Tennessee Criminal Law FAQs


In Tennessee, you are presumed to be under the influence if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08 or higher. It is possible to test “extremely high” which in Tennessee is a BAC of .20 or above. If your BAC is .20 or higher, you will be subject to additional minimum penalties beyond those set for a standard DUI 1st.

What are the penalties or sentences in Tennessee for a DUI?
Each case should be reviewed by a trusted criminal defense lawyer for more information. Some of the penalties could include:

  • Revocation of Drivers License
  • Jail Time
  • Supervised Probation
  • Monetary Fines
  • Ignition Interlock Device
  • Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program
  • Restitution
  • Vehicle Seizure

Speak with John Webb and his team for more information. Penalties are predicated on individual circumstances.

Police have multiple methods they rely upon to determine sobriety which generally fall into three main categories: (1) observation, (2) field sobriety tests and (3) breath or blood tests.

Observation includes consideration of characteristics in a person that may indicate that they are under the influence such as the odor of alcohol, slurring of speech, bloodshot or watery eyes and trouble maintaining balance.

Field sobriety tests are intended to help the officer assess the physical coordination and mental clarity of the driver. There are three standardized field sobriety tasks which include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, the one-leg stand and the walk and turn. When administering these tests, the officer is looking for specific clues of impairment. There are also several non-standardized tests that are not considered to be as reliable, but are nevertheless utilized regularly by officers in making a determination of whether to arrest for DUI.

Blood testing and Breathalyzers are both forms of chemical testing used to determine a person’s precise BAC.

Yes. The law and science of DUI is complex and often times confusing. If you are facing a DUI charge, you need an experienced professional to guide you through the criminal justice court system. Working with a knowledgeable attorney is your best option if you are faced with a charge of DUI.

Drug Defense

Tennessee has numerous drug related offenses you could be charged with including but not limited to:

  • Simple possession;
  • Possession with intent to sell;
  • Sale of a controlled substance;
  • Drug trafficking; or
  • Drug manufacturing.

If you have questions about your charges, contact John Webb, Middle Tennessee’s drug defense attorney.

Numerous factors come into play when determining charges such as quantity and classification of the drug. But, some of the possible penalties include:

  • Jail and/or prison
  • Probation
  • Forfeiture of property
  • Suspension of driver’s license
  • Fines
  • Community service

Drugs, sometimes called controlled substances, are classified into different “schedules” based on their potential for consequences and abuse. Tennessee has seven schedules. Schedule VII is butyl nitrate which is sometimes called poppers. Schedule VI includes marijuana. Schedule I are considered the most dangerous. Examples would include LSD, peyote, heroin and other psychedelics.

For a complete list of Tennessee classifications click here.

Domestic Assault

In Tennessee, domestic violence/abuse is a form of assault where the victim is either a:

  • Current or former spouse;
  • Cohabitant;
  • Dating or sexual partner;
  • Blood or adoptive relative;
  • Current or former relative by marriage; or
  • Adult or minor child of any of the above individuals.

According to Tennessee Code Annotated 39-13-101(a) it is an assault if a person:

  1. Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another;
  2. Intentionally or knowingly causes another to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury;  or
  3. Intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another and a reasonable person would regard the contact as extremely offensive or provocative.

Domestic Assault is a Class A misdemeanor unless the offense is committed under subdivision 39-13-101(a)(3) dealing with extremely offensive or provocative touching, in which case it is then a Class B misdemeanor. If you are charged with domestic assault, you should hire an attorney immediately to help you understand your options and build an effective defense strategy.

In Tennessee, the potential penalties for domestic assault vary based upon whether you have ever been convicted of domestic assault before as well as on who is the alleged victim. If you do have prior convictions for domestic assault the penalties will increase. The penalties are as follows:

  1. 1st Offense: up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, up to $2,500 fine and loss of right to own or possess a firearm.
  2. 2nd Offense: up to 11 months and 29 days in jail with a minimum of 30 days of incarceration, up to $3,500 fine with a minimum $350 fine and loss of right to own or possess a firearm.
  3. 3rd or subsequent Offense: up to 11 months and 29 days in jail with a minimum of 90 days of incarceration, up to $5,000 fine with a minimum $1,100 fine and loss of right to own or possess a firearm. If the victim is a current or former spouse, is in a current or former dating relationship with the accused or if the victim is a minor child of a current or former spouse or person you had a dating relationship with, then it becomes an E felony offense.
  4. The court may also order that you participate in a drug or alcohol treatment program as well as counseling programs that address violence.


