christiani law

Breath Test Refusal: Consequences and Legal Implications

November 15, 2023
Cyndi Christiani

If you are driving a motor vehicle and are stopped by law enforcement, and the police officer suspects that you have been drinking alcohol, they may ask that you consent to a breath test. In this situation, it is not the time to wonder what your rights are and what will happen if you refuse the test. Instead, it is best to know some basic laws beforehand to make an informed decision regarding whether or not you will consent to the test. Here, we address some of Marylanders’ most common concerns regarding breath test refusals. For additional questions, or if you have refused a breath test, contact The Law Office of Cynthia Christiani.

Refusal Does Not Mean You Will Not Be Charged

While you may assume that refusing the breath test will result in an avoidance of charges of DUI and DWI, this is not true. If the officer feels that you are intoxicated, they may still arrest you and charge you accordingly. Typically, this is based on their observation of your speech, appearance, and actions.  

Understanding the difference between a preliminary breath test (PBT) and a chemical breath test (breath test) is important. An officer can ask that you submit to a PBT on the roadside after you are stopped. Pursuant to Md. Code Transp. Art., §16-205.2(c), the results of the PBT may not be used by the State in any court action; however, the results of the PBT may be used as evidence by a defendant in a court action. Also, “(t)he taking of or refusal to submit to a preliminary breath test is not admissible in evidence in any court action. Any evidence pertaining to a preliminary breath test may not be used in a civil action.”

A chemical breath test differs from a PBT and is usually administered at the local police precinct. It is deemed a more reliable test, and as such, refusal to comply with a request for a chemical breath test can result in a license suspension.  

Implied Consent Under Maryland Law

Md. Code, Transp. Art., §16-205.1(a)(2) holds that any “(a)ny person who drives or attempts to drive a motor vehicle on a highway or on any private property that is used by the public in general in this State is deemed to have consented…to take a test if the person should be detained on suspicion of driving or attempting to drive while under the influence of alcohol, while impaired by alcohol, while so far impaired by any drug, any combination of drugs.”

The only time when a breath test may not be refused is when the driver was involved in an accident that resulted in serious injury or death.

License Suspension As A Result Of A Breath Test Refusal

Under Md. Code, Transp. Art., §16-205.1(b)(1)(ii)(5)(A), if you refuse to take a breath test, your license may be suspended for 270 days if it is a first-time refusal. A second (or subsequent) refusal results in a suspension of two years. 

Implications Of Breath Test Refusal For Persons With A CDL

Under Md. Code, Transp. Art., §16-205.1(b)(1)(ii)(5)(B), there are additional penalties if the person refusing is operating a commercial motor vehicle or holds a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or instructional permit. Such refusal can result in disqualification from operating a commercial motor vehicle for a period of one year through a lifetime ban, depending on the number of offenses as well as whether or not hazardous materials were being transported. 

Weighing the Option of Refusing A Breath Test 

Whether or not you should refuse a breath test can be a tough call, but bear in mind that if your BAC is .08 or higher, the judge will likely consider this a key piece of evidence and infer that you were driving under the influence. Penalties for a DUI can be stiff, and they depend on the number of prior convictions as well as the BAC level. On the other hand, refusing a breath test can expose you to a loss of driving privileges.  If you are facing a DUI, The Law Office of Cynthia Christiani can advocate for you and assist you in protecting your rights. 

Because of the stiff penalties of a DUI as well as the consequences of refusing a breath test, it is best to consider both options carefully.

Installation of an Interlock Device

If you refuse a breath test, and timely request a hearing with the MVA, you may have the option to continue to drive if you have an ignition interlock system installed in your motor vehicle. Monitored by the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA), the ignition interlock program is completely automated. The program operates by having the vehicle’s ignition system connected to a breath analyzer via a device with a camera. The driver is required to breathe into the device before they will be able to drive their vehicle. Should the driver register a BAC of greater than .025, the vehicle will not start. Also, the device may require additional tests while driving the car. 

Participants in the ignition interlock program elect to participate or are referred by the courts or the MVA. In some situations, such as being considered a “repeat offender,” a driver may be required to participate. For refusal to submit to a breath test, you may have the device on your vehicle for a period of one year. An attorney from our firm can help you understand your options. Also, bear in mind that the consequences you face can vary according to your charges and whether or not you were involved in an accident.  

Speak With Attorney Cynthia Christiani

If you refused a breathalyzer and have questions regarding what happens next, contact The Law Office of Cynthia Christiani. We have the experience you are looking for and will fight to help you protect your rights.