Being pulled over by a cop after a few drinks is not the best time to lay out a shrewd legal strategy. That said, it helps to know a few basic facts about what will happen in the next 30-60 minutes that can minimize the trouble you’re facing.
Refusing a breathalyzer test
Like many states, Mississippi has “implied consent” laws. Hidden in the fine print of your driver license application, by getting behind the wheel, you consented to testing for blood alcohol concentration, if a police officer has reason to believe that you were driving while impaired.
Refusing the breathalyzer test is a violation of the law, which will result in an automatic 90-day suspension of your driver license, even if you aren’t later convicted of a DUI. You have 10 days to contest this suspension in a test refusal hearing, which isn’t much time. You should contact a lawyer immediately.
One option for fighting the suspension is a hardship license, if you can prove that you absolutely need to drive for work or to get to school or important medical appointments.
If you already have a DUI on your record, you may face a longer suspension.
But will refusing a breathalyzer help my case?
If you are certain you will fail the breathalyzer test, refusing the breathalyzer may help you during the DUI hearing. Without test results, it will be more difficult for prosecutors to prove you were driving drunk. Though equally, by refusing the test, you are giving more weight to the state’s drunken driving charges under the pretense that you knew you were too drunk to pass the test, so you refused.
If you are able to win your case, the 90-day suspension will seem like a slap on the wrist compared to what might happen if you’re convicted of a DUI.
Aren’t breathalyzer tests unreliable?
Breathalyzer tests do have a margin of error, which can factor into your defense if you barely blew over the legal limit. Other contesting factors could be the device wasn’t recently calibrated or the officer didn’t perform the test correctly. For example, to ensure that no alcohol residue remains in your mouth that might contaminate the breathalyzer, the officer is supposed to wait 15-20 minutes after stopping you to administer the test.
What about field sobriety tests?
Field sobriety tests are notoriously unreliable, particularly if they aren’t conducted under ideal conditions. “Ideal conditions” are rare when you’re on the side of the road at night or there’s any kind of weather.
As such, you can refuse a field sobriety test without consequences. But be aware that a breathalyzer test is probably coming right after the field sobriety test anyway.
If you’ve been arrested for a DUI, your best bet to returning to life as usual with minimal consequences is to enlist the help of an attorney.