Almost everyone that talks to me about my work asks this question: “If I am stopped for a DUI, should I refuse the tests?”
First, if there is a remote chance that you might be close to the legal limit or if you feel in any affected by alcohol (or a drug), don’t drive. This sort of question contemplates that you are going to engage in risky behavior that we don’t want to encourage. If you’re reading this, you probably know me, and if you know me, then you probably recognize that I’d come get you (or call an Uber for you) before I’d encourage you to put yourself in a situation where you would have to make a decision about submitting or not submitting to field sobriety tests. When in doubt, don’t drive.
Lawyers typically advise people to refuse tests in DUI investigations because, whether tests would be favorable to the client or not, refusing the tests in a DUI investigation eliminates evidence. A lack of evidence is one basis from which the judge will tell the jury that they can find reasonable doubt. I believe that the real reason most lawyers advise this course of action is that most refusal cases are reduced by prosecutors in advance of trial, and that is certainly reasonable advice in light of that experience. However, what about the cases that are not reduced prior to trial?
Well, it is certainly not a given that a DUI case with a refusal of field sobriety tests and the blood, breath, or urine test is a winner. Despite the reservations of prosecutors to these cases, what most lawyers that have actually tried these cases recognize is that jurors are generally unwilling to give clients the benefit of the doubt (the presumption of innocence in combination with the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt) when the defendant has been uncooperative with the police. It requires lawyers to do a very good job helping jurors to understand the State’s burden of proof, and that is a very difficult thing to do.
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