Driving under the influence of alcohol is a dangerous, although common, decision. Virginia law enforcement officers take a number of steps in order to minimize the risk that drunk drivers create for others on the road. They may set up patrols looking for inebriated drivers when they know people are likely to leave bars in the early morning. They also often set up sobriety checkpoints on holiday weekends or other times when they anticipate large numbers of drunk drivers.
The easiest and most straightforward way to avoid facing criminal consequences for impaired driving is to choose not to get behind the wheel of a car after having had anything to drink. Some people also want a tactic they can use to protect themselves if they wind up pulled over by law enforcement.
Under Virginia law, you already gave consent for the testing
Virginia has what is known as an implied consent law regarding chemical testing for impairment among those driving on public roadways. In other words, part of having a license and driving on Virginia roads is agreeing to allow law enforcement to administer a chemical test if they have reason to believe that you may be under the influence.
Although you, theoretically, have the right to refuse up to the point when an officer arrests you, once an arrest has occurred, the law compels you to submit to chemical testing. If you still refuse, there are potential criminal consequences.
What penalties could you face for refusing a test?
Officers will often request a non-compulsory test during a stop to establish probable cause for an arrest and additional testing. However, refusing that test can also provide an officer with reasonable suspicion that you know you will fail the test. Refusing once you are under arrest is a violation of the Virginia implied consent law that carries its own consequences.
Those consequences will depend on your criminal record. First-time offenders will lose their license to drive for a full year. A second chemical test refusal could carry three years of license suspension. A third refusal within 10 years will carry another three-year suspension.
Refusing won’t necessarily stop cops from charging you
Many people think that by refusing a breath test, they assert their own legal right against implicating themselves. However, Virginia courts will often consider a refusal to take a breath test as tantamount to an admission of guilt.
The officer involved in the traffic stop and arrest can testify in court about your refusal and their beliefs as to why you refused. You could wind up facing the penalties of violating the implied consent law and the penalties associated with a drunk driving conviction all for the same traffic stop.
Anyone facing impaired driving charges in Virginia, whether they submitted to the chemical test or not, will likely benefit from talking about their situation with an experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney.