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Lawmakers mull changes to Tennessee implied consent law

A bill currently being considered by the Tennessee General Assembly would change the state's implied consent law in two significant ways. If House Bill 2450 is passed, drivers who refuse to submit to a breath or blood test would no longer face misdemeanor charges and police officers would be able to draw blood from drunk driving suspects without a warrant in certain situations.

Under Tennessee's current implied consent law, motorists can face criminal charges if they refuse to submit to toxicology testing while driving on a revoked driver's license or if they obstruct the testing process. However, these charges are quite rare, and the primary impact of HB2450 would be to make it less troublesome for police officers to draw blood from uncooperative DUI suspects.

The bill was drafted after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that imposing criminal penalties for refusing to provide a blood sample was unconstitutional, which means that police officers must obtain search warrants before drawing blood. The bill being considered would allow police officers in Tennessee to draw blood without first obtaining a search warrant if a minor is in the vehicle, a serious accident occurred or the motorist involved has a history of drunk driving. The rules allowing police officers to conduct warrrantless searches when exigent circumstances are present would be unaffected by the bill.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys may be concerned about any pending legislation that could weaken protections against unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. However, attorneys could also advise those facing DUI charges to cooperate with police officers. This is because refusing a toxicology test is unlikely to prompt police to drop the matter, and it could make it far more difficult for defense attorneys to negotiate a favorable plea agreement.

Source: The Tennessee General Assembly, "HB2450", accessed on April 11, 2018

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