Like virtually every other state, Pennsylvania employs three methods to measure the blood alcohol content ("BAC") level of persons suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol: breath test, urine sample or blood sample. A driver's refusal to take such a test results in an automatic suspension of his or her driver's license.
In a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court case from Luzerne County, a driver facing drunk driving charges, contended that he had satisfied the statute by agreeing to a breath or urine test but rejecting a blood test. The court rejected this argument and ruled that anything short of an unqualified assent to a police request to submit to a chemical test amounts to a refusal. In other words, drivers do not have the right to negotiate with police concerning the nature of the BAC test they must take.
While the decision will affect drivers throughout the Commonwealth, its future is clouded by the fact that the Supreme Court was missing three members when the case was decided. The defendant's attorney plans to file a request for reconsideration after the vacancies are filled so that the case can be considered by the full court.
The decision to refuse a police request for a BAC test, regardless of the means by which the test will be administered, can have significant adverse consequences. Nevertheless, a knowledgeable defense attorney can evaluate the circumstances surrounding a traffic stop and provide advice about the legality of refusing a test. Such a lawyer can also estimate the likelihood of challenging the results of the test and obtaining a favorable plea agreement or an outright acquittal.
Source: The Morning Call, "Drivers stopped for DUI have no right to choose their test, court rules," Peter Hall, Dec. 31, 2015