Many motorists do not have a clear understanding of their legal rights when they are pulled over on suspicion of DUI. They think that if they refuse to cooperate to perform a field sobriety test or a Breathalyzer test that the police will have little evidence with which to move forward a criminal case. In reality, the refusal to submit to such testing may become the grounds for a separate criminal charge. There have actually been cases in which the DUI charges are dropped while the refusal to submit to testing charges are pursued.
Both the driver and the police officer have certain obligations under the law. It is the motorist’s responsibility to submit to testing when it is asked for, and it is the duty of the police officer to inform the suspect of what may happen in the event that the driver refuses to be tested.
Where does this responsibility on the driver to submit to testing for intoxication arise? Whenever someone applies for a state driver’s license, they are “implying consent” to undergo field sobriety testing and chemical testing if they are stopped on suspicion of DUI. Implied consent laws are on the books in all 50 states. Refusal to comply with this law may result in automatic suspension of the driver’s license in addition to other civil and criminal penalties.
Implied Consent Penalties
The precise penalties that are imposed for the refusal to submit to testing vary from state to state. In some places, drivers are subject to an automatic six months or a one-year suspension. If the driver has been convicted of a DUI offense in the past, the suspension period is likely to be longer. Jail time also may be ordered, particularly where prior DUI convictions are present. Many insurance companies will cancel the driver’s policy upon suspension of their license. Moreover, if DUI charges are pursued and the defendant is found guilty, the refusal to comply with testing may result in additional charges and enhanced penalties.
Whether they are sober or under the influence, a driver who is pulled over by police is in a stressful situation. Their mind races and they may have difficulty focusing. Some people become so nervous that their heart rate increases and they have trouble breathing. With the emotional and physical upset, it can be extremely taxing to process what the officer is requesting. This may mean that the driver inadvertently refuses to submit to testing because they don’t understand what’s being asked of them or because they don’t understand that they have already implied their consent to testing merely by having a driver’s license.
Duty to Inform
Law enforcement officers have a duty to inform drivers about their rights and about the penalties if they don’t comply with a request for testing. The manner of informing drivers about potential consequences varies from state to state. In some places, police officers are required to read or recite a lengthy paragraph. Under normal circumstances, a person who is calm and sober would have little difficulty understanding what they are being told. However, someone who is in a high-stress situation and may have been drinking earlier may be unable to fully comprehend their rights and the consequences of their refusal to submit to testing.
Failing to understand implied consent laws is one defense strategy that a DUI lawyer might use to support their client’s case. Of course, there also are cases in which drivers are not given the implied consent warning at all. This makes it possible for an attorney to argue that their client did not receive a reasonable, comprehensible explanation of their options under the law.
Accordingly, when the implied consent warning is not given, the attorney may be able to maintain that any compromising test results be excluded from a trial. Since the results of blood, breath or urine testing often form the main basis of the prosecutor’s case, not being able to use these test results can be crippling.
It’s rare that an implied consent warning is not given at all, but it does happen. More typical is the issuance of the warning and the driver’s failure to fully comprehend it. If you believe that either one of these factors may apply to your DUI arrest, then it is imperative that you contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.
Your lawyer will carefully scrutinize every aspect of the incident that led to your arrest. From where you had been and what you had been doing just before you got pulled over to what happened at the police station, you’ll review the entire episode in the smallest detail. This will enable your attorney to decide which defense strategies may apply to your case.
An experienced DUI defense attorney will be able to tell you whether or not you received sufficient notice of the potential penalties if you refused to submit to a chemical or testing your blood alcohol level. The prosecution is likely to argue that the defendant signed the paperwork that granted them the ability to legally drive in the state. Accordingly, the driver should have already known that they were legally required to submit to testing of their blood, breath or urine.
However, the reality is that many years may have elapsed since the day when the driver first obtained their license from the state. Most people cannot recall that they made any sort of agreement regarding implied consent on that far-off day, which is why the implied consent notice should be a mandatory part of every traffic stop that includes suspicion of DUI. The unfortunate reality is that some police officers neglect this duty while others don’t ensure that the defendant is in the right frame of mind for comprehending the implied consent notice.
Do not waste time trying to argue with the police. Talk to a qualified DUI defense attorney instead, and don’t answer any questions until you’ve spoken with your lawyer first. They may be able to get the charges against you reduced or dropped.