After you've been pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI), the police will generally give you a choice of chemical tests to determine blood alcohol content (BAC): typically breath or blood. If you refuse, you'll likely be arrested and charged with refusing a chemical test, as well as a DUI.
What typically happens in a case like this? We surveyed readers who had been arrested for drunk driving (whether DUI, DWI, or some other driving-while-intoxicated offense) and refused to submit to chemical testing. We wanted to learn how they fared. Were they convicted? Of what? What were the penalties? How much did their cases cost?
What's the Likely Outcome of a DUI Refusal Case?
Keeping in mind that our readers came from different parts of the country—and that penalty schemes for refusal differ from state to state—let’s take a look at outcomes for those who refused chemical testing.
Conviction Rates for Drivers Who Refused Chemical Testing and Drivers Who Didn't
Nearly 83% of readers who did not refuse chemical testing in the course of a DUI arrest were convicted of either DUI or a lesser offense like reckless driving or "wet reckless." Of readers who did refuse a BAC test, almost 87% were convicted of DUI or a lesser offense.
But the story wasn’t quite as simple as these numbers might suggest. The defendants who refused a chemical test were less likely to get a conviction for DUI, and more likely to be convicted of a lesser offense. Of the defendants who refused a chemical test, 23% were able to plead guilty (or "no contest") to a lesser offense, possibly because the prosecution didn't have enough evidence to get a DUI conviction. Of those who didn't refuse a BAC test, only 13% were able to plead to a lesser offense.
While any number of factors can affect the outcome of a criminal case, our survey showed that readers who refused chemical testing were:
- less often able to avoid conviction altogether, and
- more often able to plead guilty to an offense other than DUI.
Driver's License Outcomes for Drivers Who Refused and Drivers Who Didn't
Refusing a chemical test can lead to harsher consequences when it comes to the driving privilege. Common punishments for DUI (with or without a test refusal) include:
- having to drive with restrictions, like being able to go only to and from work and alcohol education classes
- license suspension—for instance, not being allowed to drive at all for four months, and
- license revocation—for example, losing the driving privilege for two years or more.
About 24% of readers who complied with chemical testing ended up without any kind of driver’s license penalty. On the flip side, only 9% of readers who refused testing could say the same. Specifically, those who refused the BAC test had their license suspended and/or restricted 73% of the time and revoked 18% of the time—significantly more often than those who didn't refuse.
Not only did readers who refused testing end up with license penalties more often—they also ended up with longer ones. When readers refused a test and had their licenses restricted, those restrictions lasted 10.5 months on average. When readers didn’t refuse and ended up with license restrictions, those restrictions lasted 6.8 months. Similarly, the average refuser whose license was suspended had to stay off the road for 8 months; for all other suspended readers, the period was 6 months.
What's the Average Cost of a DUI Refusal Case?
Our readers who refused chemical tests—including those who weren’t eventually convicted of anything—reported total costs of $5,900 on average. Readers who didn’t refuse testing reported average costs of almost $6,800 (these figures do not include lost income). Court costs, fines, fees for alcohol education, and the like were only slightly lower for those who refused testing, perhaps due to the lower DUI conviction rate for refusers. But, as a group, defendants who refused testing spent less on attorneys' fees and insurance rate increases.
Attorneys' Fees in Refusal Cases
Why were average attorneys' fees and expenses lower for the refusal group? For whatever reason, twice as many defendants who refused BAC testing hired public defenders. Public defenders are free or low-cost for those who qualify financially. Within the group of defendants who hired private attorneys, attorneys' fees were lower for those who refused ($2,200) than those who didn’t refuse ($2,500).
Of course, the cost of an arrest involving refusal varied depending on the outcome. Those who were ultimately convicted of DUI paid about 20% more than those convicted of a lesser offense like reckless driving.
Insurance Rates in Refusal Cases
Almost 41% of all readers who refused a BAC test experienced an auto insurance rate hike; the average increase was $1,800 over three years. But the corresponding figures were higher for people who didn’t refuse: 47% saw increased rates with an average increase of $2,300. Again, the higher average increases for those who didn't refuse testing might have been due to the fact that they were convicted of DUI more often.