Alcohol DUI versus Drug DUI

The history of Tennessee DUI Law over the years has traditionally involved DUI charges related to alcohol consumption. Alcohol has a very clear impairing effect on a person. The physiological impact that alcohol has can include the following:

  • Lowered inhibitions

  • Loss of critical judgment

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Dulled perception, including vision

  • Inability to divide attention between multiple tasks

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Over the last decade, the increased use of drugs, both legal and illegal, has given rise to a subset of DUI cases referred to as “Drug DUIs.” In these cases, the person charged with DUI has consumed a prescription or nonprescription drug that has an impairing effect on that person’s ability to drive. The most common drugs seen in these cases include:

  • Marijuana

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)

  • Pain Medication (Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Suboxone, etc.)

  • Cocaine

  • Amphetamine/Methamphetamine

Each of these substances has a different effect on a person’s body and motor skills. They each have the ability to impair a person’s ability to drive, depending on the amount that is in the body. Also, there are times when someone uses a combination of these drugs. That can cause an effect on someone that changes as time progresses. Sometimes the mixture of different drugs can cause the effects to be enhanced. Toxicologists often refer to this as the “synergistic effect.” Alcohol generally enhances the effects of most drugs, especially pain medication and depressants.

Although drugs can have a big impact on someone’s motor skills, it can still be difficult to convict someone of DUI solely because drugs are in someone’s system. In order to convict a person of DUI in Tennessee, the prosecutor must prove the following:

  1. The defendant was operating or in control of a motor vehicle;

  2. The vehicle was on a public roadway (or paved surface open to the public);

  3. The defendant was under the influence of an intoxicant; and

  4. The defendant’s normal ability to drive was impaired by the intoxicant.

Unlike alcohol, there is no per se amount of a drug under Tennessee law that presumes someone is guilty of DUI. Therefore, the presence of a drug in someone’s body does not automatically lead to a DUI conviction. Many Drug DUIs are very defensible cases. Things our attorneys investigate when developing defenses in these cases include:

  • What was the reason for the traffic stop?

  • How was the client’s driving prior to a traffic stop?

  • What admissions, if any, did the client make?

  • How well did the client perform during the field sobriety tests?

  • Were the field sobriety tests administered correctly by the officer?

  • What substances were found in the client’s blood?

  • What was the amount of the drug(s) found in the client’s blood?

  • Are there other circumstances that caused the poor driving or poor performance of field sobriety testing?

If you have been charged with a DUI in Middle Tennessee, you may have many questions. Call our office for a consultation. Our attorneys Jimmy Turner and Kris Oliver have handled hundreds of DUIs throughout Middle Tennessee. There is rarely something they have not already encountered that they cannot help you with.

Can You Lose Your Car after a DUI?

Getting bailed out of jail after a DUI might not be the only task you have to face; you might also lose your car after a DUI. Repeat offenders are at greater risk of having their cars impounded. When the authorities decide to impound your car after a DUI arrest, you need to know what to expect. It is important to remember that every DUI case is different with their own set of circumstances.

The Vehicle Confiscation Process


Typically, judges will impound the car of someone arrested for a DUI if the person has previous convictions for DUI. When a judge decides that you must have your vehicle impounded, it is most likely done through a civil administration process instead of a criminal court penalty. You will have the opportunity to an administrative hearing through the Tennessee Department of Safety.

4 Things You Don't Know about Tennessee DUI Law but Should

1. You don't have to perform any Field Sobriety Tests. In fact, we suggest that you don't attempt any sobriety task the officer asks you to perform.

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2. If you refuse to submit to the blood test for alcohol or drugs, the officer will apply for a search warrant to get the blood from your body. You will also be cited for Violation of Implied Consent, which could result in a one year loss of your driver's license.

3. You can be charged with DUI even if you weren't driving. Tennessee DUI law states that you only have to be in control of a motor vehicle for the purposes of DUI.  Sleeping in your car, with the keys, constitutes "control."  This applies even if you never intended on driving. 

4. The passenger of a car can also be charged with DUI. If you allow someone that is under the influence to drive your car, and you're a passenger, you can be charged with "DUI by Allowing" if the driver gets a DUI charge.  DUI by Allowing carries the same penalties as DUI in Tennessee. So be careful who you let drive your car.

Charged with a DUI Without Even Driving?

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Are you familiar with this Tennessee law? If you aren’t, you’re probably not the only one. A DUI by Allowance, also known as a “Vehicle Owner DUI,” is what you can be faced with if you let someone intoxicated drive your car. Just because you’re not the one behind the wheel doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from the repercussions. While you may feel that having a friend drive your car was a better option because they were less intoxicated than you, both of you could still receive the same punishment. This is because the car is in your name and you allowed someone under the influence behind the wheel.

Ways to Stay Safe

Have a Designated Driver You Trust

If you plan on going out and drinking, be sure you have a trusted designated driver. As mentioned above, you could find yourself with a DUI by Allowance charge if your vehicle was taken (to a bar, party, etc.) and you allowed someone else (who was also intoxicated) to drive it. Not only will this get you into trouble, but significantly compromise the safety of yourselves and those around you. Make sure your designated driver agrees not to drink.