Question: Is a Florida driver required to submit to an alcohol breath test if asked by law enforcement?
Answer: Upon receiving a Florida driver’s license, an individual signs a document indicating one’s willingness to submit to a breath alcohol test. In fact, at the bottom of every Florida driver’s license there is language which states, in small print, “Operation of a motor vehicle constitutes consent to any sobriety test required by law.” Thus, the question becomes what is actually required by law.
Under Florida law, if an individual refuses to submit to a breath test, or a blood or urine test for that matter, the first refusal will result in the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles issuing an administrative suspension of your Florida driver’s license for a period of 12 months. A second or subsequent refusal, however, will result in a criminal 1st degree misdemeanor charge, prosecuted by the Office of the State Attorney, as well as an administrative Florida driver’s license suspension of 18 months. The 1st degree misdemeanor charge can result in a sentence up to one year in jail, or one year of probation, and a fine up to $1,000.00. This refusal is a separate charge from any Driving Under the Influence criminal prosecution.
Of course, a law enforcement officer has to have a good reason to request such, as in the arresting law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe the individual was driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcoholic beverages, chemical substances, or controlled substances. Thus, an officer will not simply pull over people for the fun of it and ask them to submit to a breath, blood or urine test. Likewise, an officer, after placing the individual under arrest for Driving Under the Influence, will read something referred to as “Implied Consent,” which advises the individual of the consequences of refusing to submit to a breath test.
In the event there is a crash, and it is likely that serious bodily injury or death is imminent, then law enforcement may obtain a blood draw notwithstanding the individual objecting to such. Likewise, law enforcement will occasionally obtain medical records from the hospital where an individual involved in a crash is being treated, and can use the medical blood draw records regarding alcohol and controlled substances as evidence during a jury trial, presuming the proper steps are taken and there are no grounds for suppression of such.
It is true that refusing to submit to a breath, blood or urine test can make it more difficult for the prosecution in a Driving Under the Influence case. However, if you refuse, you immediately receive a driver’s license suspension, at least administratively, as well as commit a criminal offense if it is your second or subsequent refusal. Thus, choose wisely when under this circumstance. And, considering you likely are under the influence of something when being asked to make this decision, you might want to spend some time thinking about this issue while you are reading the Legal Column, hopefully in a sober state on this Monday morning.
As always, the safest thing to do is avoid driving while under the influence of any alcohol or drugs. However, if your judgment lapses, and you end up charged with a crime, contact my law office immediately for a free consultation. Write down my information and carry it in your wallet so you will have it if things go wrong, or tell your loved ones and friends my information so they can be ready if things take a downward turn. As always, my office is only seven digits away at 215-0628.