When you are ordered to probation you will receive individual standard conditions that you are required to follow. Here are some standard requirements you might expect from probation:

  • Reporting to a probation officer in person, over the phone or through the mail
  • Maintaining lawful employment or staying in school
  • Good and lawful conduct i.e. don’t get any new arrests
  • Don’t carry or own a firearm
  • Do not use or possess drugs or alcohol
  • Stay in Tennessee unless your probation officer gives you permission to leave
  • Inform probation of any changes to address or employment
  • Pay fines, court costs and probation supervision fees
  • Regular and random drug tests
  • Avoid contact with persons that have prior felony convictions
  • Community service work
  • Complete a treatment program related to the underlying offense

Failure to comply with anything listed above could mean you are violating your probation.

If you participate in or fail to meet any of the conditions of your probation you may have a probation violation warrant filed with the court. Whether or not a violation is filed is dependent on your individual probation officer. If the probation violation warrant is submitted to the court, you will be arrested and required to appear before the court to answer the allegations regarding your alleged probation violation.

You will be arrested when you are served with the probation violation warrant, however, that does not mean that the judge will necessarily sentence you to jail once your case comes before the court. If the court determines that there was no violation of probation, the warrant will be dismissed and you will be allowed to continue your probation. On the other hand, if the court determines, after a hearing, that you did, in fact, violate the terms of your probation then he/she will have wide discretion to determine what should be done. Generally speaking, if the judge rules that you have violated your probation one of three things will happen:

  1. The court may allow you to continue on probation with all of your original terms and conditions still in effect.
  2. The court may start your probationary period over, effectively increasing the amount of time you are on probation or it may simply add additional requirements or restrictions to your probation.
  3. The court may revoke your probation and require you to serve all or a portion of your original sentence in custody.

As soon as you have been charged with a violation of your probation you want to seek advice from a lawyer. Anyone who is on probation has the right to an attorney if they are summoned to court for violating their probation conditions. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will put you in the best position to limit the impact that a probation violation will have on your life.

Generally, the answer is yes. You must keep your probation officer informed of your whereabouts. If your job requires you to travel out of state you will need to inform your probation officer of where you will be traveling as well as the dates and times you will be out of state so that they can reach you if needed. However, generally speaking, probation officers want their probationers to be working, and thus, will not unreasonably interfere with your employment.

The same goes for personal travel. So long as your probation officer knows where you are and the dates and times for your travel, they will not generally interfere with your vacation plans. However, you may have to confirm any travel plans to the obligations you may have to perform community service work, participate in classes/treatment programs or submit to random drug or alcohol screens.

If the court determines that you violated a condition of your probation, then the court has the discretion to make you serve all or a part of your sentence in custody. If the court allows you to remain on probation, it may add to or amend the conditions of your probation. The court may even require you to start the probationary period over effectively extending the length of time you are under supervision. Generally speaking, however, if the court requires you to serve your sentence in custody, it may not require you to serve more than the length of your original sentence.

No. The court only has jurisdiction over you during the probationary period. If the probationary period expires without a violation warrant being issued, the court can no longer exercise its authority to revoke your probation or make you serve the original sentence.

Theft & Shoplifting

Tennessee recognizes different types of theft:

  • Theft of Property
    Theft of property is when someone exercises control over property without the owner’s consent and with an intent to deprive them of the property.
  • Theft of Services
    Theft of services refers to the use of fraud, coercion, deception or other means to avoid paying for a service. It can also include absconding from an establishment where compensation is ordinarily paid immediately upon receipt of the service such as from hotels, motels or restaurants.

Your offense is classified by the value of the property allegedly taken. Depending on the value of the property the theft charge will be more or less severe. An example would include a property or service value at less than $1,000 would be classified as a Class A Misdemeanor. Theft of property valued at more than $1,000 would be a Felony.

You can visit our Tennessee Theft Attorney page for more information on the values and classifications.

Yes. Theft of property or services is a very serious offense. A conviction for theft is particularly damaging because of its negative impact on your reputation as well as your ability to obtain and maintain gainful employment. In the event you are charged with theft John Webb and his team can help build an effective defense strategy around your individual circumstances.

You can be charged with shoplifting even if you have not left the store or passed all points of sale i.e. the cash registers. If you concealed an item with the intent to take it without paying that is enough for you to be convicted of theft in Tennessee. However, whether or not you have passed all points of sale in the store is a factor that may be considered in determining your intent. Once you have left the store without paying for the item it is, of course, much easier to demonstrate your intent to take the item without paying for it, but it is by no means necessary for you to leave the store before you may be prosecuted for shoplifting.

Yes. If you are with someone who is arrested for shoplifting it is possible that you could be arrested as an accomplice to the theft. However, the prosecution would have to prove that you were aware that the other individual was shoplifting and that you were providing assistance to the shoplifter or participating in the theft in some manner.

It is possible. If the discount is only authorized for employees and your friend allows you to use it without the consent of the store then you could be charged with theft because you did not pay the full price of the item. The employee could also be subject to a charge of theft for allowing you to use the employee discount without authorization.

