The DUI Process In Knoxville, TN

You’ve been arrested for DUI? Now what?

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If you’re like most of my clients when they first start looking for information about a DUI lawyer, you are probably feeling some combination of upset, confused, angry, embarrassed, scared, anxious, and depressed.

You’re probably also looking for straightforward, direct answers to a lot of important questions.

For that, you’ve come to the right place.

Being arrested is a traumatic experience. Try to remember that much of the anxiety you feel is caused by fear of the unknown.

Fortunately, the answers to most of your questions are on this page or in the links provided. For those that aren’t, we are available to discuss your situation in a discreet, non-judgmental way with no hard sales pitch or legalese.

We’ll start from the beginning and walk you through a DUI case in Knoxville, Blount, Sevier, Loudon, and Roane counties.


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Your First Week After Being Arrested

The first week is vitally important and its also the toughest time to tackle this problem head on, but it’s imperative you address the following issues:

Family and Friends – decide who needs to know whats going on. Keep this limited to a close inner circle. You’ll need support and someone to talk to, but keep in mind the things you say can be repeated, even in court.

Work – depending on what you do for a living, your paycheck could be on the line. Its best to get some professional advice before bringing this up with your employer.

Court and Bond– you will have a court date set soon after your arrest, usually within 2 weeks. Depending on your situation, you might have bond conditions that need to be addressed.

Research – it’s good to be informed. Research from various sources and get the best information you can.

Attorney– the sooner you select an attorney to represent you the more value you will get. You may be able to avoid your first court date, and the quicker you have someone competent and trustworthy to handle your case, the quicker you can get back to your other responsibilities.

Once you have these 5 items checked off your list, you will be well on your way to getting your life back to normal. You should have a full understanding of the process and how your attorney proposes to defend your case.

Your First Court Date – Arraignment

The good news is, that in many cases if you’ve already hired an attorney, he or she will handle this for you. You won’t even have to show up. There are exceptions when your appearance is mandatory, such as a multiple offenses DUI, felony charges, and certain in jurisdictions.


To make sure you understand the charges against you

To make sure you understand and will comply with your bond conditions,

To make sure you are or at least have the opportunity to be represented by a lawyer.

Since those three things can all be accomplished for you by your lawyer, if you already have one, you can skip this step. Your attorney and the court will pick a first court date for you to attend, usually between 1 and 2 months from the arraignment.


During this time your lawyer should be hard at work thoroughly investigating and preparing your case for court. This work can be broken down into the following categories.


A good investigation will start from scratch and not rely on what the police offer says happened. Witnesses may need to be interviewed about what happened on the night of the arrest. Police likely recorded the entire encounter on a dashcam or body cam and that video needs to be ordered, reviewed, and incorporated into a written investigation summary.

Other materials that your lawyer may need to get for your case include, search and arrest warrants, police reports, alcohol, and drug influence reports, blood and breath alcohol results, chain of custody logs, medical records, jail records, and prior criminal judgments.

Making sure that all of the relevant documents and facts are gathered and reviewed at an early stage can make a big difference in the outcome of a case.

Customized Defense Strategy

Once the investigation materials and tasks are complete, your lawyer will be analyzing them to decide the best possible defense strategy for your particular case. Every case is different and there are many ways to successfully defend a DUI case. A good DUI lawyer will be able to identify and create a strategy that gives you the best possible chance of a great resolution.

In our office, that strategy, along with the investigation and mitigation strategy is documented in a case summary and provided to the client, along with all the supporting materials and any instructions.

Mitigation Strategy Besides the legal and factual aspects of your case, the things you do after an arrest can have a big impact on how the case plays out.</ >

We will let you know what actions on your part may contribute to your defense. Some of the things you may be asked to do, depending on your particular circumstance include:

Alcohol and Drug Assessment – Meeting with a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who has the designation “Qualified Substance Abuse Professional” can be very helpful in defending your case. Taking this step will show the court and the prosecutor that you are taking your arrest seriously and making sure that it won’t ever happen again.

MADD Victim Impact Panel – Attendance at one of these classes at an early stage can set your case apart from the many others that the court deals with everyday. Most people won’t do this. You should. The Victim Impact Panel teaches about the dangers of impaired driving and the devastating effects that it can have on others.

DUI School – If you are convicted of DUI, this class is mandatory. Doing it ahead of time is a good idea and can give you a better chance of not being convicted at all.

Work, School, and Community Involvement – Documentation of your positive contributions to your work, school, and community can be helpful in showing the court and prosecutor that your DUI was a one time lapse in judgment and that you are otherwise a responsible individual who is worthy of a second chance.

Letters of Support – You likely have friends, family, co-workers, and others who know what you are going through and want to help. A folder full of letters singing your praises and asking for leniency look good to those deciding your case.

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Your First Court Date

This can be a nerve wracking day, but if the right work has been done on your case, you have nothing to worry about.

Usually a first court date will be a “status” day for your attorney to speak with the prosecutor assigned to your case to explain what issues the prosecutor should consider in making a plea offer. All the things identified in your customized defense strategy and mitigation strategy will be discussed and usually the prosecutor will want some additional time to work on the case and you will get another court date.

