District of Columbia DWI/DUI: Refusal to Take a Blood, Breath or Urine Test

In the District of Columbia, if you get pulled over for a DUI and the officer asks you to take a blood, breath, or urine test, do you have to take one? What happens if you refuse?

Implied Consent

District of Columbia law requires you to take two blood, breath, or urine tests if you are arrested for a DUI. The District of Columbia's "implied consent" law says that if you are lawfully arrested by an officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that you have been driving under the influence, then you consent to taking two chemical test of your blood, breath, or urine for the purpose of determining your blood alcohol content (BAC).These tests must be given at the time you were driving and the officer who arrests you gets to choose which tests you take, with some exceptions. If you have a medical or religious reason that prevents you from taking one type of test, then you can have an alternative test.

You could be arrested for a DUI even if you are not driving. If you have actual, physical control of the vehicle while under the influence, then that can be enough for an officer to arrest you. Generally, actual, physical control means that you are in the car and could make it move, but the car does not necessarily have to be running.

Additionally, District of Columbia law says that you consent to taking a preliminary breath test, even if you have not been arrested. This works like a field sobriety test. The officer will use the results to establish probable cause that you were driving under the influence. You do not have to take this preliminary test, and the officer should say so. Refusing it, however, probably won’t work in your favor if the officer has some other reason to think you had been drinking. Based on that other reason, the officer could still arrest you and then you will be required to take the two tests under the law described above.  

You can read the District of Columbia's implied consent law in the District of Columbia Code 50-1902. Information on the preliminary test is in the District of Columbia Code 50-2201.05.

Refusing to Take the Test


1st  Offense

2d Offense

3rd  Offense

Refusal to take test

1 year license suspension

1 year license suspension

1 year license suspension

Once you are arrested, the officer should tell you that you will lose your license for 12 months if you refuse the tests. Whether this is your first, second, or any subsequent refusal, the penalty is the same. In most situations, after you refuse to take the mandatory blood, breath, or urine tests, the officer cannot force you to do so. However, the state may administer the two chemical tests if you are involved in an accident, even if you are unconscious. The penalties for refusing a test can be found in the District of Columbia Code 50-1905.

Should You Refuse to Take a Mandatory DUI Test in the District of Columbia?

It usually does not help you to refuse to take a blood, breath, or urine test when you are arrested for a DUI.   In the District of Columbia, the consequences of refusal are significantly milder than those for a DUI conviction, which could include fines as high as $10,000 and up to a year in jail. Refusing the test, however, does not guarantee that you won’t be convicted. You can still be found guilty of a DUI even if your refusal means that the state does not have proof that your BAC was over .08%, the legal limit for those over 21. In fact, the prosecution can use your refusal against you by arguing that you refused the test because you knew that you were intoxicated and guilty of DUI.

(Check out our  blood alcohol content chart  for an estimate of how many drinks it takes to get to the legal limit.)

Get Help With Your DUI

If you have been arrested on a DUI charge in the District of Columbia or any other state, get help from an experienced DUI attorney.   Unlike other traffic related charges, which might be worth fighting without a lawyer, conviction for a DUI has serious consequences – especially if the incident involved injury to people or property, or if it’s your second or subsequent DUI. To avoid or reduce the consequences, your best bet is to find an attorney who knowledgeable about your state’s laws and about how the system works in your county’s court.

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