If you are pulled over by a law enforcement officer while operating a motor vehicle in California and the officer suspects that you are driving under the influence, or DUI, you will likely be asked to submit to a series of field sobriety tests. Those tests may then be followed by a chemical breath test, commonly referred to as a “breathalyzer, or a blood test. Although you may refuse to submit to these tests, there are serious consequences to refusing a breathalyzer test in California.
A police officer may pull you over and initiate a DUI investigation because you are driving erratically or are exhibiting other driving behaviors associated with driving under the influence. Typically, the officer will ask you questions relating to recent alcohol consumption or drug use. If the officer has reason to believe you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he or she may ask you to complete what are known as “field sobriety tests”. These include things like walking a straight line or reciting the alphabet. You may also be asked to take a Preliminary Alcohol Screening, or PAS, breathalyzer. This involves blowing into a simple device that detects alcohol in your breath. While the PAS breathalyzer is not as sensitive or accurate as the one used once you reach the police station it can give an officer an indication if further testing is needed. If you are placed under arrest based on the results of the field sobriety tests, you will then be asked to submit to a more advanced chemical breath or blood test which will show recent alcohol or drug usage.
In California, as is the case in most states, a motorist gives implied consent to a breath or blood test whenever he or she operates a motor vehicle on a public roadway. California Vehicle Code Section 23612
Consequences of Refusing
You have the right to refuse a breath or blood test; however, there are consequences of a refusal. If it is your first refusal you face up to 48 hours in jail and a year-long suspension of your driving privileges. For a second refusal you face up to 96 hours in jail and a three year suspension while a third refusal carries up to ten days in jail and a three year license suspension. These penalties are on top of any jail time or license suspension that results from a conviction on the underlying DUI charges.
Test results are not necessary to convict a defendant of an alcohol related driving offense in California. Though it certainly helps the prosecution to be able to present exam results showing the presence of alcohol or drugs in the defendant’s system at the time of the arrest, it is possible for the state to convict you without those results.