What Happens if You Refuse a Breathalyzer Test?

driver arguing with a police officer over a breathalyzer test - refusing a breathalyzer test

In the event you have been pulled over by law enforcement on the suspicion you were driving under the influence of alcohol, you will likely be asked to take a breathalyzer test. If you refuse to take the test, the police won’t have evidence of your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in order for the state to prosecute you. But even though you have the right to refuse a breathalyzer test, it’s important to understand that doing so can come with a number of serious consequences — and administrative penalties imposed by the DMV.

North Carolina’s Implied Consent Laws

Drivers in North Carolina are required to submit to chemical testing under the state’s “implied consent” laws if they have been arrested for a DWI. Under this law, you can refuse a breathalyzer test, but still face administrative penalties. A police officer can also compel you to be tested under other laws.

N.C.G.S. § 20-16.2 states the following:

“Any person who drives a vehicle on a highway or public vehicular area thereby gives consent to a chemical analysis if charged with an implied-consent offense. Any law enforcement officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that the person charged has committed the implied-consent offense may obtain a chemical analysis of the person.”

It’s important to understand that drivers who have been arrested for a DWI have certain rights under the implied consent law, including the option to refuse to submit to testing. The implied consent law requires the police to inform you of your legal rights and the consequences of refusing a breathalyzer test. Specifically, they must advise you that although you have the right to refuse the breathalyzer test, your license will be revoked for one year.

In addition, before the chemical analysis is performed, the police must inform you that your test results — or refusal to submit to testing — can be used as admissible evidence against you in court. The law specifies that you have 30 minutes to contact counsel for legal advice and to choose a witness to observe the testing procedures. But the testing must not be delayed for longer than 30 minutes from the time police notify you of this right, regardless of whether you called an attorney, or your witness has arrived.

Administrative Penalties for Refusing a Breathalyzer Test

Under the implied consent laws of North Carolina, refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test can result in the automatic revocation of your driving privileges for at least one year — or longer, depending on the circumstances. However, if you meet the eligibility requirements, it might be possible to obtain a limited driving privilege after the first six months of the revocation. To obtain limited driving privileges, you must have had a valid driver’s license when you were arrested and have not refused a breath test or been convicted of a DWI within the last seven years, and your current DWI charge must be resolved.

License revocation is a civil penalty in North Carolina, separate from the criminal charges brought against you. In other words, even if you had the criminal case against you dropped, you could still be without a license for months.

Should You Refuse a Breathalyzer Test?

There are pros and cons to refusing a breathalyzer test. It’s crucial to speak with an experienced attorney about the best course of action to take according to the specific circumstances of your case. If it would be your first conviction, the sentence you might get if you take the test and are found guilty of a DWI might be less severe than the 12-month license suspension imposed for a refusal.

By refusing a breathalyzer test, the prosecution won’t have the test results to use against you. This can sometimes increase the chances of a favorable plea deal or obtaining a dismissal of your case. However, the fact that you refused the test would also be admissible as evidence at trial. In such cases, the prosecution can tell the jury to presume you were intoxicated based on your refusal to submit to testing. The prosecution can also use other evidence, such as law enforcement’s observations of your erratic driving, how you acted when you were pulled over, and whether the police smelled alcohol on your breath.

And, you should always remember that the State can seek a search warrant to conduct a blood test for alcohol, even if you refuse the breath test. Whether or not you should take a breath test is a serious decision and should not be taken lightly.

Contact an Experienced North Carolina DWI Attorney

If you’ve been arrested for a DWI in North Carolina, it’s essential to contact an attorney immediately who can protect your rights and fight for the best possible outcome in your case. The Johnston County DWI defense attorneys at Reece & Reece, Attorneys at Law provide aggressive representation for a variety of criminal and traffic-related offenses, including DWI charges. Call (919) 300-1249 to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help.

Categories: DUI/DWI