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 the “implied consent” statute. If you have a Pennsylvania driver’s license, you’ve already given your implied consent to submit to a chemical test of your blood – maybe without even realizing it. Unfortunately, implied consent means there are tough penalties for refusing to take a breathalyzer test. The Philadelphia DUI defense lawyer at the Law Offices of Lloyd Long are here to explain breathalyzer tests in Pennsylvania.
How Does Implied Consent Affect Your Ability to Refuse a Breathalyzer?
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). Pennsylvania’s implied consent law requires individuals who are lawfully arrested to take a blood, breath, or urine test if you are found driving under the influence. By driving on Pennsylvania roadways, you impliedly agreed to chemical testing for determining your blood alcohol content (BAC). BAC is the measurement for the amount of alcohol that is present in a person’s bloodstream.
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. Therefore, if you refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test, you will be subject to consequences. Penalties for a first-time DUI in Pennsylvania, your driver’s license can be suspended for a full year, with a $500 reinstatement fee. For multiple DUI offenses, or if certain other factors are in place, the license can be suspended for as long as 18 months and you can incur thousands in reinstatement fees. An aggravated assault with DUI can impose even stiffer penalties, like up to 10 years in prison. 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 Pennsylvania statute requires police officers to inform drivers of these consequences.
As of 2016, it is now illegal for police to perform a blood test without either your consent or a search warrant signed by a judge. The US Supreme Court decided in Birchfield v. North Dakota that police can perform a breath test when they arrest you, but they need a separate warrant to perform a blood test. Most police in PA will attempt to use a blood test to prove DUI, which means they will need a search warrant, but many state police will use chemical breath tests instead. It is unclear how Birchfield affects Pennsylvania’s implied consent law at this time.
Sobriety Checkpoints in Pennsylvania
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 the state and federal constitutions, but they are also conducted with exceptional frequency. Pennsylvania actually has 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 these DUI checkpoints do not conflict with the Fourth Amendment due to the need to preserve public safety.
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 to evade detection. While some cases have resolved in favor of citizens avoiding roadblocks, it is a risky gamble to take.
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 an arrest for drug crimes and confiscation of the items.
If you think your constitutional rights were violated by law enforcement, or you were a victim of police brutality, you should consult with an experienced criminal lawyer.
Philadelphia, PA DUI Defense Attorney Offering Free Consultations
A Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney at the law offices of Lloyd Long can help you fight your DUI arrest. 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. 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 a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer at the law offices of Lloyd Long right away at (215) 302-0171.