We were retained to represent a young man in Wilson County, charged with Driving Under the Influence, First Offense, after his truck allegedly crashed into a guardrail on Interstate 40. Driving Under the Influence, First Offense, is a Class A Misdemeanor. If convicted of a DUI First Offense, there is a minimum jail sentence of 48 hours, with a potential maximum jail sentence of 11 months and 29 days. Furthermore, a person convicted of a DUI First Offense loses his/her driver’s license for a period of 1 year. Finally, a conviction for a DUI First Offense results in a minimum fine of $350.00, plus additional court costs.
In this case, the client consented to having his blood taken. In Tennessee, the operator of a vehicle is deemed to have given implied consent to blood tests for the purpose of determining the alcohol or drug content of that operator’s blood. However, no such blood test may be administered unless the officer has probable cause to believe the operator was driving while under the influence, and the operator signs a written waiver of their constitutional rights. Probable cause in DUI cases can arise from several factors such as a wreck, blood shot eyes, slurred speech, the smell of alcohol or controlled substances, the presence of alcohol in plain view in the vehicle, and statements made by the operator. The waiver signed by the operator, is a standardized waiver developed by the Department of Safety. If the operator refuses to sign the waiver, the law enforcement officer may apply to the Judicial Commissioner for a search warrant that allows him to obtain and test the blood of the operator and determine his/her
Our office was able to obtain body camera footage of the interaction between our client and the law enforcement officer after he arrived to the scene. Upon reviewing, we were able to catch a mistake in the explanation of the waiver by the law enforcement officer to our client. Rather than stating that the officer could apply for a search warrant if our client did not consent, the officer stated that he would get a search warrant and get our client’s blood either way. This is incorrect and misleading, since the Judicial Commissioner could deny the officer’s application for a search warrant, preventing the officer from obtaining our client’s blood at all. A person’s body is a constitutionally protected area, just like a home, under the Fourth Amendment. The government cannot enter a person’s body to obtain and test blood without a valid search warrant, or a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights. If there is not a valid search warrant or valid consent, a Judge could suppress the blood results from coming into evidence at trial. Prior to having a hearing in General Sessions, our office was able to negotiate with the State and explain that the consent waiver our client signed might have not been a knowing, intelligent, voluntary waiver based on the officer’s incorrect explanation of the law. After much discussion, the State agreed the officer had incorrectly explained the law to our client, which could affect the validity of the waiver and ultimately, the blood results.
Attention to detail and expertise in case law helped prepare our firm in dealing with this case, and ultimately helped us negotiate a DUI First Offense charge down to Reckless Endangerment. A big win for our client in Wilson County.