Tennessee Alcohol Laws: Learn Them & Avoid Serious Problems!

This page will help you understand Tennessee alcohol laws and avoid expensive fines or even jail. Not to mention time and embarrassment.

Tennessee alcohol laws apply to both residents and visitors. Alcohol laws vary from state to state. Even within a state. Tennessee also has many dry counties. Not knowing the state’s laws is no protection from jail.


          OVERVIEW

I.   Alcohol Minimum Ages
II.  More Alcohol Laws
III. Resources
IV.  Get Good Advice

I. Alcohol Minimum Ages

Many states permit parents to serve their children alcohol in their home for cultural or educational reasons. Most permit consumption of alcohol for religious, medical, or other reasons. Tennessee alcohol laws do not.

People under 21 may not consume wine for religious purposes. So communion wine or wine with Seder is illegal.

tennessee alcohol lawsThe  Tennessee Legislature has zero tolerance for drinking under 21. It also seems to have little tolerance for freedom of religion. Even that granted by the US Constitution.

Many young people want part-time jobs. Hospitality offers many. Some involve alcohol. Youths want to know about required ages. What’s the age for serving alcohol in a restaurant? For selling alcohol for consumption off-site? What about for tending bar?

Tennessee alcohol laws permit adults to be servers in venues that sell alcohol for consumption on-site. That is, those 18 or older may do this job.

They permit adults of the same age to be bartenders. And they permit adults 18 or older to sell alcohol in venues for off-premises consumption.

The use of a false ID to buy alcohol is a criminal offense.

It is illegal for those under age 21 to drive if they have a blood alcohol concentration  (BAC) over 0.02%.

II. More Tennessee Alcohol Laws

A. Selling Alcohol

Grocery stores, convenience stores, and gas stations may sell beer. They may do so from 8:00 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day of the week. And they may also sell wine, except on Sundays.

Liquor or package stores may sell beer, wine and distilled spirits. Spirits are vodka, gin, tequila, rum bourbon, scotch, etc. They may do so from 8:00 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. They must close on Sundays.

Restaurants and bars may serve alcohol by the drink from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays. On Sundays they may sell from 10 a.m. until 3 a.m.

It’s illegal to sell alcoholic beverages on January First, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, and December 25th.

By default, all counties and municipalities in the state are dry. They must pass laws in order to permit the sale of alcohol.

Dry Counties

Fourteen counties in Tennessee are dry. They prohibit all sales of wine and spirits. These are the dry counties.

tennessee alcohol laws
A camel: symbol of prohibition.

Crockett
Fentress
Hancock
Houston
Johnson
Lake
Macon
McNairy
Meigs
Morgan
Pickett
Rhea
Stewart
Union

Tennessee alcohol laws strictly prohibit selling alcohol to anyone under 21. An offending clerk or server faces driving license suspension for up to one year. And community service of up to 100 hours. In addition, there’s a probation of one year and a permanent criminal record. For the alcohol license owner, the penalties are much greater.

It’s also illegal to sell any alcoholic beverage to anyone who is visibly under the influence.

B. Buying Alcohol

It’s a violation of Tennessee alcohol laws for anyone under age 21 to buy alcohol. It’s also illegal for them to try to buy alcohol. Adults age 18, 19, or twenty who use a false ID receive a fine of at last $50. But could be as high as $200. The judge may also suspend their license for up to one year. In addition, the offender faces jail for at least five days. However, it might be as long as 30 days.

The state punishes illegal possession of alcohol by anyone under age 21. It does so by suspending the offender’s license. It’s for one year or until age 17, whichever is longer. For a second offense, the license suspension is for two years or until the offender is 18, whichever is longer.

Buying alcohol for a person under 21 is illegal. The state punishes a first offense with a fine of $25 to $500 and community service of 100 hours. The offender also faces possible driving license suspension. And it’s illegal to let anyone under 21 drink on one’s property.

C. Driving and Alcohol

It’s illegal to drive under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and/or drugs. Driving with a BAC of 0.08% violates Tennessee alcohol laws. For drivers under 21, DUI is 0.02% or over.

The exact penalties depend on the circumstances of the case. And, of course, the judge.

   First DUI

  • Jail for 48 hours to 11 months, 29 days. For a BAC of 0.20%, it’s at least jail for seven days in a row.
  • License revocation for one year. (License with hardship restrictions available.)
  • Participation in an alcohol and drug treatment program.
  • Payment of restitution to anyone suffering personal injury or loss
  • Ignition interlock device (IID) installation on vehicle required after reinstatement of license. That is at offender’s expense.

   Second DUI

  •  Jail for at least 45 days. But may be as high as 11 months, 29 days.
  • Fine of at least $600. But it could be as high as $3,500.
  • License revocation for two years. (License with hardship restrictions available.)
  • Participation in an alcohol and drug treatment program.
  • Payment of restitution to anyone suffering personal injury or loss.
  • Vehicle also subject seizure/forfeiture at judge’s discretion.
  • IID on vehicle at offender’s expense.
  • If two DUIs in five years, IID required for six months after reinstatement of license. Again, at offender’s expense.

