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What happens if you refuse a breath test?

You may have heard it said that it's good to refuse a Breathalyzer if you are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol. After all, taking a breath test could end up only giving law enforcement the definitive proof it needs to seek a DUI conviction.

Whether or not you should blow isn't the point of this article. What you should know, however, is that Colorado has fairly strict consequences if you choose to exercise your right to refuse a breath test. Here are just a few of them.

Your license will be automatically revoked

If you refuse to submit to chemical testing for DUI, your license will be revoked for one year. The only way to get your license back is to apply for a reinstatement through the Department of Revenue's Division of Motor Vehicles. Even then, you must wait at least two months (if you're 21 or older) before applying for reinstatement. Drivers under 21 must wait the full year.

Note that applying for reinstatement is a separate process from any criminal charges that may be filed against you. So, even if you win your criminal case, it doesn't mean your license will automatically be reinstated. To get your license back, the state requires:

  • A $95 fee
  • Proof that you've enrolled in or completed an alcohol treatment program
  • Proof of an SR-22 insurance policy (insurance that is monitored by the state)
  • Installation of an Interlock device

This brings us to the next consequence of refusing a breath test in Colorado.

You will need to install an ignition interlock device

When you refuse to take a Breathalyzer, you will be required to install an ignition interlock device on any vehicles you own and are likely to drive, and maintain them for at least two years. An Interlock requires you to breathe into a machine before you start your car. If it detects an elevated amount of alcohol on your breath, the engine will not start. It will also require you to take these mini-breath tests periodically while you drive.

Interlock devices are expensive to install in the first place, and yes, you will be in charge of the installation costs. You also need to have the device serviced every 60 days by an approved mechanic. Missing even one of these routine maintenance visits means your license will be suspended until you bring the vehicle in.

You will be labeled a habitual drunk driver

Finally, refusing a chemical test means you will be designated a "persistent drunk driver" (PDD), even if you've never been arrested or charged with drunk driving before. This essentially means that refusing to take a BAC test of any kind (breath, blood, saliva or urine) is equivalent to being convicted of two or more DUIs. This designation carries all of the penalties outlined above, and they are mandatory. The only way to avoid this designation is to challenge it in a hearing, which must be scheduled within seven days of the arrest.

Knowledge is power

Again, all of these penalties are separate from any resulting DUI charges the state may file against you, which it can still do even if it doesn't have a confirmed BAC reading. And while it's possible that you could mitigate the penalties of a criminal DUI charge through plea negotiations or at trial (especially with the help of a skilled attorney), the administrative issues laid out here will go into effect if your administrative hearing doesn't go in your favor.

So, the question becomes less about whether you should refuse a breath test and more about understanding what you're up against if you do.

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