Unless you’ve ever been pulled over for DUI in Maryland, you may not realize that police officers might ask you to take two very different DUI/DWI breath tests during an investigation. Most people think there is only one “breathalyzer,” but there are key differences between these two methods. Knowing your rights and anticipating the consequences of your actions is extremely important during a DUI investigation. Read on to learn more.
Preliminary Breath Test
It is easiest to differentiate these two tests by describing them in the sequence they are most likely to appear. The first breath test is usually given on the side of the road, just before you are arrested, and the second one is given after you are arrested and driven to a police station.
Many traffic enforcement police officers have a device in their car that can detect the alcohol levels in your breath. According to DUI law in Maryland, the legal term for this side-of-the-road test is the “Preliminary Breath Test.” This machine is not legally reliable, and is only used as a guide to determine whether you should be arrested. Once arrested, however, an officer will likely take you to a police station for an official breath or blood test.
It is important to remember that a Preliminary Breath Test is NOT mandatory. A police officer will likely not tell you this. The officer might just say they’d like you to take a quick test without giving you any indication of its significance. Remember, refusing this test will have no impact on your driver’s license. And if you take the test or refuse to take the test, the results or your refusal cannot be used by the State in any court action. So do you need to take one of these first DUI/DWI breath tests, if they are offered? Not at all.
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Police Station Test
The second test which is the one we all think of when you hear the phrase “DUI/DWI breath tests”: the police station breath or blood test. This official test is given by a police officer who is specially certified to administer it. If regularly calibrated, this machine is very accurate at determining blood alcohol content legal limits. The results of this test can, and will, be used against you.
You do not have to take this test, but you should be very cautious before making the decision to refuse. No one can make you take these DUI/DWI breath tests—but there are serious consequences for refusing one.
If an officer has reasonable grounds to ask you to take a breath test and you refuse, then the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) can, and probably will, impact your right to drive. First, the officer will take your driver’s license from you and give you a piece of paper that serves as your temporary driver’s license. This paperwork will inform you that you have a right to a hearing to argue that your driving privileges should not be affected.
There are important deadlines about filing that paperwork, so read it very carefully to avoid the harshest penalties for DWI and DUI. If the MVA process does not go smoothly, your refusal of a lawfully requested police station breathalyzer carries a 9-month suspension of your driver’s license. Each subsequent time you refuse, you will receive a 2-year suspension of your license. And there’s no work-restricted option for this suspension. The only way to get around these suspensions is to install an Ignition Interlock machine in your car for a period of at least 1 year. Unlike most refusals to cooperate with police, turning down a breathalyzer can be used against you in your trial.
Should I Take DUI/DWI Breath Tests?
So do you have to take the DUI/DWU breath tests at a police station? No. But there will most likely be administrative consequences for turning it down. That obviously begs the next question: should you take a breath test if you are stopped in Maryland on suspicion of a DUI?
When it comes to an in-police station breathalyzer, there are consequences for either choice. Refuse, and you will most likely have a suspended license for an extended period of time. If you don’t refuse, you are simply giving the prosecutor more evidence to use against you. Check out our Maryland DUI FAQ for more information about what to do—and what not to do—during a DUI or DWI stop.
You need to know your rights, and you need an experienced attorney who understands the law and can advise you about what to do after you have taken these DUI/DWI breath tests. Call ZIrkin and Schmerling Law at 410-753-4611 for your free initial consultation.