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Florida Considering Making First DUI Test Refusal a Crime

Many people in Florida and elsewhere frequently ask defense lawyers if they should agree to a breathalyzer test if they are pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. While the answer to this question varies depending on the circumstances, a bill proposed in Florida might significantly alter how motorists should react when a police officer wants to evaluate their level of intoxication. Lawmakers are seeking to reduce the incidence of drivers refusing to provide a sample, which presently occurs approximately 35 percent of the time. 

The Fiscal Policy Committee of the Florida Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill making a first refusal to provide a breathalyzer test a second-degree misdemeanor in the state. Currently, doing so for a second time is misdemeanor while a first refusal is an administrative offense that results in a driver’s license suspension regardless of whether the driver is under the influence or not. The new first-time penalty for declining to provide a sample would include a requirement that the defendant install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle. This device, which prevents a vehicle from starting unless the operator passes a breathalyzer test, would have to remain in the car or truck for at least a year. 

Under the bill, someone convicted of the misdemeanor offense would also be responsible for the cost associated with installing the mechanism, which is approximately $1,000. Presently, ignition interlock devices are commonly included in sentences for someone convicted of drunk driving. While this legislation is intended to make roads safer, there are due process concerns about imposing such a penalty on someone not yet found to be guilty of driving while intoxicated. 

As it stands now, a second test refusal is classified as a first-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine. Within the language of the legislation approved by the committee, a first refusal would carry a maximum 60-day jail term and a fine of up to $500.

Whether the proposed law on test refusal is passed or not, a drunk-driving charge could cause serious problems now and in the future. Speaking with an accomplished Florida DUI defense attorney will help you understand your legal options and provide insight on the best way to challenge the state’s case against you. 

Joseph Montrone, Jr., P.A.  in St. Petersburg represents Florida clients accused of drunk driving and other offenses. For a free consultation, please call 727-888-0102 or contact me online.