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Should You Refuse a Blood Alcohol Test?



You have just been pulled over for erratic driving. The officer places you under arrest and asks you to take a Breathalyzer test. What do you do? Take the test and risk having an illegal blood alcohol content (BAC) and a DWI conviction? Or refuse the test, have your license automatically suspended or revoked, and hope to avoid a DWI prosecution?

Research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) evaluated whether there was any significant difference in the number of people convicted after taking a BAC test and after refusing the test. The findings were that those who refused received higher fines and longer jail terms.

The percentage of drivers who refuse the BAC test varies from state to state. Only 2.4 percent of drivers in Delaware refused the test. New Hampshire residents refused more than any other state's drivers: Almost one-quarter (22.4 percent) who were arrested refused to submit to a BAC test.

The NHTSA research centered on only three states — Minnesota, New Mexico, and Nebraska — where sufficient arrests and refusals were on record. Therefore, the findings may not be relevant nationwide. Prosecutions of drivers who voluntarily submitted to tests were compared with those of drivers who refused. In Minnesota, where refusals totaled 13 percent, those who refused received longer jail sentences (55 days) and stiffer fines ($1,100) than those who voluntarily took the test (21 days in jail and an $800 fine). Similar results were found in New Mexico and Nebraska.

The research also showed that the drivers who most often refused the test were men and people who had a prior DWI. This fact alone could explain the higher fines and longer jail sentences. However, the data provided no support for the belief that refusing a BAC could result in lower fines and shorter jail time.

Several jurisdictions allow police to obtain a warrant from a judge or prosecutor that allows them to obtain a blood sample for testing from drivers who refuse the Breathalyzer test. Nevada authorizes the use of force to obtain the blood sample. Interestingly, the U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled that states may use force to obtain blood samples for BAC tests. Most states, however, have passed laws that allow citizens to refuse a blood test but face license suspension or revocation and penalties similar to a DWI conviction.

DWI laws vary from state to state. You should consult with a competent attorney in your area to determine the law applicable in your area.