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Refusing a Breathalyzer Test in Pennsylvania

Refusing a Breathalyzer Test in Pennsylvania

Getting pulled over for suspected drunk driving can be scary. You may feel pressured to take a breathalyzer test on the spot. However, you do have the right to refuse in Pennsylvania. Refusing the test comes with consequences though, so you need to understand what happens if you say no.

This article will walk through everything you need to know if you’re thinking of refusing a breathalyzer test after getting stopped for DUI in PA. We’ll cover the penalties, what happens at the police station, your rights, and more. Let’s dive in!

Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law

Pennsylvania has an “implied consent” law for drinking and driving. This means that by driving in the state, you automatically consent to take a chemical test for blood alcohol content if an officer requests it. So if you get pulled over on suspicion of DUI and refuse a breathalyzer test, you are breaking this law.

The police officer doesn’t need to explain implied consent or get your verbal agreement at the time. Your consent was already given when you got your driver’s license. Refusing the test anyway leads to penalties.

Penalties for Refusing a Breath Test

The penalties for refusing a breathalyzer in Pennsylvania are:

  • First offense – 12 month driver’s license suspension
  • Second offense – 18 month driver’s license suspension
  • Third offense – 18 month driver’s license suspension

In addition, if you are convicted of a DUI after refusing the breath test:

  • First offense – At least 72 consecutive hours in jail and a fine of $1,000 to $5,000
  • Second offense – At least 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,500 to $10,000
  • Third offense – At least one year in jail and a fine of $2,500 to $10,000

The license suspension happens automatically, even if your DUI charges get dropped or you are found not guilty. The criminal penalties only apply if you are convicted of the DUI.

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What Happens at the Police Station

After getting arrested on suspicion of DUI, the officer will take you to the police station. Here are the typical next steps:

  1. The officer observes you for 20 minutes to make sure you don’t vomit or put anything in your mouth.
  2. You are asked to blow into the breathalyzer machine.
  3. You must provide two breath samples, with the lower BAC reading used as evidence.
  4. If you refuse at this point, it is considered a chemical test refusal.

The machine calculates your blood alcohol content based on the amount of alcohol in your breath. If it reads 0.08% or above, that can be used as evidence that you were over the legal limit.

Reasons People Refuse the Breath Test

There are a few common reasons people decide to refuse the breathalyzer test after getting arrested for DUI:

  • They don’t want to provide evidence against themselves.
  • They think refusing might help them avoid a DUI conviction.
  • They hope to get a lighter punishment.
  • They are nervous and not thinking clearly after the arrest.

While these reasons are understandable, it’s important to know that refusing the breath test comes with serious penalties. In some cases, you may be better off taking the test and fighting the results in court if you believe the machine was faulty.

Can You Change Your Mind?

What if you initially refuse the breath test, but then change your mind? Pennsylvania does allow you to rescind your refusal, but there are caveats.

You must rescind the refusal within a reasonable amount of time. This generally means within a couple hours after initially saying no. You don’t get unlimited time to think it over.

Whether you are allowed to take the test after rescinding is up to the officer. So there’s no guarantee. It’s best not to refuse in the first place unless you are absolutely certain.

Should You Refuse the Preliminary Breath Test?

In some DUI stops, the officer may first ask you to take a preliminary breath test (PBT) before arresting you. This is done roadside after pulling you over, not at the station.

You are within your rights to refuse the PBT. However, refusing looks suspicious and will likely lead to your arrest anyway. The PBT can only help confirm that alcohol was involved, so there is little downside to taking it.

The PBT uses a handheld device and is not admissible in court. At this stage, the officer is simply establishing probable cause to make an arrest. It’s the chemical breath test at the station that really matters.

What Happens if You Refuse Both Tests?

You can refuse both the preliminary breath test and the chemical breath test at the station after your DUI arrest. Here’s what happens if you say no to both:

  • The officer will likely have probable cause to arrest you for DUI based on observation alone.
  • With no breath test results, the DUI charges will be based on the officer’s testimony.
  • It will be more challenging for the prosecutor to prove you were over the limit.
  • You still face the penalties for refusing the chemical test.

Without the breathalyzer evidence, it becomes a matter of your word against the officer’s. But it does not automatically get you off the hook. The district attorney may still pursue DUI charges against you.

Can You “Fail” the Breath Test Without Drinking?

It is possible to register a false positive on a breathalyzer test even if you have not been drinking. Here are some potential causes:

  • Medical conditions like diabetes and acid reflux
  • Breath spray, mouthwash, or breath mints
  • Burping or belching
  • Asthma inhalers
  • Contaminated machine or improper calibration

If you believe the breath test results were inaccurate for reasons like these, tell your DUI defense attorney right away. There may be grounds to get the breathalyzer results thrown out.

Fighting a Refusal Charge

Even if your DUI charges get dropped, you can still face penalties for refusing the breath test. Here are some ways a lawyer may fight the refusal charge:

  • Challenge whether there was probable cause for the DUI arrest
  • Argue the officer did not properly explain implied consent
  • Claim you were confused or coerced into refusing
  • Allege the machine was not calibrated correctly

An experienced DUI defense attorney knows the ins and outs of breathalyzer procedures and requirements. Small technical errors can sometimes invalidate the test refusal.

Appealing a License Suspension

After refusing the breath test, your license suspension starts quickly. You only have 30 days to file an appeal. Here are some grounds to appeal the suspension:

  • No probable cause for the DUI arrest
  • Not informed of implied consent rights
  • Errors in paperwork submitted to PennDOT
  • Illegal traffic stop

An attorney’s help is crucial for filing your suspension appeal on time and giving you the best argument. The appeal hearing is your chance to tell your side of the story.

Should You Refuse the Breath Test?

With substantial penalties on the line, deciding whether to refuse the breath test is not easy. Here are some tips if you find yourself in that situation:

  • If you know you are over the limit, refusing likely won’t help your case.
  • If you are stone cold sober, refusing still risks penalties with little benefit.
  • If you believe the machine is unreliable, politely state your concerns and take the test anyway to avoid refusal penalties.
  • If you have medical issues that could cause a false positive, tell the officer and consider refusing – but the penalties are steep.
  • If you’ve been drinking just a little, refusing is very risky but may introduce some doubt if combined with other defense strategies.

Every DUI case is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer. An experienced DUI lawyer can offer guidance based on the specifics of your case.

The Bottom Line

Refusing a breathalyzer test after a DUI arrest in Pennsylvania has serious consequences. Your license will be suspended for at least one year, and further penalties apply if convicted of the DUI charges.

Because implied consent is automatic, police do not need a warrant or your permission to administer the breath test. Make sure you understand the penalties before deciding to refuse.

If you refused and are now facing charges, don’t go it alone. An attorney may be able to get evidence thrown out or negotiate reduced penalties. Don’t wait to get expert legal help.

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