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I need help with a hypothetical civil rights issue involving a DUI stop. What are the real options in the event you're stopped?

Erie, PA |

My question is not of something that happened in the past, but rather for a possible future. I realize, of course that the easiest way to get out of a DUI is to simply not drink & drive. That being said, If you're pulled over in the state of PA, what is the worst case scenario if you simply refuse any and all field sobriety and/or bloody tests? I ask because police in this area have a tendency to stop drivers with no probable cause. My fear is that one day I'll be driving to the store after only having a beer or two and then being harassed by an overzealous cop. After refusing to walk the line and the methodologically faulty breathalizer, the next step is a mandatory bloody test at the hospital. What are the worst case scenarios and/or defense options after such an encounter? Thanks, Sean.

Attorney Answers 3


The worst case scenario is that you will be convicted of DUI under the General Impairment section of the code spend 48-72 hours in prison and lose your driver’s license for two years, one year for the DUI conviction and One year for the Refusal to submit to the test.

By driving in Pennsylvania you are deemed to have consented to a test of blood, breath or urine ( it’s not your option to choose which one it’s the officers) If you refuse the test Penn DOT can suspend your license for one year.

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As an attorney whose practice used to be over 50% civil rights -- let me say that when being stopped for a possible DUI your options are limited. While you generally have a right to refuse to perform roadside sobriety tests -- your refusal will be used against you in court. Likewise, if you refuse a breath test - that may be a separate offense, and will surely result in the suspension of your license, at the very least. If the stop was illegal -- the time to challenge that is with an attorney, in court. Not during the traffic stop. On the other hand, many of the roadside tests are difficult to perform -- even if sober. If you have any physical or medical issues whatsoever -- those should be stated to the officer before taking the tests, and should be repeated if you are on video at any point. If you are required to take a breath test -- it is sometimes wise to also request a blood test, and state you are willing to pay for it out of your own pocket. Again, this should be repeated on video if you are serious. In rare cases, breath results will not be accurate. Of course, if you're "zonked" on alcohol - or drugs - asking for a blood test is not a great idea. If you have a physical impairment that will not allow you to perform a roadside test -- it might be a good idea to refuse that particular test and tell the officer why you are refusing -- and also ask for an "alternative" test. There is no "alternative" test -- but it will throw the officer off balance, and makes a good impression with a jury. If you pass the breath test -- you should ask to be released. At worst, this may set up a civil rights suit later. However, the truth of the matter is: if you are driving while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol -- you're probably going to spend the night in jail, and whatever happens after that is mostly going to need a good lawyer.

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A violation of a clearly established constitutional right under color of law gives rise to a Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit. In this situation, you may not have a civil rights violation for a DUI stop but you should see a lawyer in your locale to fully discuss your situation.

The laws that protect citizens against government misconduct are commonly called civil rights laws.

You might find my Legal Guide helpful "How to Choose A Lawyer For You"

You might find my Legal Guide helpful " What Do I Tell My Lawyer"

You may find help in my Legal Guide "What is a Civil Right?"

Act quickly because such lawsuits have strict time limits, called statutes of limitations.

Good luck to you.

NOTE: This answer is made available by the out-of-state lawyer for educational purposes only. By using or participating in this site you understand that there is no attorney client privilege between you and the attorney responding.

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