Criminal Trespassing

The state of Tennessee refers to criminal trespassing as failing to leave a property when asked to leave or entering property without expressed permission by the owner. “Without consent” means that the owner or persons acting on behalf of the owner possibly had a fence around the property, posted visible signs saying you could not enter the property, or through verbal/written communication expressed that you were not allowed to enter.

Criminal trespassing is considered a Class C Misdemeanor. If you are convicted, you could receive a maximum stay of 30 days in jail and up to a $50 fine.

Yes. While “No Trespassing” signs give notice to the general public that they do not have permission to enter a property, they are not necessary in order to prosecute a criminal charge of trespass. The question is whether the owner of the property has consented to your entry on their property. However, consent may be inferred if the property is used for commercial activity and is available to the general public.

It is also a defense to prosecution if (1) the person entering the property reasonably believed that they had the consent of the owner; (2) the person’s conduct did not substantially interfere with the owner’s use of the property; and (3) the person left immediately upon request. This defense would not be available when “No Trespassing” signs are placed at all major points of entry to the property.

The main difference is that criminal trespass involves entering or remaining on someone’s property without their consent, while burglary requires that you enter a building or structure. Burglary also requires an intent to commit a felony, theft or assault, whereas criminal trespass only requires that you be on someone else’s property without their consent. Also, criminal trespass is a C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail, while Burglary is a D felony carrying a possible sentence of 2 to 12 years in jail.

Student Defense

In most cases the answer is “Yes.” We encourage you to take code violations from schools seriously. While these codes are not law or enforced at the state level, it’s possible you could lose your place at the school, scholarship, or experience other negative consequences. Any violations that are a result of alleged criminal behavior could mean you are facing both a criminal and disciplinary hearing which can create complicated issues regarding how you approach defending yourself in each venue without compromising the other. Working with a student defense lawyer will help you navigate both scenarios.

Immediately. As soon as you receive notice from the educational institution that you may be in violation of it’s policies you should contact a defense attorney. Preferably, you should contact an attorney that has prior experience in student defense. You’ll then have a qualified lawyer at your side that can help guide you through the process and put you in the best possession to secure a favorable outcome.

Every school will have its own code of conduct. But, more serious criminal offenses could include:

  • Assault towards another student, teacher, or faculty member
  • Indecent exposure
  • Sexual Assault/Rape
  • Gambling
  • Vandalism
  • Public Intoxication
  • Possession of Drugs

The violation remaining on your transcript depends on your alleged violation and the specific policies of your educational institution.

If the code violation simultaneously results in a criminal proceeding, the criminal charges could potentially go on your permanent criminal record. Even a minor criminal offense, if made a permanent part of your criminal record, could make it harder to find employment when you start trying to establish your career.

Traffic Violations

The penalty depends on the specific alleged offense. You could receive points on your driver’s license, pay fines and court costs, or possibly go to jail. For example, reckless driving is a misdemeanor in Tennessee. You could face six months of jail time, six points on your driver’s license, and a $500 fine if you are found guilty. However, most traffic violations are not criminal in nature and generally the penalties do not involve the risk of jail time. You may also face increased insurance premiums as a result of a conviction for a traffic violation.

Accruing 12 points in one-year results in the state of Tennessee revoking your driver’s license. The loss of your driver’s license will complicate your life in any number of ways. And if you continue to drive after your driver’s license has been suspended, you could be charged with a criminal offense.

If you intend to plead “not guilty” for your traffic violation, you must attend your court date. Also, if you are interested in attending traffic school in order to avoid having the ticket go on your record, you will have to appear in court to make the request of the judge. Simply paying your traffic ticket is considered a guilty plea.

Getting a traffic violation as a CDL holder has more consequences as it requires you to report the citation to your employer. That could mean you are at risk of losing your job and livelihood. Tennessee requires CDL holders to do the following if they receive a traffic ticket:

  • Notify your employer
  • Notify the DOS if you received the ticket out of state.
  • Notify your employer if your license is suspended.

If you hold a CDL, contact John Webb Attorney At Law. Let him build a solid defense to help you reduce the chances of having issues with your CDL.

Yes. Hire a defense attorney with experience in traffic violations. Some people don’t recognize that paying a traffic ticket is an admission of guilt. You may also have the option to attend traffic school and have the violation dismissed.

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At John P. Webb, Attorney at Law, we are here to help you with your journey through the criminal justice system.  While it can be scary and confusing to face criminal charges, we walk with you through every step of the process to ensure that you fully understand your options and help you make the best decisions possible.

We are experienced in handling a wide range of criminal matters from minor misdemeanor offenses to the most serious of felony charges in courts throughout Middle Tennessee.  John strives to ensure that each client is treated with respect and personal attention.

Don’t Delay.  Schedule a free consultation today and let us assist you when you need it most.

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