How Much Will a DUI Cost?

DUIs are expensive and usually involve paying fees to many different entities. The following is a brief description of different types of fees that one might expect to pay as a result of a DUI case in Tennessee. Most of these are mandated by law if you are convicted as charged for DUI. If you settle a DUI charge for a non-DUI offense, such as reckless driving, your sentence may include some or all of the following as well.

Fines. If you plead guilty to a DUI offense there are certain minimum fines that must be assessed under the law. Likewise, if you settle your DUI charge to a non-DUI plea, a fine may be part of a negotiated settlement. The mandatory minimum fine for a first offense DUI charge in Tennessee is $350. Fines are paid to the court clerk's office.

Court costs. You will likely be assessed court costs as part of the resolution to your case. The amount of court costs can vary widely and depend upon a number of factors that vary on a case-by-case basis. You will likely have court costs of at least $300, but you may have court costs of $1200 or more. As with fines, court costs are paid to the court clerk's office.

Probation Fees. If you are placed on probation, you will likely be assessed a monthly supervision fee. These fees are usually in the range of $30-$45 a month. In most counties you will pay this fee directly to the probation office.

Alcohol Education Course. A common condition of probation is that you attend and complete an alcohol education course. You may have a choice of more than one provider for this course. There will be a fee to take this course that will be paid to the provider. Each provider charges a different fee for this course but expect to pay approximately $180.

Victim Impact Panel. An increasingly common condition of DUI related settlement agreements include a requirement that you attend a victim impact panel. These are often produced by a local chapter of Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD). You will be charged a fee to attend this presentation. Expect a fee of approximately $35 payable to the group that produces the presentation.

Ignition Interlock Devices. If you are required to place an ignition interlock device on your car, you will have installation fees, monthly monitoring fees, and removal fees. Installation fees average around $150. Monthly monitoring fees average around $80. And, expect a removal fee of approximately $20.

Restricted Drivers License Related Fees. If your license is revoked as a result of a DUI conviction or an implied consent violation, you will likely want to apply for a restricted drivers license. To obtain a restricted drivers license, you must file a SR-22 proof of insurance form with the state. The costs for this vary from insurance company to insurance company. The court clerk will charge an application fee of approximately $25 and you also be assessed a $67 fee from the Department of Safety. The state may require you to file SR-22 for three to five years.

Tennessee Expungement Law Overview

Can I get my criminal record expunged?

This is one of the most common questions I am asked as a criminal defense lawyer. The answer, however, is not always clear. In this blog post I will give a quick overview of the types of cases that can be expunged, or cleared from your criminal history, in Tennessee.

There are basically three categories of cases which may be expunged in Tennessee. First, cases in which charges were brought but which did not result in a conviction can be expunged. Second, cases that were resolved pursuant to a diversion agreement or sentence may be eligible to be expunged. And third, recent changes in the law allow for certain old misdemeanor and lower level felony convictions to be expunged. I'll discuss each of these in turn to help you better understand whether you may have a case on your criminal record that can be cleared.

The first category - charges that did not result in a conviction.

Sometimes a person is charged with a crime but is never convicted of that offense. Examples of this include when someone is acquitted, or found not guilty, after a trial; when charges are dismissed by the court after some type this pretrial motion or preliminary hearing; or sometimes upon the request of the prosecutor. Another example is a nolle prosequi. This is sometime referred to as a “nolle” or a “nol pros.” These are cases in which the State advised the Court that it is no longer pursuing a criminal charge. There is another similar disposition called retirement. Retirement means that the State has agreed not to pursue a charge for a certain period of time, sometimes associated with certain conditions, and at the end of that time period the case may be dismissed if there are no further problems and any conditions are met.

The second category - diversion.

