Is Breathalyzer Refusal Advantageous in Some States?
Examining DUI Convictions in the North Carolina

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While refusing a breathalyzer test may be illegal and presumptive evidence of DUI in some states, doing so in North Carolina seems to improve the chances of avoiding convictions.

A recent Charlotte Observer story found that drivers who refused to submit to a breathalyzer test in North Carolina or South Carolina were more likely to avoid convictions than those who submitted to breath tests.

Refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test is not a crime in North Carolina but does carry a one-year driver's license suspension. Breathalyzer refusal equals a 90-day driver's license suspension in South Carolina, but is a legal option for suspects.

According to the story, drunken driving suspects have used their knowledge of North Carolina DUI laws to their advantage, refused breathalyzer tests, and avoided convictions even in situations where they stumbled out of cars and failed field sobriety tests.

In one case, a man admitted to being over the legal 0.08% blood alcohol content limit but still avoided conviction.

Here are some of the more interesting figures in the Observer story.

  • In drunken driving cases observed in North Carolina's Mecklenberg Country from 2003 through February 2004, the story found that there was a 60% conviction rate for those suspects who blew into an Intoxilyzer. The conviction rate dropped to about 50% in DUI cases where suspects refused a breathalyzer.
  • Across North Carolina, 900 DUI suspects refuse breathalyzers each month. 57% of those suspects who go to trial are convicted, while 62% of those people who agree to breathalyzer tests are found guilty.

Such figures have become a source of debate in the Carolinas as to whether or not refusing a breathalyzer test allows suspects to compromise the goals of each state's DUI laws.

In most instances, those suspects who refused breathalyzer tests in either state had previous DUI convictions. Opponents to breathalyzer refusals thus argued that these repeat offenders are using this knowledge of DUI law as a safeguard to avoid another conviction.

One North Carolina DUI lawyer even admitted in the story that he tells all repeat offenders to refuse all tests when being stopped on suspicion of DUI.

This strategy could be bad news for criminal prosecutors in both states as breathalyzer test results are the most common and powerful form of evidence in drunk driving cases.

Breathalyzer Refusal Story Reveals Value of Knowing Your State's DUI Laws

Regardless of whether North Carolina and South Carolina DUI laws are changed or left alone, this story reveals the importance of being knowledgeable of the laws in your state.

For example:

  • Do you know whether your state allows breathalyzer refusals?
  • Could refusing a breathalyzer shift the burden of guilt on your shoulders or will doing so allow you to potentially avoid a conviction in your state?
  • What does breathalyzer refusal mean to your driving privileges in your state of residence?

These are some crucial questions that you will certainly need to know if you are ever stopped on suspicion of DUI!

In some states, refusing a breathalyzer may be a bad decision which puts the onus on your DUI lawyer to disprove your charges through alternative means, like challenging the arresting officer's questioning or testimony.

In other states like the Carolinas, doing so may be a strong defense which improves your chances of avoiding convictions. However, refusing a breathalyzer may not be worth it even in those states since doing so will most often lead to an automatic suspension of your driver's license.

Remember that breathalyzer test results are not 100% certain! Even if you register a blood alcohol content level above the legal limit, you may be able to challenge your result. Vice versa, refusing a breathalyzer does not necessarily mean that you will avoid conviction.


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