What Happens If You Refuse a DUI Breath Test?

By Betty Wang, JD on October 25, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What happens if you refuse a DUI breath test? Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar might have an answer for you, after he refused to take a breath test during a recent traffic stop.

Kosar was pulled over last month for suspicion of OVI -- operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Ohio's version of a DUI. But when asked to take a breath test, he refused, saying that he'd always been advised never to take one, Cleveland.com reports.

When you refuse a DUI breath test like Kosar did, what happens next? While DUI laws vary by state, here are some possible outcomes:

  • Automatic license suspension. While you can refuse to submit to a Breathalyzer after being pulled over, every state still has a "implied consent" law. Under these laws, all motorists are deemed to have consented to field sobriety and other tests to determine driving impairment. In Ohio, refusing an alcohol breath test automatically triggers a one-year license suspension, according to Cleveland.com.
  • Fines, citations, and jail time. There may be other penalties for one's refusal to submit to a breath test. This, of course, varies by state law. For example, New York can impose a $500 fine in addition to a license suspension, while California can cite a driver for refusing a Breathalyzer test. For repeat DUI offenders who refuse a breath test, Ohio imposes a minimum six-day jail sentence (or three days in jail followed by a 72-hour driver intervention program). However, these penalties are subject to change, so it's best to consult with an experienced DUI attorney near you to find out what you could potentially face.
  • Your refusal may be used against you at trial. A driver's refusal may also be used against him at trial along with field sobriety tests and other evidence, like an officer's observations. While refusing a Breathalyzer means there may be no concrete report of your BAC level (assuming a blood test wasn't performed), prosecutors are generally free to tell jurors that you refused to submit to a breath test, which may not bode so well for your defense.
  • Mandated blood or urine tests. In some states, refusing a DUI breath test means an officer can quickly obtain a warrant to conduct a blood test or urine test instead. This is a far more invasive procedure than breathing into a simple contraption, and on top of that, a driver will likely still face consequences for his initial breath-test refusal.

Remember, even if you end up submitting to a breath, blood, or urine test, it's not the end of the world. There may be other ways to fight your charges, which an experienced DUI lawyer will be able to explain.

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