Tennessee recognizes two types of first offender type programs called pretrial diversion and judicial diversion. Pretrial diversion is a formal program in which the state may agree to suspend prosecution of charges against someone for certain period of time at the end of which the charge may be dismissed. Judicial diversion is similar in that charges may be dismissed after a certain period of time. The difference between the two is that judicial diversion requires the defendant to enter a conditional guilty plea whereas pretrial diversion requires no guilty plea to be entered. In both, defendants are placed on probation for certain amount of time with the understanding that if they successfully complete probation and stay out of trouble, their charge can be later dismissed and expunged. This does not happen automatically, however. A petition must be filed for the expungement.

The third category - old charges eligible for expungement under the new law.

In July of 2012, changes in Tennessee law went into effect that allow the expungement of certain old convictions. I will talk about this in detail in later blog posts, but here is a quick summary of the type of cases that may be expunged. First defendants applying for expungement under this law must have no other criminal convictions other than the conviction which they are seeking to expunge. Second, at least five years must have passed since the completion of any sentence they received in that case. And third, only certain misdemeanors in lower level felonies are eligible to be expunged under this law.

What do I mean by having no other criminal convictions?

If you have any cases other than the one which you are seeking to expunge that resulted in any type of conviction you are not eligible under this new law. So, if you had another case in which you were convicted of any offense, you are not eligible. If you had another case in which you were placed on diversion and that case was later expunged you are not eligible either.

What does the five year rule mean?

The law states that at least five years must have elapsed since the completion of any sentence. It is important to note that this isn't simply five years from the date that a conviction was entered but five years from the end of any sentence received. This means for example, if you were convicted for some offense and received six months of probation, then you will not be eligible to have that case expunged for five years and six months after the date of your conviction.

What cases are eligible for expungement?

The new law only allows for expungement of specific offenses. For convictions that occurred after 1989 there are 38 specific class E felonies which may be expunged. For this same time period all misdemeanors, with 45 specific exceptions, may be expunged. Some common examples of misdemeanors which may not be expunged include DUI and assault convictions. It is important to note that if you are charged with DUI but convicted of a non-DUI offense, you may be eligible to have that case expunged.

Please note this is only a very general overview of the new expungement law. There are more details in the law which could disqualify certain offenses from expungement, and there are somewhat different provisions for cases which predate 1989.

So, in summary, there are several types of cases which may be expunged from someone's record in Tennessee. But, the types of cases that may be expunged are limited. If you think that you may have a case that is eligible for expungement, I encourage you to speak with an attorney about your situation more detail. Before you call an attorney, it might be helpful for you to go to the court clerk's office where your case was heard and request a copy of the disposition of your case. This will help an attorney better review your case to discuss with you whether it may be expunged.

Tennessee Probation Violations: Top Ten Most Frequently Asked Questions

Who gets put on probation, what does it entail? In Tennessee, a judge can sentence someone to jail, probation, or a combination of both. Generally speaking, probation is often granted to offenders who have little or no prior criminal history and are charged with lower-level felonies or misdemeanors.

What is probation?

Probation is a type of sentence in which a person is not placed in jail but released into the community under court supervision and monitored for a set period of time.  This is usually coupled with a suspended sentence.  In Tennessee, a suspended sentence is most often the same length of time as a period of probation. For example, a defendant who receives a one-year suspended sentence is most often placed on probation for the same amount of time. This court supervision is usually conducted by a probation officer. Each probation office maintains standard rules and conditions of probation. A judge may place specific and or additional conditions or rules of probation in any case.  If you violate your probation, the court could place your previously suspended sentence into effect and send you to jail.

What are the rules of probation?

The rules or conditions of probation vary from case to case.  Probation usually involves supervision by some type of probation office.  This may be a local office of the state board of probation and parole, a county probation department, or a private company with a government contract to provide probation services.  Conditions associated with a probation sentence may be noted in the court’s judgment form in a case or in a separate document usually referred to as a probation contract.  Each agency usually has a standard probation contract which they use in every case.  Common rules or conditions of probation include reporting to your probation officer on some set schedule, not committing any crimes, reporting any new arrests to your probation officer, and paying any fines and court costs in a timely manner.  There are usually monthly supervision fees charged while on probation.  These average around $35 to $45 a month.

How do you get charged with a probation violation?