   Third DUI

  • Jail for 120 days to 11 months, 29 days.
  • Fine of at least $1,100. But could be as high as $10,000.
  • License revocation for six years. (License with hardship restrictions available.)
  • Participation in an alcohol and drug treatment program.
  • Vehicle also subject to seizure/forfeiture at judge’s discretion.
  • IID on vehicle at offender’s expense.
  • If two DUIs in five years, IID required for six months after reinstatement of license. Of course, that’s at offender’s expense.

   Fourth DUI

tennessee alcohol laws
Ignition Interlock Device
  • A fourth DUI is a crime.
  • Jail for at least one year with at least 150 days served in a row.
  • Fine of at least $3,000. But may be as high as $15,000.
  • License revocation for eight years. (License with hardship restrictions available.)
  • Required completion of an alcohol and drug treatment program. Of course, at expense of violator.
  • Vehicle also subject to seizure/forfeiture at judge’s discretion.
  • Ignition interlock device (IID) installed on vehicle. That is at offender’s expense.
  • If two DUIs in five years, IID required for six months after reinstatement of license. Again, at offender’s expense.

Other DUI Violations

tennessee alcohol lawsVehicular assault occurs when a DUI driver causes serious injury to another person. It’s a criminal act. Prison is for at least two years. But it could be as long as 12 years. License revocation for at least from one year. However, it could be for as long as five years. The length depends on the number of prior offenses. And there is no availability of a driving license with restrictions. Also, the offender must all pay fines and court costs.

Child endangerment occurs with a DUI when a passenger is under 18. This is also a criminal act. If the child suffers serious injuries, prison is for at least two years. But it could be as high as 12 years. If the child dies, prison is for for at least eight years. But it might be as long as  to 30 years. The state also revokes the offender’s license.

Vehicular homicide occurs if a DUI causes the death of another. This is a serious criminal act. The license revocation is for at least three years. However, it might be as long as ten years. Also no license with hardship restrictions is available.

Driver Rights

All drivers have a U.S. Constitutional right to decline submitting to a chemical BAC test. However, the state punishes those who use their right. The first time a driver uses the right, there’s a license revocation of one year. If the driver uses the right on a second occasion, the revocation is for two years.

tennessee alcohol lawsHowever, there are no legal penalties for not submitting to a field sobriety test. These are highly inaccurate. Indeed, about 30% of completely sober people fail them. That is, about one of every three people with a zero BAC (0.00%) fail them.

Lawyers strongly urge drivers never to take a field sobriety test. They say to politely refuse. And to do so as long as necessary.

Some officers falsely insist that the law requires it. In fact, no law does. They may say you can prove your innocence by taking the test. But officers don’t consider passing the test as proof of sobriety. More important, drivers don’t need to prove their innocence. It’s the state that has to prove guilt!

While investigating, police can legally lie. So don’t be a sucker.

Learn much more at Never Take a Field Sobriety Test Say DUI Lawyers.

Other Things to Remember

Drivers may not drink in a vehicle they are driving. But Tennessee alcohol laws permit passengers to do so. However, many counties and municipalities may prohibit it.

DUI typically causes many expenses. They include towing, bail, lawyer fees, court costs, license reinstatement fees, and many others. So the total easily reaches thousands of dollars.

A good rule of thumb is not to drink and drive.

D. Boating and Alcohol

Tennessee alcohol lawsUnder Tennessee alcohol laws, it’s illegal operate a boat under the influence (BUI) of alcohol and/or drugs.

Having a BAC of 0.08% is proof of being under the influence.

   First BUI

  • Fine of up to $2,500.
  • Jail for up to 11 months and 29 days.
  • Suspension of boating license for at least. But it may be up to ten years.

   Second BUI

  • Fine of up to $2,500.
  • Jail for up to 11 months and 29 days.
  • Suspension of license for one to ten years.

   Third BUI

  • Fine of up to $5,000.
  • Jail for up to 11 months and 29 days.
  • Suspension of license for one year. But it could be as long as ten years.

Other Facts

Constitutional right. Use of the right to decline submitting to a chemical BAC test results in an additional boating license suspension.

Police take blood for BAC testing from all boat operators if an accident results in serious injury or death.

III. Resources on Tennessee Alcohol Laws

IV. Get Good Advice about Drinking Laws in Tennessee

Law is complex. Lawyers spend years learning it. It is not a case of do it yourself. So don’t rely on this site. Nor on any other site.

Friends may give advice. Co-workers may give opinions. Family may give views. Neighbors may give experience. Smile and thank them. Then ignore what they say. Unless they’re lawyers, what the say is worth what you paid. That is, nothing. Worse, it may be misleading.

Get advice about Tennessee’s alcohol laws from an expert. That is a lawyer with a license in the state. The state bar gives free lawyer referrals.

 

So now you know more about Tennessee alcohol laws than do most residents of the Volunteer State!