If a law enforcement officer charged you with driving while impaired (DWI) in North Carolina, you probably encountered a breathalyzer test. A breathalyzer is a device that can analyze a person’s breath sample and estimate blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels. In NC, the legal limit for drinking and driving is a BAC level of 0.08 percent. This limit drops to 0.04 for commercial drivers and 0.01 (zero tolerance) for drivers under the legal drinking age of 21. If the breathalyzer shows that you’re over the legal limit, an officer can book you for DWI.
Refusal to Take a Breathalyzer Test in North Carolina
Every driver automatically consents to a blood, breath, or urine test for alcohol or controlled substances when he or she receives a driver’s license in North Carolina. The “implied consent” law states that a driver consents to a test within a relevant time period if an officer with probable cause has arrested you. Despite the implied consent law, a driver can refuse to take the breathalyzer or other test. However, refusal results in penalties.
If a driver refuses to take a test, the officer will inform you that you will lose your license and driving privileges for at least one year because of refusal. By law, the officer must also tell you that you have the right to submit another test after you complete the first. You have the right to speak with a criminal defense attorney before the breathalyzer and have a witness with you while you take the test. If you refuse a test for the first time, don’t have prior DWI convictions in the last seven years, and didn’t seriously harm anyone while impaired, you may be eligible for limited driving privileges after six months of suspension.
The question of whether you should refuse to take a breathalyzer depends on the situation. In some cases, refusal could lead to a less harsh punishment than a DWI conviction. Always speak with an attorney if you don’t know whether to refuse testing. The police officer has to allow you to call a lawyer before submitting to testing. The Raleigh DWI attorneys at Scharff Law Firm can give you trustworthy legal counsel in these situations, finding out which option is right for you based on your driving record. Speaking with an attorney before submitting a breathalyzer can change the outcome of your entire case.
Breathalyzers and DWI Trials
If a driver refuses a breathalyzer test at the time of the charge, the prosecution loses a major piece of evidence against the driver. In most DWI trials in North Carolina, the driver’s recorded scientific BAC level is crucial evidence of the driver being impaired or driving while over the legal limit. Since you’re innocent until proven guilty, the prosecution may have a hard time convincing a judge of your impairment beyond a reasonable doubt without scientific evidence. During a refusal hearing at DMV, your attorney may be able to avoid a 12-month license suspension. In some cases, refusing a breathalyzer is in the driver’s best interest.
Even if a driver submits to a breathalyzer test and has a BAC over the legal limit, this isn’t foolproof evidence against the driver. A skilled attorney may be able to use a defense regarding a breathalyzer malfunction, an unauthorized officer giving the test, or inaccurate test results. A Breathalyzer test showing your BAC may not be the end-all in your trial. Speak with an attorney at Scharff Law Firm to learn your rights and options. Call (919) 457-1954 or contact us online to speak with a DWI defense attorney in Raleigh regarding a breathalyzer test. Put our number on speed dial in case you need to speak with us while on the scene with an officer.