California's DUI Implied Consent Laws: Refusing Blood Alcohol Testing

If you are stopped for driving under the influence (DUI) and the officer asks you to take a blood, breath, or urine test, can you refuse?

In most DUI cases, the prosecution is armed with chemical test results that show the amount of drugs and/or alcohol in the driver's system. These test results are often crucial for the prosecution in proving the charges.

But in order for law enforcement and ultimately the prosecution to obtain test results, the driver generally must first agree to take an alcohol or drug test. This is where California's implied consent law comes into play. Basically, this law generally requires drivers to take an alcohol or drug test when requested to do so by an officer.

This article covers California's implied consent requirements and the consequences of refusing to take an alcohol or drug test following a DUI arrest.

California's Implied Consent Law and Requirements

California's "implied consent" law requires all drivers lawfully arrested for a DUI to submit to chemical testing to determine blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or the amount of drugs in the person's system.

Implied Consent Is Triggered by a Lawful DUI Arrest in California

For an arrest to be lawful, the officer who stops you must have probable cause to believe you've been driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In other words, the officer must have a reasonable basis for concluding the motorist was violating the state's DUI laws.

California Drivers Generally Have the Right to Choose a Blood or Breathalyzer Test

California law generally allows the driver to choose between a blood or breath test. But if neither a blood or breath test is available, the driver must take a urine test. (People who have hemophilia or are taking anticoagulants for a heart condition can't be required to take a blood test, but must, instead, submit to urine testing.)

California Officers Must Explain the Consequences of Refusing a Blood or Breathalyzer Test

An arresting officer is required by law to explain the consequences of refusing a test—that you'll be fined, lose your license, and face jail time if convicted of a DUI. The officer must also explain you don't have the right to speak to an attorney prior to taking the test and that a test refusal can be used against you in court.

Implied Consent Generally Doesn't Require Pre-Arrest Breathalyzer Testing in California

Generally, the implied consent law doesn't require drivers to submit to a chemical test prior to a lawful arrest.

However, to establish probable cause to make an arrest, an officer might ask you to take a voluntary "preliminary alcohol screening" (PAS) test. A PAS test is typically administered with a handheld breath test device (often called a "breathalyzer"). Only drivers who are under 21 years old or currently on DUI probation are required to take a pre-arrest PAS test.

Consequences of Refusing a Post-Arrest DUI Breathalyzer or Other Test in California

The penalties for refusing to take a blood, breath, or urine test begin with a one-year license suspension. You could lose your license for two years for a second refusal or if you had a reckless driving or DUI conviction within the last ten years. The penalty jumps to a three-year suspension for your third refusal or if you have had more than one reckless driving or DUI conviction within ten years. The fine is the same—$125—whether it's your first, second, or third refusal.

Deciding Whether to Agree to DUI Chemical Testing in California

The wisdom of refusing a post-arrest blood, breath, or urine test depends on the circumstances. And refusal may not help you avoid a DUI conviction—you can be found guilty even without BAC test results. In fact, the prosecution can argue to a jury that your refusal shows consciousness of guilt—that you refused to test because you knew you were intoxicated.

Get Help From a California DUI Lawyer

If you've been arrested for DUI in California or any other state, get help from an experienced DUI attorney. A DUI conviction—especially one involving physical injuries or repeat offenses—carries serious consequences. So your best bet is to find an attorney who knows the law and your local court system.

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