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.