Many residents of Lackawanna County have heard of “Breathalyzer tests” or “implied consent,” but few understand the law behind the names. The Pennsylvania Legislature, like legislatures in the other 49 states, has passed a law that requires all persons driving on the state’s roads to consent to a test of their blood alcohol content when requested to do so by a police officer. The consequences of refusal can be severe.
The statute states that individuals who drive a vehicle in the state are presumed to have consented to one or more tests to determine the level of alcohol in their blood stream. The imposition of the consent requirement has been held by the state Supreme Court to be a constitutional exercise of the state’s power to regulate the safety of its highways. If a person is stopped on suspicion of drunk driving, the officer can make the request that the person submit to the blood test. In the field, officers ordinarily use a device called a breathalyzer that can indirectly determine a person’s BAC by taking a sample of the person’s breath.
The refusal to consent to a blood alcohol test automatically results in the suspension of the suspect’s driver’s license for 12 months. The driver may also be required to pay a restoration fee of up to $2,000. The driver’s refusal may also be used at trial on the underlying DUI charge. The suspension of driving privileges is generally regarded as an administrative proceeding and not a criminal penalty.
Most people think that suspension of driving privileges is the only penalty that may result from the refusal to submit to a blood test, but that assumption is false. Depending upon the evidence, the suspect may still be charged with DUI and required to stand trial. Anyone who is charged with a DUI and who has refused to consent to a BAC test may wish to seek advice from an experienced criminal defense attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer can provide a helpful evaluation of the facts of the case and, if appropriate, negotiate a favorable plea agreement.