor choose to waive it.
Except for city ordinance violations, a person who is charged with a traffic offense has the same rights as any accused person. You are entitled to be represented by an attorney if you like and an attorney may be appointed by the court for those who cannot afford one. In fact, if you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony, you should seriously consider consulting with a lawyer. As to city ordinance violations, you have no right to a jury trial or a court-appointed attorney because there is no possibility of your going to jail or prison. You may, however, seek to have an attorney represent you for an ordinance violation.
If you cannot afford an attorney, but you still feel that you are innocent of the act of the traffic violation or that there are unusual circumstances in your case, by all means insist on a trial of your case and insist that the prosecutor prove your guilt. Before you go to court, prepare your case. Check the law you are accused of violating to make certain you understand it. If pictures will help your case, bring them to court. Bring any witnesses, especially people who were in the car with you at the time of the alleged violation.
Make your defense in as clear and simple terms as possible. Avoid legal terms that you do not understand. Just tell your own story the way you see it. The Court is usually very helpful to people without lawyers. Tell the truth and present your case as carefully as you can.
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