No Refusal Law Is Helping Get Drunk Drivers Off The Road, Traffic Safety Group Told

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 - by Gail Perry

More tools are now available to law enforcement officials to get drunk drivers off the roads in Tennessee, officials said Wednesday afternoon at a meeting of the Advisory Council on Traffic Safety. DUI prosecutor Kate Lavery and Sheriff's Captain Charles Lowery led a discussion about the No Refusal Law.

In June 2012 the new law took effect. It allows an officer to make a traffic stop if the officer has probable cause to believe the driver is impaired. A blood test to confirm intoxication is mandatory in the event anyone is seriously injured other than the driver, anyone is killed, or if a child under age 16 is involved.

Another condition that requires an officer to have the test done is if there has ever been a prior vehicular conviction relating to a DUI.

As written, the law says that the blood test can be done with whatever reasonable amount of force is necessary to achieve the goal, said Captain Lowery. In one example he gave, five officers were needed to hold down a person while the test was given. Another example is the method of strapping an unwilling person into a chair to draw blood. Prior to this law being enacted, the person involved had a right to refuse the blood test until a warrant was issued.

A person with a first time DUI does have the right to refuse taking a blood test; however, the caveat that comes by refusing to cooperate is that the driver's license is lost. The officer can still obtain the test by getting a warrant. A problem with warrants, said Ms. Lavery, is that they take time to get and drugs and alcohol dissipate quickly, thus losing evidence.

In Tennessee anyone convicted of DUI will lose their license and Ms. Lavery noted that none of these laws are effective for those driving with a revoked license. Those without a license also have no insurance, which compounds the problems.

Captain Lowery said that every year since 1998 his department has gotten a grant from the governor’s highway safety department which provides funds for overtime pay to officers. The focus of this grant is to get impaired drivers off the road whether it be impairment caused by alcohol, drugs or medications. He said the most DUIs occur on Saturday from 8 p.m.-4 a.m., and Fridays from 7p.m.-3 a.m. The grant allows officers to specifically look for impaired drivers because they are not responding to other calls.

The Sheriff’s Department supports the other law enforcement agencies by being able to concentrate on DUI offenses. The Hamilton County Jail has all the facilities and qualified people necessary to administer the blood tests, and offenders can be processed there with one stop, it was stated.

The law applies equally to juveniles that are stopped. Parental consent is not needed to give the blood test but in most cases an attempt to notify a parent is made, the speakers said. The minor can refuse the test, but will lose their license. The law is also valid for out-of-state drivers if they are on the roads in Tennessee.

Since the law has been in effect, the prosecutors have good, solid evidence, said Ms. Lavery. She said because of that, the conviction rate is better. Now they are able to get an appropriate conviction for multiple offenders and do not have to plead down because of lack of concrete evidence.

Likewise, Captain Lowery said “the change in the law is very good for law enforcement. It gives us the tools to obtain evidence to get them off the street.”

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