Although it's not the only evidence available to them, prosecutors often rely on the results of chemical testing to help convict people of driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges. Therefore, a common question many people who are pulled over for suspicion of driving while intoxicated have is whether refusing to submit to chemical testing is a good idea. Here's what you need to know about the legality and wisdom of this option.
Is Chemical Testing Required?
All states have implied consent laws that essentially state you agree to undergo chemical testing when required as a condition of receiving your driver's license. This means you can be subjected to a breathalyzer, blood, or urine test at any time after being pulled over by the police as long as the officer has probable cause (i.e. reasonable suspicion you are driving intoxicated). In most states, though, the police can only exercise this requirement after you are arrested.
Despite what the law says, however, you cannot be forced to do the test. In fact, according to some statistics, about 20 percent of people pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving decline to undergo chemical testing. In some rare cases, though, a police officer may be able to compel you to take the test by obtaining a subpoena.
Refusing May Not Be the Best Option
The primary reason why people may refuse to do chemical testing is to prevent the prosecutor from using that information in court. It may be easier to dispute the DWI charges since the prosecutor would then have to rely on police testimony to make his or her case. An attorney may be able to effectively dispute the police's version of events, which may lead to a court decision in the defendant's favor.
However, the punishment for refusing to do chemical testing is typically severe enough to discourage people from taking this route. In most states, your license will be suspended by the DMV for a period of time, even if you aren't ultimately convicted of DWI. For instance, in Georgia, your license will be suspended for one year for refusing the test. Some states also levy fines against people, automatically require people to complete an intervention or treatment program, and/or sentence offenders to jail time.
Lastly, the prosecutor can use your refusal to take the test against you in court. He or she may make the argument that you refused to take the test because you knew you were guilty. Whether this works or not will depend on the court, the evidence against you, and the skill of your lawyer.
It's best to consult with an attorney about the ramification associated with refusing to submit to chemical testing. For more information about or assistance with this issue, contact a DWI lawyer like Hornthal Riley Ellis & Maland LLP.