Even if you have never been stopped by the police on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) you likely have a general understanding of the procedures followed by law enforcement when a motorist is suspected of drunk driving. For example, you probably know that a suspect in a drunk driving case is required to take a breathalyzer test to determine if the driver has been drinking. What happens if you refuse the breath test? While that may seem to be an excellent way to avoid providing the prosecutor with evidence of your guilt there are some fairly significant consequences that go along with refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test in California.
When a law enforcement officer suspects that a motorist is operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs the officer will typically conduct a number of field sobriety tests. The results of the field sobriety tests may form the basis of a subsequent arrest for driving under the influence, or DUI. Field sobriety tests may include completing tasks such as walking a straight line, reciting the alphabet, or touching your finger to your nose. A portable breath test may also be used during the field sobriety tests. Although a portable breath test is not admissible in a court of law it can be used along with the results of the field sobriety tests to form the basis of the probable cause needed to arrest a motorist.
The next step in a California DUI arrest is usually to take you to the police station where you will be asked to consent to a formal breathalyzer test. Under California law, as is the case in most states, you have hardly given your implied consent to this test when you received your driver’s license. Although you do still have the right to refuse to submit to a breathalyzer there are consequences to your refusal.
Refusing a breathalyzer test will result in an automatic one year license suspension if this is your first DUI offense. For a second DUI offense within 10 years coupled with a breathalyzer test refusal your license will be suspended for two years. For your third DUI offense within 10 years your license will be suspended for three years if you refuse a breathalyzer. It is important to note that your driver’s license suspension will remain in effect even in your DUI charges are reduced or the case is dismissed outright. You do, however, have the right to request a DMV the hearing to try and lift the suspension.
If you are ultimately convicted despite your refusal to take the breathalyzer your sentence may be increased as a result of the refusal enhancement. If it is your first DUI conviction your sentence will include an additional 48 hours in a County jail and a minimum nine-month California DUI school. Absent the refusal you are only required to complete a three month DUI school program. For second and subsequent DUI convictions additional jail time will be included in your sentence if you refuse the breathalyzer.