If you violate any rule of your probation you can be charged with a probation violation.  If a probation officer believes you have violated your probation, he or she will file a probation violation warrant that sets out the reason or reasons they believe you violated your probation.  This is submitted for a judge to review, and if approved by the judge, a warrant is issued for your arrest.

Can you post bail?

When a judge initially reviews a probation violation warrant submitted to him by a probation officer, he may set conditions of release.  A judge may order that the person accused of a probation violation be held without bail, set bail in a specific amount, allow the person to be released on their own recognizance or any other terms the judge deems appropriate.

What punishment can the judge give me for a probation violation?

If a judge rules that you have violated your probation, the judge could send you to jail for the full length of your suspended sentence.  The judge could, however, place you back on probation or order a combination of jail and probation.  The judge could place additional conditions on your probation or increase the length of your probation.

What happens at the court hearing for a probation violation?

You have the right to a hearing in front of a judge to determine whether you have violated your probation.  The judge will determine first whether you have violated your probation, and second, if so, the appropriate punishment.  At the hearing, the State has the burden to present proof establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that you violated your probation.  You may not have a jury trial for a probation violation.  You may present evidence on your own behalf.  You may wish to present evidence not just about whether your violated your probation, but also proof relevant to whether the judge should give you another chance at completing your probation or other some other sentence less than making you serve your whole suspended sentence.

What can I do to prepare for a probation violation?

Do anything and everything the Probation Officer has said you failed to do so far.  Pay fines and courts costs (get receipts), perform community service work, take classes, etc.  Additionally, gather documentation that you are working or get a job if you don’t have one already.  If you are in school, get documentation of that.  Get documentation of any treatment you have received, or seek treatment for any condition appropriate.  You may wish to get drug screens from walk in clinics on a weekly basis to present in court.  Gather letters of support and/or people willing to testify on your behalf regarding work, character, home life, family obligations, etc.

If my probation is violated, do I get credit for street time?

Probably not.  You only get credit for time actually served in jail after being first charged with this case or after being served with a probation violation warrant.  If you are serving a community corrections sentence, you can get credit for time you have been supervised in the community.

Can I appeal a probation violation?

Yes, but these are very difficult to win.  Depending on the circumstance, there may be additional courses of action to consider such as filing a motion to modify a sentence or a petition to suspend a sentence.


Absent minded packing can lead to fines and/or arrest at Nashville airport

airport security.jpgI came across an article recently that reminded me of a situation that I have seen with increasing frequency in recent years-people being fined or even charged with crimes for minor weapons violations at airports which are the result of absent minded packing rather than any nefarious attempt to use a weapon at an airport or on a plane. recounts a recent situation with pop singer Joe Jonas. He was stopped by airport security after they found a set of knives in his carry-on. If he's like me, he probably didn't leave an inch of extra space in his bags before he left and found himself cramming all those souvenirs and gifts he bought on his trip into his carry-on. Well, suffice it to say, any type of knife is clearly a no-no in the post 9/11 security world that we now live in. Depending upon the type of knife, he might also have been afoul of certain criminal weapons statutes. Joe was lucky-security simply relocated the knives to his checked luggage, but many people haven't been so lucky at the Nashville airport.

A little absent minding packing like this at a Tennessee airport could easily have you facing federal fines and possible state criminal charges. TheTransportation Security Administration (TSA) website lists items prohibited for carry-on luggage and checked luggage. The TSA Enforcement Guidance Policy lays out possible civil fines one faces. And, some items may not only violate TSA safety regulations but may run afoul of Tennessee or other states' weapons laws.

I have seen many cases in Nashville General Sessions Court in which people received misdemeanor citations for weapons offenses. Often it's for novelty type items which many don't realize can fall within the category of illegal weapons, e.g., martial arts type items and knives with spring loaded blades. If you have any object that could be considered a weapon when traveling it would be a good idea to check both the TSA regulations regarding weapons and the State and local laws to ensure you are in compliance. Most violations of Tennessee's unlawful weapons statute are class A misdemeanors. In Tennessee, a class A misdemeanor is punishable by a possible sentence of up to eleven months and twenty-nine days in jail and fines up to $2,500.

