What Happens if You Refuse a Breathalyzer Test in California?

If you find yourself pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) in California, law enforcement officers will likely request that you take a breathalyzer test to determine your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). While it’s generally recommended to comply with these tests, you may wonder what happens if you refuse a breathalyzer test in California. It is important to understand the implications and legal repercussions of refusing a breathalyzer test in California.

Understanding Implied Consent Laws

To comprehend the implications of refusing a breathalyzer test, it’s essential to understand California’s implied consent laws. In the state, the law dictates that anyone operating a motor vehicle has implicitly consented to chemical testing if lawfully arrested for a DUI. This means that by driving on California’s roads, you have already given your consent to provide a sample of your breath or blood when law enforcement suspects you of driving under the influence.

Consequences of Refusing a Breathalyzer Test

  1. 1. Automatic License Suspension: Refusing a breathalyzer test triggers an automatic administrative suspension of your driver’s license, regardless of whether you’re ultimately convicted of a DUI. The suspension period typically lasts longer than for a first-time DUI offense. It’s important to note that this administrative suspension is separate from any suspension imposed by the court.  The normal suspension on a first offense DUI with refusal is one year of no driving. There is no ability to drive even for work purposes.  The one year suspension is a hard suspension which is why it is critical to fight it.
  3. 2. Increased Penalties: If you are later convicted of a DUI after refusing a breathalyzer test, the fact that you refused can be used against you in court. The prosecution may argue that your refusal indicates a consciousness of guilt, potentially leading to enhanced penalties, such as longer license suspensions, mandatory alcohol education programs, or even jail time.  The DA’s policy is to ask for a minimum of 48 hours in jail for a refusal, not considering any other aggravating factors that may further enhance the punishment. 
  5. 3. Impact on Legal Defense: Refusing a breathalyzer test can complicate your legal defense strategy. While it may prevent the prosecution from having direct evidence of your BAC, the prosecution can still rely on other evidence, such as field sobriety tests, witness testimony, or officer observations, to build their case against you. Your refusal may also be used to challenge your credibility or imply guilt to the jury.  It will be twisted to appear that you were attempting to hide evidence of impairment because you knew you were guilty of drunk driving.

Options After Refusing a Breathalyzer Test

If you have refused a breathalyzer test, it’s crucial to seek legal counsel immediately. An experienced DUI attorney in California can help navigate the complexities of your case and explore potential defense strategies. Here are a few options that might be available:

  1. 1. Challenging the Traffic Stop: Your attorney may investigate the circumstances surrounding the traffic stop itself to determine if there were any constitutional violations or procedural errors that could lead to the suppression of evidence.
  3. 2. Contesting the Refusal: Your lawyer can evaluate whether the arresting officer properly advised you of the consequences of refusing a breathalyzer test. If the officer failed to provide accurate information or violated your rights during the arrest, it could strengthen your defense.
  5. 3. Assessing the Test’s Accuracy: Your attorney can analyze the reliability of the breathalyzer device used and examine the maintenance records, calibration history, or potential operator errors to challenge the accuracy of the test results.

Alternative Chemical Tests

It is worth noting that breathalyzer tests are not the only chemical tests available. In California, individuals who refuse a breathalyzer test must take the only remaining chemical test, which is a blood test. Refusing these alternative tests carries similar administrative and legal consequences as refusing a breathalyzer test. 

Contact a DUI Attorney in California

While it is your right to refuse a breathalyzer test in California, doing so comes with its own set of consequences. These consequences include automatic license suspension, potential enhancement of penalties, and the potential impact on your legal defense. If you find yourself in such a situation, it is crucial to consult with a knowledgeable DUI attorney who can guide you through the legal process and develop a strong defense strategy tailored to your case. Remember, it’s important to act swiftly to protect your rights and secure the best possible outcome in your DUI case.

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