The Pennsylvania Implied Consent Law requires that the Department of Transportation suspend the driver’s license of a person who refuses to submit to blood or breath testing, if that person is placed under arrest for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI/DWI), is requested by the police to submit to chemical testing and refuses to do so. The law says that if blood or breath testing is refused by the driver the testing shall not be conducted, but upon notice by the police officer, PennDOT shall suspend the operating privilege of the person.
The police are authorized to request blood or breath testing when they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the driver is under the influence. “Reasonable grounds” exist when a person in the position of the police officer, viewing the facts and circumstances as they appeared at the time, could have concluded that the motorist was operating the vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor. While there is no set list of behaviors that a person must exhibit for an officer to have reasonable grounds for making an arrest, case law has provided numerous examples of what has been accepted as reasonable grounds in the past: staggering, swaying, falling down, belligerent or uncooperative behavior, slurred speech, and the odor of alcohol. The standard for reasonable grounds is not very demanding and the police officer need not be correct in his belief that the motorist had been driving while intoxicated.
In a recent case decided by the Commonwealth (appeals) Court, the Delaware County Court had decided that a driver’s license suspension for refusing to take the breath test was invalid. The Delaware County Court Ordered PennDOT to reinstate the license. PennDOT appealed the decision.
The Commonwealth Court disagreed with the Delaware County Court and reinstated the driver’s suspension. The Court noted that the evidence showed that the driver sped past the police officer’s marked car, failed to signal when changing lanes, became angry and argumentative upon being pulled over, exhibited slurred speech and glassy eyes, confused his registration and insurance card, smelled of alcohol, admitted to drinking alcohol, and refused to submit to field sobriety testing. The Court also noted that while perhaps none of those factors individually would be sufficient to show reasonable grounds, their cumulative impact should allow a reasonable police officer to conclude that the driver operated his vehicle under the influence of alcohol.
The best advice is if a police officer asks you to take a breath or blood test, take the test. Not taking the test will not prevent the police from charging the driver with DUI, as the police can always charge a driver with DUI if the officer has probable cause to believe the driver has consumed alcohol (or drugs) to a degree that prevents the driver from operating their vehicle safely. Not taking the test accomplishes nothing and only leads to an automatic license suspension.
If you do refuse to take the test, call a lawyer immediately. Often the lawyer may be able to act on the driver’s behalf to speak with the police and prevent the refusal from being reported to the Department of Transportation. If you have any questions about a DUI, the refusal to take a blood or breath test, or a license suspension matter, call (215) 822-1888 to speak with Vince Margiotti or Pat McMenamin