Pennsylvania DUI Laws and Refusal

Like all 52 states, Pennsylvania is an “Implied Consent” law state. That means that in exchange for the privilege of driving in the Commonwealth, drivers agree to be subjected to chemical testing for the purpose of determining whether and how much alcohol or drugs are in their blood any time they are suspected of operating a vehicle while impaired.

Because the “implication” is that drivers consent, if you are stopped by police who have probable cause that you were driving under the influence, you will be heavily penalized if you refuse to submit to chemical testing upon request. Chemical Tests refer to a blood, urine or breath test administered at the station or medical facility. “Breath test” for the purpose of chemical testing does not refer to the small, hand-held breath testing device used in the field.

Most people will submit to these tests when police tell them to do so. However, when a driver knows she/he is still intoxicated, the strategy to “refuse” may surface because the blood alcohol content (BAC) analysis will likely result in damaging evidence and a conviction for DUI. While the law does not force or mandate the tests upon people, it does enhance criminal charges and increase penalties upon conviction for refusing.

Every DUI is unique, but refusing a BAC chemical test is rarely ever in someone’s best interests. If you do refuse a BAC test, you can pay heavily for it.

What most drivers do not realize, however, is that by the time a chemical BAC test is requested, the right to refusal has already lost much of its best powers. That is because under PA law, every driver has the right to refuse all Field Sobriety Testing, without consequence. This includes the right to refuse without consequence to take the breath test at the roadside.

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In many cases, Standard Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) is used by law enforcement to develop the probable cause needed to make a DUI arrest in the first place. The results of these field tests are also noted by the officer and used against you in court, whether or not you submit to the chemical BAC test. If you are ever stopped and asked to take SFSTs, you may want to politely refuse to submit to these tests.

While prosecuting a DUI without chemical BAC results is significantly harder, it can and is done all the time in Pittsburgh and across Pennsylvania. If you are found or plead guilty to the DUI charges, enhanced Refusal Penalties will be added to your sentence.

Enhanced Penalties for BAC Test Refusal in PA

If a person refuses to submit to a breath, blood or urine test, she/he is subject to all penalties associated with the highest BAC tier, which is .16 and over.

Prior DUI OffensesJail TimeLicense SuspensionFineProgramInterlock (IID)
1st DUI3 days to 6 months1 year$1,000 – $5,000Alcohol Safety School
2nd DUI90 days to 5 years1.5 years$1,500 – $10,000Alcohol Safety School1 year
3rd +DUI1 year to 5 years1.5 years$2,500 – $10,000Treatment Program*1 year

In addition to being subjected to the above criminal penalties, a refusal will result in an automatic 1 year civil suspension of your license, regardless of the outcome of your DUI case. You must appeal the refusal license suspension within 30 days of your notice to suspend, and win this appeal in court in order to avoid the 1-year refusal suspension.

Special Note on Breath Test Refusals

breath test refusal penaltiesAs mentioned earlier, there are 2 kinds of breath sample devices: A small, hand-held breath test device (portable breath test or PBT), and a larger, somewhat more accurate breath testing machine. The PBTs are normally used only in the field, for developing probable cause. The larger breath testing machines are usually kept at the station, and these are the machines that fall under the implied consent law. You will already be under arrest when asked to give a breath sample for the larger breathalyzers.

The larger size and notable parts of these stationary machines is by no means an indication of their accuracy. Glitches can, and do, arise from the use of these machines. You may have experienced some of these machine glitches and sensitivities if you were asked to “blow” more than twice into the breath test machine.

If you refuse to blow or are not capable of blowing the amount of air as many times as the test-giver asks, then you may still be facing refusal penalty enhancements. You should talk to a DUI attorney specifically trained in breath sample analysis who is also experienced in defending refusal charges.

Defending Your Rights to Refuse

If you or a loved one have been arrested for DUI in Allegheny, Cambria County or surrounding counties, your first and best line of defense is through a highly qualified and experienced DUI defense attorney. State and local police in Pennsylvania are very intimidating, and will frequently make discouraging statements to those suspected and accused of drunk driving.

The reality is that a DUI can be successfully defended against . Whether you refused SFSTs or chemical testing or not; a trained defense lawyer can look for holes and mistakes in the criminal processing of your arrest. The penalties for a conviction are severe, and the effects can be long-lasting. Merely accepting the fates that be, or what an officer tells you about your fate, is a costly mistake and a great disservice to your rights under the law.

You owe it to yourself or your loved one to fight with everything you can to protect your rights and your future. Call us now for a free initial consultation: Pittsburgh: 412-690-0225 or Ebensburg: 814-419-6440. We are highly skilled defense attorneys experienced in finding the best defense strategies for your situation. DUI cases often move quicker than others through the court system and there are time limits for some aspects of your defense, so do not delay. Call us today for a free initial evaluation of your case.