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Know your rights if you're pulled over for DUI in Tennessee

Being pulled over for a DUI can be terrifying. Whether you're actually over the limit or not, you should know what your legal rights and options are before you decide what to do. Here is a quick Q&A:

What should I do if the police pull me over?

Remain calm and do not panic. Pull over in the nearest safe location. Reduce the risk of misunderstandings by presenting yourself as non-threatening and compliant. Some tips include:

  • Turn off the car, switch on the interior light and open the window a few inches.
  • Extinguish any cigarettes and put down any objects you are holding.
  • Place your hands on the wheel and keep them there.
  • Avoid any sudden movements.
  • When the officer asks for your license and insurance card, explain where they are located and that you are going to reach for them. For example, say, "my ID is in my back pocket. I'm going to reach for it now."

Do I have to take a breathalyzer test?

No, but there are serious consequences if you refuse. Under Tennessee law, drivers who use our roads implicitly consent to take a breath or blood test when ordered by a police officer. Refusal to do so results in the loss of your driver's license. You will lose your license for a year if you are arrested for a first-offense DUI without an accident -- two years for a second offense. The revocation is longer if you were involved in an accident.

You may still want to refuse, but that may not prevent a DUI charge. Even without the test, an officer's professional opinion that you were drunk can be enough for charges and even a conviction.

Do I have to perform field sobriety tests?

These are not required by law, so you can legally refuse. In fact, it may be a good idea to refuse these rather than fail them, as failing them provides evidence of your intoxication. How you do on the field sobriety tests will be the subjective determination of the officer administering them. If you do decide not to cooperate, be as polite and respectful as possible.

Can the police search my car?

Assuming you are suspected of DUI, the police have somewhat limited rights to search. However, they can typically search the interior of your car for weapons. If the officer asks for your consent for a search, resist the urge to comply. Say, "I do not consent to any searches." This may not prevent a search, but it protects your rights in the event a court finds the search unreasonable.

If you are arrested, contact an experienced DUI defense attorney as soon as possible.

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