When is a Tennessee DUI charge a felony offense?

On Behalf of | Nov 7, 2022 | DUI/DWI Defense |

Frequently, driving under the influence (DUI) charges are technical infractions and therefore victimless crimes. No one gets hurt or even suffers any property damage, but a driver who has had too much to drink will still potentially face jail time and the loss of their license.

The average DUI offense in Tennessee is a misdemeanor charge, but sometimes the state pursues felony charges against an individual accused of impaired driving. Felony charges carry more serious penalties, including more time in jail. They also have stricter disclosure requirements when applying for housing or employment.

When might drunk driving lead to felony charges under Tennessee state law?

When someone gets hurt or dies

The state may bring enhanced charges against someone who causes a crash that leads to the injury of another person. There is also a special charge for when drunk driving results in a fatal collision. Also, drivers can face felony charges for the injury or death of a passenger in their own vehicle age 13 or younger even if no crash occurs.

When they have three or more prior offenses

Increasing the severity of the charges themselves and the penalties involved for each subsequent offense is a way for the state to deter people from repeating the same mistakes. The more times you face the same charges, the steeper the consequences.

Your first three DUI charges may be misdemeanor offenses, but after a fourth arrest, the state will charge you with a felony.  Although misdemeanor DUI charges result in less than a year in prison, felony DUI charges could lead to a minimum of one year in state custody. In some cases, a felony DUI could mean up to six years in prison.

When they cause major property damage

If you destroyed someone else’s vehicle, crashed into the front of someone’s house or took out a guardrail near a stream, you could potentially face a felony charge. Extensive property damage to private property or damage caused to public property could increase the severity of an impaired driving offense under Tennessee state law.

Understanding the rules that apply to Tennessee DUI charges, including the increased risk with subsequent offenses, might help you decide to defend yourself.


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