Although there is generally a lot of confusion about the civil rights for American citizens, most people are vaguely aware of the fact that the Fifth Amendment protects them from forced self-incrimination. That can mean that during encounters with law enforcement, they assert that they aren’t going to speak or comply with the request of the officers present.
Although observing your right to silence is often a good idea when faced with potential criminal charges, refusing to comply with law enforcement in other ways can have criminal consequences. Chemical breath testing during a traffic stop is a perfect example.
People may choose to refuse the test because they don’t want to give the police evidence that will help in building a criminal case. Unfortunately, refusing to take the breath test is a criminal act in and of itself.
Pennsylvania drivers have already given implied consent
The way that traffic and licensing laws work involves a tacit agreement between the licensed driver and the state issuing the license. Anyone who accepts a license from the state of Pennsylvania or operates a motor vehicle on Pennsylvania roadways, even if their license is from another state, must abide by Pennsylvania traffic laws. Pennsylvania has laws that include an implied consent law for chemical testing.
The implied consent law states that anyone who drives in Pennsylvania consents to law enforcement conducting a chemical test to verify their potential intoxication if the police officers have a reasonable suspicion of impairment. The law even extends to those unconscious at the time of the test.
While cops can’t indiscriminately give everyone breath tests to try to catch people, they can order a breath test if they have any reason to think you might have consumed alcohol.
There are consequences for refusing the test
If you choose to refuse the test when asked to perform one by law enforcement, you will likely wind up arrested. The consequences of refusing a breath test will involve the suspension of your license. That suspension is independent of any suspension related to a later impaired driving conviction.
First-time breath test refusal results in a loss of your license for a year. Second and third offenses can involve the loss of your license for 18 months. More importantly, law enforcement can and likely will argue in court that your refusal to take the test is evidence of impairment and the fact that you knew you were under the influence.
It is possible to challenge the results of a chemical test, which means that contesting a test you believe was inaccurate later on may be a better strategy than refusing to submit to the test. Anyone dealing with an impaired driving charge or the potential suspension of their license related to a test refusal should talk with an experienced Pennsylvania defense attorney.