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What happens if I refuse a breath alcohol test in Tennessee?

It could be a big deal, but you do have the right to refuse a breathalyzer test in Tennessee. Our state has an "implied consent" law. That means that the state presumes you consent to a breath or blood test upon being arrested for DUI or related charges. You can revoke that consent, but you will generally lose your driver's license.

You should also be aware that, even if you refuse the test, the officer may still be allowed to perform it if they get a warrant or there are "exigent circumstances."

The law requires that an officer shall administer a breath or blood test if any of the following circumstances exist:

  • Having been in an accident that involved an injury or death
  • Having a child under 16 in the car at the time of your arrest
  • Having a prior DUI or related conviction

If there is no warrant or exigent circumstances, you have the right to refuse to blow into a breathalyzer or have your blood tested. That said, you can be charged with the civil offense of refusal to submit to a blood alcohol test.

You could still end up being charged with DUI

Refusing a blood or breath test does not mean you won't be charged with DUI. It does deprive the state of evidence, but there may be other evidence that you were driving drunk. In fact, a trained officer's opinion that you were driving poorly and seemed intoxicated could be enough to convict you.

Penalties for refusal

The penalty for blood or alcohol test refusal depends on a couple of factors.

  • If this is your first offense and you weren't in an accident, the state could revoke your license for a year.
  • If you have one prior DUI conviction, the state could revoke your license for two years.
  • If you were involved in a crash with bodily injury, the state could revoke your license for two years.
  • If you were involved in a crash that caused a death, the state could revoke your license for five years.

You may be eligible for a restricted license

If the state suspends your license due to blood or breath test refusal, you may qualify for a restricted license. This type of license allows you to drive to work, school, and any court-ordered addiction treatment program. However, the court may require you to install and maintain an ignition interlock device on your car at your own expense.

Have you refused a breathalyzer or blood test?

If you have made the decision to refuse a blood or breath test, you should contact an attorney. Make sure you understand the charges against you and the potential penalties. Make a plan of action for how to defend yourself and minimize the consequences of refusal.

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