First, you don’t have to be drinking to be charged with a DUI in Tennessee. Essentially any substance that impairs your central nervous system could make you guilty of a DUI. You can be guilty of a DUI while under the influence of a number of substances besides alcohol, including illegal drugs, certain over-the-counter drugs, and prescription drugs that have been legally prescribed to you.
Next, you don’t have to be in an “automobile” to be charged with a DUI in Tennessee. Tennessee Code Section 55-10-410, the leading DUI statute, refers to “any automobile or other motor driven vehicle”. So, the issue becomes, what is a “motor driven vehicle”? This could become important in several scenarios. Let’s say that it is a hot summer day and have a few drinks while mowing your lawn with a riding lawnmower (probably not the best idea, by the way). Then, feeling charitable, you decide to ride your mower in the road just a few houses down to cut your neighbor’s lawn. You could be charged with DUI.
Indulge us for just a moment. How far can this statute reach? Unfortunately, no attorney can tell you for sure. Does your child have one of those motorized vehicles, maybe a Barbie Jeep that goes three miles an hour? Although there is no case law that addresses this particular scenario, it is theoretically possible that taking the Barbie Jeep for a spin on your dead-end street after a few drinks may land you a DUI charge because under the law it could be considered a “motor driven vehicle.” If you may be impaired in any way the safest course it to stay away from anything that has a motor. It might end up as a funny story to tell your grandchildren one day but would definitely not be worth the legal trouble to be pulled over and arrested for a DUI in your kid’s Barbie Jeep.
Further, you don’t even have to be driving to be charged with a DUI in Tennessee. You may think you are doing the responsible thing and sleeping in your car for awhile before driving home. The question is whether you are in “physical control” of the automobile or other motor driven vehicle. The Tennessee Supreme Court set the precedent on this issue when the Court upheld in 1993 the DUI conviction of an individual who fell asleep in his automobile with the keys. Again, if you may be impaired, and it has a motor, just stay away from it.
This brings us to the combination of Tennessee’s DUI statute mentioned above and Tennessee Code Section 55-10-201 which defines “parties to a crime”. You can be charged with DUI as a passenger if you have allowed an impaired person to drive your car. Specifically for this article, it defines who is a party to the crime of DUI: “[e]very person who commits, attempts to commit, conspires to commit, or aids or abets in the commission of any [DUI] . . . is guilty of [DUI].” This scenario will often come into play when, for instance, you have been drinking with a friend and said well-meaning friend says, “Give me the keys to your car. You’ve had more to drink than I have.” Then your friend who nicely offered to drive you home is charged with DUI him/herself. That is something to think about before getting into your car with an impaired friend behind the wheel.
Finally, we come to Tennessee State Code Section 55-10-202, which makes it a Class C misdemeanor when “the owner, or any other person, employing or otherwise directing the driver of any vehicle to require or knowingly to permit the operation of the vehicle upon a highway in any manner contrary to law.” This should certainly be cause for concern if you allow someone to borrow your vehicle if you think they might be intoxicated.
Which of these ways to be charged with DUI surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments below. Your feedback helps us to tailor our future blogs to better serve our readers.
In summary, knowledge of Tennessee DUI law may prevent you from unintended, unpleasant consequences. Obviously, drunk driving is not the only way to be charged with a DUI. If you or a loved one are facing a DUI charge for any reason, you should seek a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney. McFarland Law Office, located in Montgomery County Tennessee, would be happy to assist you and work with you for a dismissal or reduction in charges. Consultations are always free and we will examine your unique circumstance and explain your options. We can be reached at (931) 516-9009.