A common hypothetical often asked of criminal defense attorneys includes the following scenario. A driver is pulled over in the state of Pennsylvania. The officer, suspecting the driver may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, requests the driver submit to chemical testing (be it blood, breath or urine). The driver refuses, believing this may be his or her best way to get out of the DUI under the mistaken belief that the law requires evidence of a chemical test to convict an individual for driving under the influence. So, what happens next?
Pennsylvania has a regulation, the “implied consent” law, which covers just this situation. The law states that the privilege of driving comes with it an understanding that you must submit to a blood, breath or urine test if asked by a law enforcement officer if he or she suspects you may be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Your refusal to comply carries very significant risks. If you refuse, PennDOT (the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) automatically suspends your operating privilege for one full year regardless if you’re later found innocent of the DUI charge. It’s important to recognize that this suspension will be in addition to any court ordered sanctions regarding license suspensions, meaning your total license suspension could span well over one year (potentially as high as almost three years). However, it must be emphasized that an officer has an affirmative duty to provide a motorist arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence with notice/warning that refusing to submit to chemical testing results in this one year suspension.
Now, the “implied consent” law is civil in nature and covers PennDOT’s authority to suspend your license for the year for refusing to submit to chemical testing. This is separate from what the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will seek to demonstrate in your DUI case. A common misconception, as stated above, is that by refusing to take a blood, breath or urine test, the state can’t prove you were intoxicated. In reality, the prosecutor for the state will still have several different methods available to make his case. It should initially be noted that your refusal to take a chemical test to determine your blood alcohol content is admissible in court. The prosecutor can attempt to make the connection to the finder of fact that your refusal to take the test was based on your belief that you would be over the limit.
Additionally, the prosecutor’s objective is to show general impairment. Therefore, by calling the arresting officer to the stand to testify as to his observations about your ability to operate a vehicle, your general appearance, and your communications with the officer, the state prosecutor may still have very strong evidence of impairment based on that officer’s eyewitness testimony.
What is most alarming is the fact that, because the Court will have no basis to determine otherwise, if you are convicted for DUI after refusing to submit to chemical testing, you will be prosecuted under the presumption you were driving with the highest blood alcohol content.
If you’ve been arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Pennsylvania, the guidance of an attorney experienced in DUI defense is critical. The Criminal Defense Attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell have extensive experience in assisting clients through these matters. If any of the above information applies to you, call for a free consultation at (215)-947-6240 or contact us online to schedule a meeting.
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