What Happens if You Refuse a Breathalyzer or Blood Test after a DUI Arrest?

October 22, 2009

In a previous blog post, I addressed how in cases of driving under the influence, the blood alcohol content ("BAC") of the offender affects the severity of the sentences. Clearly, obtaining an accurate measurement of BAC is very important to law enforcement officials. As a result, after someone is arrested for DUI and transported to a hospital or police station, breathalyzer or blood tests are administered to specifically determine the suspect’s BAC. Over the years many people have asked me if they can simply refuse to submit to those tests. Surprisingly, you can in fact refuse to take such a test. However, if you do, your driver’s license will be suspended for at least one year and you will subject yourself to further possible disadvantages.

The suspension arises from the so-called "Implied Consent" law, which is found in section 1547 of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, . Generally, section 1547 states that anyone who ". . . drives. . . a vehicle in this Commonwealth shall be deemed to have given consent to one or more chemical tests of breath, blood or urine for the purpose of determining [BAC] . . . if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person . . ." is under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. More simply stated, in the eyes of the law, anyone driving a vehicle in Pennsylvania has already implicitly consented to BAC testing. Refusals to submit to BAC tests will result in a license suspension of at least one year. Moreover, such suspension will be in addition to any suspension that arises from the DUI charges themselves if a conviction occurs.

In addition to the suspension, a refusal can lead to other detrimental consequences. First, the DUI charge will be placed in the third tier for sentencing purposes, resulting in harsher sentences and more expensive fines. Essentially, this treats the offender as if they had a BAC equal to or higher than .16 percent. This is obviously detrimental to drivers whose charges would have been treated as first or second tier offenses had they submitted to the BAC test.

Additionally, the refusal itself can be used against suspects at trial to prove a consciousness of guilt. At the time of testing, a DUI suspect is told that if they refuse the BAC test, they will lose their license for at least one year. At trial, prosecutors will argue that instead of submitting to BAC testing, refusing suspects chose to lose their licenses for one year because they knew that their BAC would likely be above the legal limit.

Those disadvantages underscore the need for competent legal representation when facing DUI charges. In the future, we will address other topics related to DUI, including field sobriety tests, licensing issues and the consequences of driving with a suspended license, so please be sure to check back.