Changes to ‘toughen’ DUI law

Becky Campbell • Jun 25, 2012 at 10:36 PM

Starting next week, a driver’s refusal to submit to a blood test when an officer has valid suspicion of intoxication will be virtually meaningless.

It’s a restructuring of Tennessee’s DUI law regarding forced blood draws for blood alcohol content tests.

Another new aspect of the state’s DUI laws increases punishment for someone convicted of DUI if they had a child under age 18 in the vehicle at the time of the offense.

Assistant District Attorney Robin Ray said the changes will toughen the DUI law in Tennessee.

On the blood draw issue, the new law eliminates the need for the driver suspected of DUI to voluntarily submit to a blood test if the officer has cause to believe they are under the influence.

It does, however, require the officer to obtain a search warrant signed by a judge to force the person to submit to the blood test.

“For the most part, we’ll always have a blood result if the officer chooses to get a search warrant” when the driver refuses, Ray said.

“A result alone doesn’t mean you’ll get a conviction because sometimes a jury may feel sorry for the defendant or just like the defendant,” she said.

“This doesn’t change the fact we’ll continue to prosecute cases to the best of our ability.”

The new law has no effect on situations that already allow officers to get blood from a driver suspected of DUI when the driver refuses the test.

Those situations include a vehicular homicide, if a child is in the car with the suspected DUI driver or if there is any injury involved in a vehicle crash and the officer suspects the driver is intoxicated. The crash does not have to be the fault of the driver suspected of DUI, Ray said.

On the child endangerment aspect of the DUI law, those convicted of DUI who had a child under age 18 in the car at the time of the offense, there are enhanced jail time and fines.

The fine is $1,000 and the person must serve 30 days in jail. Those are in addition to any fines or jail time associated with the DUI conviction, Ray said.

She said state law was previously allowed the additional punishment and fine, but in the mid-2000s legislators merged the enhancements with the standard DUI punishments.

“In doing so they took the teeth out of the enhancement. I don’t think they realized what it would result in,” Ray said.

The new portions of the DUI law take effect Sunday.

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