Challenge Mounted to Drug Free School Zone Prosecutions in Tennessee

Could a drug case pending in Knox County successfully bring a constitutional challenge to Tennessee's Drug Free School Zone Act? The Act and similar acts in other states were passed in an effort to curtail drug activity in areas close to school zones, but have met much criticism for encompassing excessively large geographic areas beyond any school grounds. For example, a study of a similar statute in Connecticut showed that virtually all of the city of New Haven fell into a school zone area, as mentioned in a recent City Paper article. The Act often dramatically increases the actual sentence served by increasing the offense level and limiting parole eligibility. For example, a defendant without any prior criminal history convicted of selling half a gram of cocaine (less than half of the equivalent of a pack of sugar for coffee) in a non-school zone area could be sentenced to as little as eight years of probation with no jail time. The same defendant convicted under the Drug Free School Zone Act faces a minimum punishment of fifteen years in prison without the possibility of parole.

There have been recent multi-state studies indicating that drug free school zones may not very effective in reducing drug traffic or protecting school children, and instead have a negative impact on racial disparity. A case currently pending in Knox County, State v. McDaniel, seeks to raise this issues and challenge the Act on equal protection grounds, i.e., that drug free school zone laws violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection because the enhanced penalties are likely to apply to African Americans and other people of color who live in urban areas rather than whites who live in the suburbs. The McDaniel defendant's counsel claims that although only nine percent of Knoxville's population is African-American, 82% of the defendants stopped in drug-free school zones are.

Although this argument appears to be the first of its kind in Tennessee, similar arguments have been raised - and rejected - in New Jersey, Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts and Ohio. Other cases have presented equal protection challenges that argue that drug-free school zones run afoul of equal protection by arbitrarily subjecting individuals in certain areas to stricter punishments than those outside of the drug free zone.

Defendants in other states have attempted Constitutional arguments other than equal protection. For example, a Washington state defendant presented a violation of due process defense on the grounds that the law does not require the state to prove that the defendant knowingly violated the law, i.e., that he knew that he was engaging in drug activities within a school zone. He contended that he had no way to know that he was within 1000 feet of a school zone, which in actuality was a high school equivalency class without an actual campus. This argument was rejected.

Because of the severity of the application of the law to enhance punishment, criminal defense lawyers will continue to challenge the statute or at least limit its application to its intended purpose.

Tennessee Has New DUI Laws Regarding Interlocks

Thumbnail image for Interlock.jpgTennessee has beefed-up a weapon in its arsenal of DUI prevention: the interlock system. An interlock device is a dashboard breathalyzer installation that requires a driver to blow into the device and demonstrate to the computer that he or she is below the legal limit. They cost approximately $100 per month to operate and must be installed by a professional. Although the interlock device has previously been an option for some DUI defendants, it has not been a mandatory part of a DUI or implied consent sentence until now. After January 1, a person convicted of a first offense DUI with a blood alcohol content of .15 or above (almost twice the legal limit) will be required to install an interlock device at his or her expense. Mothers Against Drunk Driving lobbied for a harsher law mandating interlock installation for offenders who registered over .08, similar to the laws in New Mexico and Arizona.

Defendants who refuse a breathalyzer test at the scene of the arrest will also be subject to a mandatory interlock installation as part of the implied consent violation, as will those convicted of DUI with a minor in the car.

The interlock system will also allow defendants whose blood alcohol level registered below .15 who get an interlock device to have much more flexibility in the conditions for a restricted driver's license - basically unlimited travel-as opposed to the former restricted license that only allowed limited travel to work, school and church.

One of the most interesting aspects of the new law involving the interlock system is what happens if a person who has an interlock device on his or her car is caught driving another car without an interlock device - that person faces an additional criminal charge that carries mandatory jail time.

