While every driver understands that driving while intoxicated is illegal, many have never actually been through a field sobriety test. For many drivers dealing with their first DUI stop, it can be surprising to learn about implied consent laws.
Implied consent laws play a role in what you must do during a DUI stop and how law enforcement agencies collect evidence and enforce penalties for suspected drunk drivers. Keep reading to learn more about implied consent laws in Florida.
What Is “Implied Consent”?
Implied consent laws are designed to discourage drunk driving and ensure that those under the influence are held accountable for their actions. These laws state that by having a license and getting behind the wheel, drivers agree in advance to take these tests if they're suspected of or arrested for driving intoxicated.
By imposing strict penalties for refusing to take an official DUI test, also referred to as a blood alcohol content (BAC) test, implied consent laws encourage cooperation with investigators and streamline efforts to protect innocent drivers from potential harm.
How Implied Consent Works During A Traffic Stop
A traffic stop can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you’re pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. When a police officer pulls you over, they usually observe your behavior, appearance, and any signs of impairment. Based on their assessment, they may then conduct preliminary sobriety tests to determine how inebriated you are.
If the preliminary assessments indicate alcohol or drug use, by law, the officer has the right to invoke implied consent laws and require an official BAC test.
Refusing to submit to a chemical test can have serious consequences. Familiarizing yourself with implied consent laws can help ensure that you’re prepared to handle these situations responsibly and know your rights as a driver.
Unofficial DUI Tests
After you’ve been pulled over for intoxicated driving, don’t be surprised if your life turns into a realistic portrayal of a Hollywood-style DUI stop. These preliminary breath or field sobriety tests are usually administered in the initial stages of a DUI investigation to help officers determine if there’s probable cause for an arrest.
Preliminary Breath Test
If the officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver is under the influence, the officer may ask the driver to take a preliminary breath test (PBT) using a portable breathalyzer, which will estimate the driver's alcohol level.
The legal limits that justify arrest are as follows:
- For adult drivers (21 years and older): A BAC of 0.08% or higher.
- For commercial drivers: a BAC of 0.04% or higher.
- For drivers under the legal age (usually under 21): A BAC of 0.01-0.02%, often referred to as a "zero tolerance" policy.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
There are several types of field sobriety tests, but the three most common, also known as Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs), include:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test: In this test, the officer asks the driver to use their eyes to track the movement of a small object, such as a pen or flashlight, as the officer moves it horizontally.
- Walk-And-Turn Test: This test requires the driver to walk nine steps in a straight line from heel to toe, turn around on one foot, and walk back in the same manner.
- One-Leg Stand Test: In this test, the driver is asked to stand on one foot while the other is about six inches off the ground, counting aloud in increments of one thousand (e.g., "one thousand one, one thousand two, etc.").
In addition to the SFSTs, other non-standardized field sobriety tests may be used, such as:
- Finger-to-Nose Test: The driver is asked to close their eyes, tilt their head back, and touch the tip of their nose with their index finger, alternating between the left and right hand.
- Romberg Balance Test: The driver is requested to stand with their feet together, head tilted back, and eyes closed while estimating the passage of 30 seconds.
- Alphabet Test: The driver is asked to recite a portion of the alphabet (e.g., from D to T) without singing or rhyming.
Official DUI Tests
After you’ve been arrested on DUI charges, law enforcement can legally request an official BAC test to be completed. Implied consent laws apply to the following three lawfully administered tests that officers may ask for:
- Official Breathalyzer Test: This test measures the concentration of alcohol in the driver's breath using a breath alcohol meter. This is the most common and non-invasive method of determining BAC alcohol levels.
- Blood Test: A blood test involves taking a blood sample from the driver to measure the concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream. This test is considered more accurate than a breath test but is more invasive and requires a trained professional to collect the sample.
- Urine Test: Although less common, urine tests can be used to determine BAC levels or drug presence in the driver's system. This test is less accurate in measuring the level of BAC but offers some advantages, such as the ability to detect drugs for a longer period of time after use, compared to blood tests.
Differences Between Preliminary And Official Breath Tests
Whether you agreed or refused to take a preliminary breath test, if you've been arrested with DUI charges, you might be wondering why an officer insists on administering an official breathalyzer test and what sets it apart from the initial test. Although both measure a driver's blood alcohol level, there are important differences between the preliminary and official breath tests, including:
Purpose Of A Breath Test
The primary purpose of a preliminary breath test (PBT) is to assist law enforcement in establishing probable cause for a DUI arrest in the initial stages of an investigation. A preliminary breath test estimates a driver's alcohol level that can be used in conjunction with field sobriety tests and other observations to determine if an arrest is warranted.
