In the realm of driving laws and regulations, the concept of “implied consent” might not be as widely understood as speed limits or seat belt requirements, but it is a crucial aspect of DUI/DWI enforcement across the United States. This article delves into the specifics of implied consent, its legal implications, and its role in combating impaired driving.
What is Implied Consent?
Implied consent refers to a legal principle where drivers are considered to have implicitly agreed to submit to certain tests if they are suspected of driving under the influence (DUI/DWI) of alcohol or drugs. By operating a vehicle on public roads, drivers are essentially consenting to chemical tests, such as breath, blood, or urine tests, to determine their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or presence of drugs.
Legal Basis for Implied Consent
Implied consent laws were established to facilitate the prosecution of DUI/DWI offenses. Before these laws were enacted, refusing to submit to a BAC test was a common tactic to evade DUI/DWI charges. By implementing implied consent, states have created a mechanism to penalize refusals and encourage compliance with law enforcement.
Despite the fact that implied consent is not a federal statute, all fifty states have implemented implied consent laws, meaning that it is functionally federal law.
The Process of Testing
If a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe a driver is under the influence, they may request the driver to take a chemical test. This could follow observable signs of impairment, such as erratic driving or the smell of alcohol. The choice of test and the procedures to be followed may vary by state, but they can generally look like one (or all) of the following:
- A breathalyzer test at the site of the traffic stop: Keep in mind that reports have shown these machines to be operating with a margin of error outside the bounds of acceptability for accurate testing.
- A field sobriety test: There are multiple methods of conducting field sobriety tests, which you can read more about here.
- A blood test: A blood test is a more accurate means of measuring blood alcohol content, but these tests are conducted away from the site of the traffic stop, typically at the closest police station or hospital.
Penalties for Refusing a Test
Refusing to take a test when requested under implied consent laws usually leads to immediate penalties. Though these vary by jurisdiction, common consequences include:
- License Suspension: Often automatic, lasting from several months to a year or more, depending on both the state in which the offense occurred and the severity of the infraction.
- Ignition Interlock Device: Required installation in some jurisdictions, these devices will require the driver to conduct a breathalyzer test on every occasion that they operate their vehicle.
- Enhanced Penalties: If convicted of DUI/DWI, refusal may lead to stiffer penalties, which will already include fines, jail time, and license suspension. These individual penalties will likely be expanded, if you refused to take a sobriety test during your case.
Right to an Attorney
It’s important to note that the implied consent does not negate the right to legal representation. In most states, drivers have the right to consult with an attorney before deciding whether to submit to testing. However, this right might be subject to time limitations, so prompt legal consultation is advised.
In any case, it’s critical to hire a qualified attorney to represent you in the court of law. Even a DUI/DWI charge can be fought against and the right lawyer at your side can make all the difference when facing severe criminal punishment.