The law also makes it important for you to know if your friends have an interlock device before loaning them your car. If you allow someone who is supposed to have an interlock device on their car to drive your non-interlocked car, you are committing a crime, even if neither you nor the driver has been drinking. Think twice before handing over those keys.

Turning Yourself In for an Outstanding Warrant Can Have Several Advantages

handcuffs.JPGLast month, international headlines were dominated by the story of the arrest, and later release on bail, of the infamous WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The recent events of this news story are instructive to illustrate two decisions that are important when facing a criminal charge: (1) hiring a lawyer, and (2) turning yourself in on an outstanding arrest warrant. Before his arrest, Mr. Assange retained counsel who negotiated his surrender to authorities and soon thereafter secured his release from jail while the case is pending. Of course, in many instances, individuals are unaware of pending criminal charges against them before they are arrested, but often there is some advance notice of imminent arrest. Usually within hours of arrest, an initial determination will be made regarding the conditions of pretrial release, such as setting bail. In Nashville, as soon as someone is arrested and booked they appear before a judicial commissioner who will review any information relevant to these initial determinations and make a ruling. The commissioner will decide what dollar amount at which to set bail and whether any other conditions of release should apply. Here's a link to the statute regarding general bail considerations. For example, some statutes authorize a defendant to be held in custody for 12 hours before being released even if bail has been posted. Other conditions may include orders for defendants to stay away from certain people or places, place limitations on travel, place limitations on firearm possession or consumption of alcohol. If a defendant retains a lawyer before arrest, that lawyer can accompany them while turning themselves in to authorities and present relevant information to the commissioner or judge making the initial pretrial release determination that could greatly influence their decisions. Otherwise, a judge is left only with information about the allegations against the defendant and possibly information about any prior criminal history. Voluntarily turning oneself in can be a persuasive reason for the judge to consider you likely to appear in court. The judge might also look favorably on the fact that you have already hired a lawyer as further evidence that you will be responsible in cooperating with the court process. On the flip side, if a person is arrested after a police chase, violent confrontation with the police, or extended evasion of arrest, that will likely serve as the basis for the setting of bail in a high amount.

If the initial bail setting is not favorable, under Tennessee Law a defendant may make a motion for a judge to review bail, and again, the fact of having voluntarily turned oneself in can be persuasive to support an argument that the defendant will be likely to appear in court. There may be other times throughout a court case in which this could be helpful - such as a showing of good faith during plea negotiations, judicial consideration of acceptance of responsibility, cooperation for pretrial diversion, or during a later sentencing hearing.

Will Some Tennessee DUI Defendants Be Denied Bail After Arrest?

jail cell.jpgSweeping changes to Tennessee DUI laws went into effect January 1st which are sure to keep Nashville DUI lawyers busy. One of the new laws may have DUI lawyers down at the courthouse within hours of an arrest fighting for their clients release on bail. A change to one of the bail statutes directs courts not to release defendants charged with DUI who have certain prior convictions "unless the court first determines he or she is not a danger to the community." A Sumner County DUI prosecutor was quoted as saying "If you've got multiple offenses for DUI or you're out on bond for DUI, you no longer have a right to bond," in a recent Tennessean article. The statute gives no further guidance as to what criteria determine being a "danger to the community." How will Judges make this determination? Will some misdemeanor DUI defendants really be held in custody until trial, which in some jurisdictions can easily take longer than a year?

Tennessee law has long allowed that public safety be considered in setting both the amount of bail and certain conditions to release. Here's a link to the prior statute. But, this represents a significant change which Tennessee criminal defense lawyers are likely to argue violates the state constitution and other prior legal precedents. The Tennessee Constitution, the highest law in the state, has guaranteed any person accused of a crime, other than a capital offense, the right to be released on bail prior to trial for over 130 years.

It is not at all clear how magistrates and judges at the various levels will interpret this statute. Tennessee law provides many avenues of appeal for release orders, and I predict this new statute will quickly become the center of many arguments at courthouses across the state. See Rule 8, Tennessee Rules of Appelate Procedure.