Most people know that the penalties for driving under the influence (DUI) include fines, jail time, and suspension of your driver's license. But did you know you could lose your license even if you're found not guilty of DUI? This is because of a little-known law known as implied consent. If you have a Pennsylvania driver's license, you've already given your implied consent - maybe without even realizing it. Unfortunately, implied consent means there are tough penalties for refusing to take a breathalyzer test, as our DUI defense lawyers will explain in this article.
When you received or renewed your license, you were asked to review and sign a few documents. One of them - which you might have signed without reading it over carefully - was called Form DL-26, also known as the Implied Consent Warning or the O'Connell Warning (not to be confused with the Miranda Warning). If that name isn't ringing a bell, you can jog your memory by reviewing this blank Form DL-26, supplied by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).
When you signed the DL-26, you gave your "implied consent" to submit to chemical testing (urine testing, blood testing, or breathalyzer testing). This chemical testing is authorized by 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1547, which provides the following:
"Any person who drives, operates or is in actual physical control of... a vehicle... shall be deemed to have given consent to one or more chemical tests of breath, blood or urine for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content of blood [BAC] or the presence of a controlled substance."
This is applicable as long as the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person was either:
Thus, if you refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test, you will be subject to consequences. For a first offense, your driver's license can be suspended for a full year. For subsequent offenses, or if certain other factors are in place, the license can be suspended for as long as 18 months. Even if you are later found not guilty of DUI, your license will remain suspended due to your refusal to consent to chemical testing.
The statute requires police officers to inform drivers of these consequences.
Getting pulled over for suspicious driving behavior, such as erratic driving or frequent braking, isn't the only way a person can be stopped for drunk driving.
Each state has its own laws governing the use of sobriety checkpoints, also known as DUI checkpoints or roadblocks. In some states, like Wisconsin and Wyoming, DUI checkpoints are completely prohibited by state statutes. In other states, like Louisiana and Arizona respectively, checkpoints are authorized only by the state or federal Constitution.
In Pennsylvania, not only are sobriety checkpoints upheld under both state and federal Constitution, they are also conducted with exceptional frequency, giving Pennsylvania some of the most robust checkpoint laws in the country. While most states limit such checkpoints to use on a weekly or monthly basis, amounting to just several dozen checks per year, Pennsylvania conducts several hundred annual checks.
Many residents falsely believe that sobriety checks infringe upon Constitutional rights, but the truth is that DUI roadblocks are perfectly legal in Pennsylvania. Furthermore, police officers do not need reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle at a checkpoint. While the Fourth Amendment famously safeguards "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," courts have ruled that this DUI checkpoints do not conflict with the Fourth Amendment due to the need to preserve public safety.
Writing in the 6-3 majority opinion in Michigan State Police v. Sitz in 1990, Chief Justice William Rehnquist noted the following:
"In sum, the balance of the State’s interest in preventing drunken driving... and the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists who are briefly stopped, weighs in favor of the state program. We therefore hold that it is consistent with the Fourth Amendment."
You might think that you can avoid a DUI arrest by making a U-turn, but law enforcement is already one step ahead of you. Many roadblocks are attended by officers in chase vehicles, whose purpose is to follow and apprehend drunk drivers who veer away from roadblocks in an effort to evade detection. While some cases have resolved in favor of citizens avoiding roadblocks, it is a risky gamble to take.
That being said, there are few scenarios where DUI checkpoints are unconstitutional. For instance, roadblocks must be constructed at the pre-approved location, and must be established for the sole purpose of detecting intoxicated drivers. Officers cannot question persons passing through the checkpoint about unrelated criminal activity, like assault or burglary, though plainly visible narcotics or drug paraphernalia can result in arrest for drug crimes and confiscation of the item(s).
If you think your Constitutional rights were violated by law enforcement, or you were a victim of police brutality, the criminal lawyers of Krasner & Long can help. We are highly experienced in defending clients against DUI charges, and will challenge the legality of the stop as well as the accuracy of the breathalyzer test results. Breathalyzer machines are notoriously unreliable, and the readings they produce must be scrutinized carefully. We can also help you determine whether you are eligible for the Pennsylvania ARD Program. By participating in ARD, you can avoid pleading guilty or being convicted.
To start discussing your DUI matter in a free, completely confidential legal consultation, call the defense attorneys of Krasner & Long right away at (215) 882-9752.