If you gave a blood test, the results may or may not be available on the first court date, as the time for testing to be completed can be as long as 2 months from the date of the arrest.

The only thing required of you on this court date is to show up on time, dressed appropriately (no shorts, revealing clothing, etc…), and to speak with your lawyer about the case. You can typically expect to be in court no later than lunch time, if your case is scheduled for the typical 9 A.M. start.


Second and Subsequent “Status” Court Dates

You will probably need one or more additional “status” or “negotiation” court dates before you have a proposed resolution to your case and a decision to make.

During these court dates, your lawyer and the District Attorney assigned to your case will discuss the law that applies to the specific facts of your case, the way the case would likely turn out if there were a trial, and the things that your lawyer has asked you to do in mitigation.

There may also be additional evidence that needs to be gathered that takes time and can cause delays at this stage.

Eventually, you will likely be offered a “plea deal” at one of these court dates.

Plea “deals” / Offers

The State doesn’t have to offer a plea in your case but most of the time it will. What the offer is will depend on many things, including the facts of your case, like your driving, field tests, and BAC, and also the legal and mitigation strategy your lawyer has employed for you.

Whenever an offer is made, your lawyer must tell you about it. Whether or not to accept a plea offer is your decision only. Your lawyer can’t decide for you.

However, a good DUI lawyer will talk with you about the pros and cons of accepting an offer, explain exactly what would happen if you were to take the offer, and give you advice on what he or she thinks would happen if you turn down the offer.

Whether an offer is a good offer or not depends entirely on the facts of each case. Say for instance, you were offered a plea to reckless driving that saves your driver’s license and doesn’t carry any jail time. In some cases that is a great offer! You should take it immediately. Your BAC was high, your driving was awful, and you don’t want a trial.

But what if you hadn’t been drinking and weren’t impaired. What if the evidence against you is very weak? Then you might think pleading to a reckless driving is a terrible resolution and want to go to trial instead.

A lot goes into deciding whether to accept or reject a plea offer and you need a lawyer who understands the DUI process inside and out to be able to make the best and most informed decision for you. Because once you enter a plea, it is very difficult and sometimes impossible to change that decision.



If your case has made it to a preliminary hearing, you’ve probably already turned down the State’s plea offer. That doesn’t mean your lawyer can’t keep negotiating, but it’s a sign that a better offer may not come.

On a preliminary hearing date, the State has sent subpoenas to the witnesses (usually the arresting officer) that it wants to call to the stand in your case.

Your lawyer should have by now become very familiar with the facts and legal issues at play and be ready to cross-examine (that is, question) the officer with one or several goals in mind.

When I conduct a preliminary hearing, I’m probably trying to do one or more of the following things:

  • Get the Judge to dismiss the case for lack of probable cause (we’ll define this shortly)
  • Learn more about the State’s evidence
  • Set up legal arguments for later, like Motions to Suppress Evidence or to Dismiss

It takes years and a lot of practice to learn to do this effectively, but you only need to be concerned with having a lawyer who has spent that time and done that practice.  While the hearing is taking place, you won’t be testifying and you’ll sit by your attorney and listen to the questions and answers, from the lawyers and the officer.

At the end of the hearing the Judge can generally do two things:

  • Find probable cause and send the case to the Grand Jury
  • Dismiss the case for lack of probable cause

The Judge at this stage cannot,

  • Find you guilty or not guilty
  • Impose any penalty, like jail time or fines
  • Make the State offer you a plea you want
  • Continue the case in Sessions Court

The Judge will decide legal issues, like whether to consider or suppress certain evidence (often blood tests and breath tests) and will decide probable cause.

Probable cause means – is it more likely than not (think 51%) that a crime was committed and that the person charged committed it.

If the Judge finds probable cause, the case goes on to the next level of court, the trial court, also known as Circuit Court and Criminal Court.


What’s Next

The large majority of DUI cases don’t get any farther than this. They are settled or dismissed during the process I’ve been describing here.

There are a few DUI cases that end up in Criminal Court, for various reason, but that’s an entire article (or book) of its own.

At this point, hopefully you have a good idea of how the DUI prosecution and defense process works and what to expect. I hope you’ll give me a call if you have questions about your case and if you’d like to see if working with the Barnes Law Firm is right for you. (865) 805-5703

You can also check out some of our other articles that address specific aspects that come up in many DUI cases from the sidebar at your right or at the top of this page.

Client Testimonials

"John is amazing not only did he get the outcome he promised he did it in a shorter time than he originally said. He went above and beyond in returning my emails and phone calls. John and staff truly cared about me as a person. I highly recommend John Barnes."

Coach M.

"I would highly recommend Mr. Barnes to everyone & I would definitely contact Mr. Barnes if I or anyone in my family should ever need an attorney again:) They were all very professional, friendly & treated our case with importance:) Mr.Barnes got my son’s DUI dropped to reckless driving so I would definitely recommend him to everyone!!!!!!!"

Alicia U.

"Mr. Barnes and his staff are amazing. I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job with my case. At no point in the long process was I disappointed in any way with how things were handled."

Scott C.