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Should You Submit To A Breathalyzer Test?

Law enforcement officers may ask motorists to complete a test that measures the level of alcohol in their system if they suspect that the individual is driving while intoxicated. One of the most common such tests involves breathing into a device that measures the alcohol content in the motorist’s exhaled air. Police may use the results of this type of test to support a driving under the influence (DUI) charge. Read on to learn more about your options if you are asked to take a breathalyzer test, and discover how a Virginia traffic law attorney from Driving Defense Law can aid those facing DUI charges by calling (757) 929-0335.

Understanding BAC and the Breathalyzer Test

Blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, describes how much alcohol is present in a person’s body. BAC may be measured by obtaining a breath, blood, urine, or saliva sample. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motorists aged 21 years and older are permitted to operate vehicles with a BAC of up to 0.08% in most states – the exception of Utah  (where the legal limit is 0.05%). Individuals younger than 21 years are prohibited from driving with any alcohol detectable in their system.

Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “breathalyzer” refers to a portable BAC-measuring device that works by determining the level of alcohol in a person’s exhaled breath. The device requires an individual to blow into it to obtain a BAC reading, and law enforcement performing a traffic stop may request that a motorist complete a breath test via the breathalyzer if they suspect the individual may have committed a DUI offense.

What Happens if You Refuse To Submit to an Alcohol Breathalyzer?

In Virginia, motorists automatically consent to take a blood or breath test, or both, in exchange for driving privileges, under what is known as the “implied consent” principle. Worth noting is that this applies following an arrest. If a police officer arrests a driver for a DUI offense and the motorist refuses to take an alcohol breath test, they may face the following penalties in Virginia:

  • Initial violation: The motorist may receive a civil penalty in the form of a 12-month driver’s license suspension, alongside an additional license suspension if convicted.
  • Additional violation: Subsequent DUI offenses or refusals to take an alcohol breath test when arrested can result in a misdemeanor charge, with the possibility of a maximum fine of $2,500 and jail time of a year, alongside a three-year driver’s license suspension.

Is It Worse To Refuse a Breathalyzer?

Several arguments are sometimes advanced in favor of sometimes choosing to refuse to take a breathalyzer test, in spite of the potential consequences. The reasoning involved generally turns on the question of whether it is worse to refuse a breathalyzer than to submit to one. The answer to this question may depend on a variety of factors, according to the circumstances of the particular situation.

Taking the Breath Test

Motorists could opt to take the alcohol breath test because the license suspension for first-time offenders refusing to take the breathalyzer test exceeds the administrative suspension imposed on a driver for taking and failing the test. That combination of factors could incentivize the driver to risk taking the test. 

Find out more about the consequences of refusing a breathalyzer test and learn how a seasoned Virginia traffic law attorney can help defend the rights of individuals facing traffic violations by arranging a consultation with Driving Defense Law.

Refusing the Breath Test

If a driver fails an alcohol breath test, the breathalyzer reading can provide prosecutors with strong evidence that the individual was intoxicated at the time of their arrest, which may help prosecutors secure a DUI conviction more easily. Refusing to take an alcohol breath test means the prosecution has to rely on observations made by police officers instead of the results of a chemical test, a reliance which may weaken the prosecution’s case in court. 

Individuals may also have some incentive to refuse a breath test because some of the devices used for conducting alcohol breath tests can have a small margin of error. That margin of error can place an individual’s calculated BAC level above the legal limit, despite their real BAC possibly falling just shy of it.

Why Do Cops Do Field Sobriety Tests Instead of a Breathalyzer?

Both breath tests and field sobriety tests help law enforcement officers determine whether someone can safely drive and avoid a possible drunk driving accident. Field sobriety tests refer to standardized assessments performed by police officers who suspect someone of committing a DUI offense before carrying out an arrest. 

One reason why police officers may choose to use these assessments instead of a breath test is that the former checks for impairment, whereas the latter relates specifically to alcohol. This distinction can make field sobriety tests useful tools for police officers who believe someone might be driving while under the influence of an alternative substance to alcohol. Field sobriety tests comprise the following three parts:

  • Assessing eye movement: Also known as the NGM test, the horizontal gaze assessment entails monitoring eyeball movements. A person’s eyeball involuntarily jerks when tracking objects moving from side to side; police officers performing this assessment check to determine whether this jerking movement continues for an extended period, whether the eyeball moves unevenly, and whether the jerking occurs at all angles or only specific ones.
  • Walking and turning: For this part of the assessment, the police officer requests the person to walk along a straight line for nine steps in a heel-to-toe fashion, turn on a single foot, and walk back on the same line for nine steps. The police officer may deem the individual to fail this assessment if they start before hearing all the instructions, step outside of the line, demonstrate imbalance, take too many or too few steps, or fail to walk in a heel-to-toe manner throughout.
  • Standing on one leg: Police officers ask the individual to stand on one leg, holding their foot a few inches in the air, and count audibly while the officer sets a timer and checks for signs of impairment, such as struggling to stay balanced or losing count.

Contact a Virginia Traffic Law Attorney Today

While it is possible to refuse breath tests throughout the United States, doing so following an arrest in Virginia may result in charges for the refusal, in addition to any DUI charges filed in relation to the incident. An arrested individual could receive penalties for refusing a breath test even if they had no trace of alcohol in their system. Many motorists may choose to refuse the assessment to avoid providing evidence of driving impaired, especially if they believe the latter may carry harsher penalties. Explore in more detail whether you should agree to take a breathalyzer test and understand how a Virginia traffic law attorney can assist people penalized for not submitting to a breath test by reaching out to Driving Defense Law at (757) 929-0335.