Harsher penalties highlight need for effective legal counsel
Tennessee lawmakers recently voted to increase the penalties for those who repeatedly violate the state's laws against driving while intoxicated (DUI), while reducing the consequences for possessing small quantities of illegal drugs. Although proposed changes stalled the bill for several weeks, the House of Representatives eventually approved the measures in an 80-7 vote; the bill subsequently received little discussion before the Senate approved it 32-0. The bill now heads to Gov. Bill Haslam's desk for approval.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, marked it as an important step towards reforming the state's criminal justice system. He also maintains it will make Tennessee safer by taking some habitual DUI offenders off the road and ensuring they spend more time in jail. Currently, four or more DUIs are a Class E felony carrying a punishment of one year in jail — of which offenders must serve at least 150 days consecutively — a mandatory fine of $3,000-$15,000 and suspension of their driver's license for 6 year. The bill will impose additional penalties on those with six or more DUI convictions by making such offenses a Class C felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The bill also makes carjacking a Class C felony.
Conversely, the bill turns simple possession of any drug — i.e., holding an illegal substance for personal use with no intent to deliver or sell it to another — into a misdemeanor. The bill applies to simple possession of all drugs — including oxycodone, meth and cocaine — and means that even those with three or more convictions would receive less than a year in jail.
In support of the measure, Lamberth maintains that drug addicts are generally less dangerous than drunk drivers. Furthermore, he points to a legislative analysis estimating that decreasing incarceration costs for simple drug possession will save Tennessee approximately $2 million, money that Lamberth says would cover the cost of longer prison sentences for people convicted of multiple DUIs. He further supports the bill as a way to help addicts avoid the lifelong repercussions imposed by a felony conviction on their record. Rather, Lamberth believes the law should reserve felonies for criminals who commit violent crimes and thus present a higher risk of endangering the public.
In Tennessee, an illegally impaired driver is one with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or above, drivers of commercial vehicles with a BAC of 0.04% and those under the age of 21 with a BAC of 0.02%. A single DUI carries a minimum jail term of at least 48 hours, a $350 to $1,500 fine and the suspension of your driver's license for 1 year. A first time offense also includes court and administrative costs — towing, bail, legal fees, alcohol safety program and reinstatement fees — that add up to approximately $4,900. Depending on the severity of your offense, the judge may require you to pay for the installation of an ignition interlock device on your vehicle, a device that prevents your car from starting if your BAC is over a certain limit.
A DUI charge carries significant repercussions that increase with each subsequent conviction and can have long-lasting consequences. Whether fighting to dismiss charges resulting from improper police procedures, or negotiating for a reduction in charges to keep a DUI off your record, the Murfreesboro DUI lawyers at Dotson & Taylor have more than 40 years of combined experience vigorously defending DUI charges. Contact our experienced DUI attorneys at 615-890-1982 or contact us online to schedule a consultation