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DUIs Count Against a Refusal Conviction

March 22, 2014 | Posted In Drunk Driving

A New Jersey appeals court recently presented a ruling that would negatively link prior drunk-driving offenses on record and a driver’s present refusal to submit to a Breathalyzer test. The state Supreme Court also heard arguments for this issue, which has been long debated between law enforcement and legal officials, drunk driving attorneys in New Jersey report. Currently, prior refusals on record do not count against a driver’s future or present DUI/DWI charges. 

The appellate court’s argument, in State v. Tighe, presented a twist on this existing law—in the same vein, a prior DWI should not heighten the penalties for a subsequent refusal conviction. The court case was investigating the sentencing handed down to Denis Tighe, a New Jersey man charged with refusal in 2012. Based on his prior record, which had two DUI convictions, a judge suspended Tighe’s license for 10 years. On appeal, Tighe argued that his DUI convictions should not count against him in his present-day refusal conviction. 

But New Jersey DUI/DWI lawyers say that the state Supreme Court already determined this correlation, back in 1981. In re Bergwall, the state Supreme Court ruled that “a defendant with prior DWI convictions should be sentenced for refusal as a repeat offender.” Following the state’s laws, Tighe should receive the maximum penalty for three DUI or DUI-related convictions. 

According to New Jersey law, all legal drivers in the state implicitly agree, by virtue of obtaining their state driver’s licenses, to comply with law enforcement procedures during a DUI stop, including taking a field sobriety test and a Breathalyzer, or any chemical test that measures blood alcohol content and levels of intoxication. This law, known as the “implied consent” law, makes it mandatory for anyone stopped lawfully by the police to submit to a Breathalyzer test at the time that they are pulled over. If you are stopped, and choose not to take the test, however, the police officer cannot force you to take one, but you may face other penalties for your refusal. 

A person who refuses to take a Breathalyzer test on his or her first DUI stop automatically faces licenses suspension for seven months, and must pay a fine of $300 to $500. A second refusal to submit to chemical testing is penalized with a two-year license suspension and a $500 to $1,000 fine, and a third refusal costs a driver his or her license for ten years, as well as $1,000 in fines. Any driver who has a prior DUI/DWI on record that occurred on school grounds, in a school crossing, or within 1,000 feet of a school faces doubled penalties for refusing a chemical test during a subsequent DUI stop. Even if you refuse to take a chemical test during your DUI stop, you could still be charged, drunk driving attorneys in New Jersey say. 

At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our drunk driving attorneys represent drivers who have been charged with driving under the influence, or who are facing penalties for refusing to take a Breathalyzer. If you have pending DUI-related charges, contact an HCK attorney today. 

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