In contrast, the official breath alcohol test is administered after a driver is arrested for DUI and serves as official evidence of their intoxicated state.
PBTs are conducted with portable breath alcohol testing devices, which are smaller and more convenient for officers to carry and use during roadside stops. However, these devices may be less accurate than those used for official breath alcohol testing.
On the other hand, the official test is usually conducted with an advanced, stationary device at the police station or a medical facility. These devices are generally more accurate and reliable than their portable counterparts.
Admissibility In Court
Preliminary breath test results are generally not admissible as evidence in court because of their lower accuracy and potential for error. However, an officer's observations regarding a driver's performance during the breath test may help establish probable cause for an arrest.
Official breath tests are admissible in court as evidence of a driver's alcohol level, provided the test is administered correctly and the device is accurately calibrated.
Implied Consent Laws
Refusal to undergo a preliminary breath test doesn't usually have serious consequences, if any. In Florida, for example, there aren’t any associated penalties, like license suspension or fines, for refusing to take a PBT during a DUI investigation.
Implied consent laws generally only apply to official breathalyzer tests. Drivers are considered to have agreed to these tests when they obtained a driver's license, and refusal of an official breath test can result in serious consequences.
Consequences Of Refusing DUI Tests
The emotional toll of dealing with these consequences can be immense, leaving drivers to grapple with feelings of regret and frustration. By being aware of the outcomes of refusing an official DUI test, individuals can make informed decisions that may save them from driver's license revocation, fines, or even criminal charges.
Preliminary Breath Or Field Sobriety Tests
If you’re pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence, you have the legal right to refuse to take a preliminary sobriety test.
Refusing these will usually only result in a fine or points added to your driving record. You can expect the fees to range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars or one to ten points added. It depends on the severity of your incident.
While refusing a PBT or FST doesn’t have the same consequence severity as refusing an official BAC test, it can still provide officers with additional evidence to establish probable cause for a DUI arrest.
One of the most common consequences of refusing an official DUI test is the automatic suspension of your license, whether or not you’re found guilty.
The length of a driver's license suspension varies from state to state and can range from a few months to over a year. In some cases, repeat offenders may face permanent revocation of their driver's license.
In Florida, for example, refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test can result in an automatic driver's license suspension of one year for a first offense and 18 months for subsequent offenses.
Fines And Penalties
Drivers who refuse to take a DUI test during an inspection could face significant fines and penalties, as their refusal violates implied consent laws. Some of these penalties include:
- Drivers who refuse a DUI test may face significant fines, which can increase depending on the number of previous test refusals or DUI convictions on the individual's criminal record.
- In some states or jurisdictions, refusal to submit a DUI test can result in community service, probation, or even jail time, especially for repeat offenders or in cases with aggravating factors like causing an accident or injury.
- Refusing to submit to a test may also have long-term consequences, such as higher insurance premiums, as insurance companies may classify drivers as high-risk.
- In some cases, drivers who refuse a DUI test may be required to install an ignition interlock that prevents the vehicle from starting unless the driver provides a breath sample below the legal alcohol limit.
The specific consequences for refusing a test can vary by state or jurisdiction, but in Florida, for example, refusing a test the first time can result in a fine of up to $500, which increases with subsequent offenses. You can expect the $500 fine to increase to an 18-month license suspension and up to a year in jail for repeat offenders.
Although the penalties may seem harsh, they’re intended to discourage drivers from refusing to take the test and to ensure compliance with state DUI laws.
Challenging Implied Consent Charges
Challenging implied consent charges may not be easy, but it is possible. With experienced legal help and the right evidence to support your case, there are ways to fight implied consent and DUI charges. Some ways could include:
- Challenging the validity of the control or probable cause for the DUI investigation.
- Arguing that the implied consent warning wasn’t clear or accurate.
- Providing evidence that the driver's refusal was due to a medical condition or disability that prevented them from taking the test.
- Showing evidence that law enforcement didn’t proceed properly during the test, such as failing to calibrate the equipment properly.
It’s important to note that these defenses may vary depending on the particular circumstances of each case. An experienced criminal defense DUI attorney can help determine the best course of action when challenging implied consent allegations.
Contact An Experienced DUI Attorney Now
If you or someone you know has been arrested for a DUI in Florida, and need representation, contact Weinstein Legal today. Our attorneys have the experience and expertise to help you navigate the justice system and ensure you receive dedicated, competent legal representation.
Call us today at (888) 626-1108 or click here to email us with details about your case. Our team is standing by and ready to discuss your legal situation.