Right to Refusal in Pennsylvania

Getting arrested for an alleged DUI charge can be a very serious issue in anyone’s life. With nearly 50,000 DUI arrests in Pennsylvania in 2018, law enforcement seems to be on a mission to make sure you are proven guilty, especially if you refuse to take a chemical test. This aggressive stance on drunk driving can bring anxiety and pressure to an already stressful situation if you do not understand your state laws and individual rights. Individuals who understand this process will be in a much better situation with regard to approaching their case in the correct manner.

Considering that Pennsylvania does not currently have a “No Refusal” policy for suspected DUI offenders, you do have some options with regard to how you approach a DUI stop. Refusing to adhere to a chemical test will add a few issues to the already complicated process, but it also will keep you from dealing with immediate repercussions or admitting to guilt, which will most likely help if you decide to fight the charge.

What is the Process Involved in a Pennsylvania DUI Refusal?

According to the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute 75 §1547: a person has a right to refuse to submit to a chemical test. A “forced” test cannot be administered if this right is exercised.

With this statute in mind, there is a specific process that law enforcement, along with the state of Pennsylvania, must go through when dealing with an alleged DUI. First, they will attempt to administer a chemical test to confirm that you are in fact under the influence. This can be in the form of a blood, breath or urine sample. Taking part in any of these tests, unless you are within the legal limit to drive, will likely bring with it an admission of guilt that the court will surely take into account.

If you do happen to refuse the test, the arresting officer will fill out a Notice of Refusal to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. After receiving this notice, PennDOT will then send you an order stating that they will suspend your license in 30 days. Keep in mind that this charge is an “administrative license suspension,” which is separate from your criminal charge, and you have 30 days from the time of the arrest to appeal.

Along with this possible suspension, you will be charged in civil court with refusal to take a chemical test, bringing with it the possible sentence of suspending your license for one year. This is added on top of the DUI arrest itself, allowing for two pending charges against you.

In the event that you are formally charged, it is important to detail the possible sentencing if convicted of a DUI refusal. A first-time DUI Refusal conviction will typically result in a 1st-degree misdemeanor, which comes with the following penalties:

  • A one-year drivers license suspension
  • Up to six months imprisonment
  • A fine of between $1000 and $5000
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device for one year
  • Alcohol highway safety school, and
  • Alcohol and drug treatment courses

With These Penalties, Why Refuse a Chemical Test?

With all of the possible punishments, it seems as though taking the chemical test may be in your best interest in the long run. This is not the case. The Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute 75 §1547 was written to protect individuals like you and should be taken advantage of if it is in your best interest. Although a civil charge may sound like more of an added burden, you need to remember that without a positive chemical test, it is much harder for the courts to prove your guilt on either charge. Even so, there is a fine line that you have to walk in order to keep a test refusal from coming back to bite you in the end.

Considering that DUI refusal penalties are more stringent than a first time DUI conviction typically requires, it is vital that you have a defense strategy before attempting to argue your case. A DUI refusal is a serious offense if convicted, but at the same time, if you can argue your defense in the proper manner and are able to identify the holes in the prosecution’s case, you are likely to end up with a much less punitive outcome, or possible dismissal. This may be the ideal scenario considering that if you end up being convicted, the penalties are going to be extremely severe no matter what the final charges end up being.