You see police lights in the rearview mirror, and hear the sirens. You move over to let the police cruiser pass, but it slows down behind you, instead. You pull over to the side of the road, and the police car stops behind you. Your mind starts racing about how many beers you had at the party you're coming from, and whether you can pass a breathalyzer test, right now. It might be close.
Before you ever find yourself in this situation, you should be aware of the consequences of not taking a breathalyzer test.
First and foremost, the myth that police officers need to test your blood alcohol content (BAC) in order for you to get convicted for operating under the influence (OUI) is just that – a myth. Even without testing what your BAC was at the time of driving, you can be convicted for OUI solely on the basis of the arresting officer's testimony concerning your level of impairment. Additionally, the prosecutor will often argue at trial that you only refused the test because you knew you were at or over the legal limit. Both of these can be very damaging, at trial, and lead to a conviction.
With that misconception out of the way, there are consequences of refusing to take a breathalyzer or other BAC test. Your driver's license comes with strings attached, and one of those strings is the notion of Implied Consent – by using your license to legally drive on the roads of Maine, it is implied that you consent to BAC testing, whenever a proper authority requests you to take one. If you refuse to take a breathalyzer – one of the types of BAC testing – then you're violating this Implied Consent rule, and your driver's license gets suspended without a hearing.
Another repercussion of refusing to take a BAC test is that, if you get convicted for OUI during trial after the arresting officer testifies, your refusal will be taken into account as an aggravating factor during the sentencing phase of your court proceedings. This increases the length of any jail time or license suspension you would be facing, as well as the amount of any potential fine. If it's your first OUI offense, a refusal to submit to a breathalyzer during your arrest can result in a 275 day license suspension, to be served consecutively with the usual 150 days for a typical first offense OUI. As for jail time, a first offense OUI, without aggravating factors, does not carry any mandatory jail time. If you refuse, however, you'll be facing a mandatory minimum four days in jail. A refusal also increases the typical first offense fine, from $500 to $600.
Keep in mind that the term "mandatory minimum" means the judge is free to impose a stiffer sentence but cannot impose a lesser sentence than the mandatory minimum penalty as set by the Maine Legislature. The increased penalties for refusing to take a breathalyzer can be daunting, and need to be weighed in your decision to take the test once you're pulled over. If you, or anyone you know, has been arrested for OUI and refused to take a breathalyzer, you'll need an experienced attorney to guide you through the legal process. Call the office of William T. Bly at (207) 571-8146.