A Feisty Question About Refusing the Breath Test

Despite the banner proclaiming that the writer “won’t hide behind an alias” I couldn’t figure out the blogger’s name; his alias is Feisty – or based on the URL, is it perhaps Feisty Geek? – but he sure brings up a good point in his “DWI Hypothetical”.

The hypo assumes that Joe Blow gets stopped by the police while driving, investigated for DWI, refuses (politely, we hope) to do any of the proffered field sobriety tests, and then, after being arrested is asked whether or not he wants to take a breath test:

The officer then asks Joe to take a breath test for intoxication.  Joe's thinks for a moment, and responds:

Joe: Am I under arrest?

Officer: Yes

Joe: Do I have the right to remain silent?

Officer: Yes

Joe: Do I have the right to an attorney before I answer any questions?

Officer: Yes

Joe: Well, I now invoke my right to remain silent and to have an attorney before answering any questions.

Officer: Will you submit to a breath test?

Joe: Officer, that sounds like a question. I have already said that I invoke my right to counsel before answering any questions.

Officer: Huh?

Great hypothetical, and we can see where the lay-legal reasoning is leading us. Heck, it’s where the legal-legal reasoning leads me too.

If I’m under arrest, and I now have the right not to answer any questions without an attorney present, I probably shouldn’t answer questions without legal advice. Especially questions like “Will you take the breath test?”

Sounds like this is exactly the situation where I should consult a lawyer familiar with DWI procedures. Feisty continues and takes a stab at answering his own hypothetical question:

If you don't refuse the test, but instead just refuse to answer the officer's question as to whether you will take the test, that might not pass muster as a refusal, particularly when you've invoked your constitutional rights as the basis for not answering the question.

Anyone know if this might work?

Unfortunately, at least in Texas, there is caselaw directly on point that is not favorable to this position, at least from the DWI suspect’s standpoint. A refusal to answer the question at all is “taken as” or “deemed to be” a refusal. And that will hold up in an ALR hearing. And on appeal.

Alas our Joe Blow is tagged with a 180 day No-Blow ALR refusal driver’s license suspension. Well, 180 days… assuming it’s a first time DWI. There’s a potential enhancement to a full two years if our hero has a prior alcohol related contact.

But Feisty hits the nail on the head with his last observation:

Obviously, anyone coherent enough to go through that conversation without slipping up probably isn't that intoxicated, even though they might blow a .08 if they tested.

Exactly. The DIC-24 Statutory Warning reads “If you refuse to give a specimen, that refusal may be admissible in a subsequent prosecution.” The intent is to blackmail the suspect into giving a sample.

But in fact, as Feisty points out, it’s just as easily evidence that you are not intoxicated.

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Colorado DUI Lawyer - January 22, 2010 11:51 AM

Very few states allow consultation with an attorney before making the choice.

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