What happens if you refuse blood-alcohol testing?
UPDATED: January 15, 2020
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If you are suspected of driving under the infuence of alcohol (DUI), law enforcement has three primary ways to test your blood alcohol content (BAC): a breath alcohol test (breathalyzer), a urine test, or a blood test. The consequences for refusal to submit to a blood alcohol test vary from state to state. In some states you have a right to refuse a blood alcohol test with no additional penalties for doing so, but in others you will face penalties beyond your DUI charges. Regardless of whether you refuse to take a breathalyzer test at the scene, the police may still arrest you, and will likely request that you submit to a blood or urine test once you are back at the station. Even in jurisdictions that allow refusal of the breathalyzer test, there are penalties for refusing to submit to a blood or urine test. Become familiar with your states laws regarding a DUI blood alcohol test by contacting an experienced DUI attorney.
Penalties for Refusal to Submit to a Blood Alcohol Test
Penalties for refusing a blood alcohol test almost always include a suspended license. The length of suspension for a first offense can be anywhere from three months to a year, and are often determined separately from any DUI charges. This means that even if you are not charged with a DUI, or are charged but are later acquitted, your refusal to take a breathalyzer test can result in license suspension or points accumulated on your record. Other penalties can include fines (usually of several thousand dollars for a first offense), insurance surcharges, and license revocation.
In some states, it is a criminal offense to refuse a blood alcohol test. This is charged separately from the DUI. In these states, the penalties for refusal can mean jail time. A growing number of states allow the district attorney to allege consciousness of guilt if you have refused a blood alcohol test. This means that if you refuse to submit to a blood test, the law recognizes this as admission of your own guilt, and a judge or jury can find you guilty of a DUI based on your refusal. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld consciousness of guilt, and declared that this is not a violation of the right not to incriminate oneself.
While the punishment for refusing a blood alcohol test may seem harsh, the reason behind the punishment is the implied consent principle. Implied consent means that by using the public roads, you have impliedly consented to chemical testing or blood alcohol tests.
Your Blood Alcohol Test Rights
If you are pulled over by law enforcement and they request that you submit to a blood alcohol test, the officer must inform you of your chemical test rights. Chemical test rights inform you of the consequences if you refuse to submit to a blood alcohol test. Generally this includes the right to receive a sample of the blood or urine they take, so that you can conduct your own test if you wish. It is important to note that if the law enforcement officer does not inform you of this right before giving you the chemical test, you can dispute the legal validity of test, along with the suspension of your license, in court. If after being pulled over, you refuse to submit to a Breathalyzer test, law enforcement can apply for a search warrant to take a blood test. They are able to do this because of the implied consent principle.
Some states do not give you a choice in which method they use to test your blood alcohol (blood, urine, breath). Blood tests are the most accurate way to test your blood-alcohol level, which could be good or bad for you, depending on your level of intoxication. Breathalyzer tests require the police officer to read a needle, which can mean that the test is subjective. If after you take a Breathalyzer test, the officer informs you that you are just over the legal limit, it may be to your benefit to demand a blood test if you believe that you are under the legal limit. Then again, if you are not sure, and the officer does not request that you submit to a blood test, a Breathalyzer is easier to challenge in court, because of its subjective nature.
Making the Decision to Refuse a Blood Alcohol Test
The decision to submit or not to submit to a blood alcohol test is a controversial one and depends very much on your states laws and your past record.Multiple DUI's can mean a felony charge. In this case it may be better to refuse the BAC test, even if you will receive a separate charge for it. However, it is also important to note that you may be charged for a DUI, even if you refuse to submit to a test. Law enforcement can use other evidence against you in court, such as the smell of alcohol, erratic driving, failure of field sobriety tests, witnesses, and open containers in your car.
You generally have a right to request an attorney before you submit to a blood alcohol test, as well as before you answer any questions from the officer about whether or not you have been drinking. In any jurisdiction, any time you want to speak to an attorney during this process, you should request one. Whether you had the right to speak to an attorney can always be argued by an experienced DUI lawyer.