Can You Be Convicted of DUI in Wisconsin if You Refused the Breathalyzer?

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If the police stopped you on suspicion of drunk driving and you took the breathalyzer on the side of the road, there is a good chance that prosecutors will be able to use your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reading against you. Unless the police violated your rights during your traffic stop or you can show that your BAC reading is invalid, prosecutors can most likely use it against you in court.

But, what if you refused the breathalyzer?

While Wisconsin’s “implied consent” law requires drivers to take the breathalyzer (provided that the police comply with the law’s requirements), some people don’t know this law exists, and some people refuse the breathalyzer for other reasons. If you refused the breathalyzer—and prosecutors don’t have your BAC to present as evidence in court—can you still be convicted of DUI?

Understanding What Happens When You Refuse the Breathalyzer During Your DUI Stop in Wisconsin

The short answer is, “Yes.” This is due to the language of Wisconsin’s DUI law. Under Section 346.63(1) of the Wisconsin Statutes, prosecutors have two ways to prove that a driver was drunk behind the wheel.

The first way prosecutors can prove a DUI case is by showing that the driver was over the legal limit. Section 346.63(1)(b) provides that:

“No person may drive or operate a motor vehicle while . . . [t]he person has a prohibited alcohol concentration.”

What does it mean to have a “prohibited alcohol concentration”? This term is defined in Section 340.01(46m) of the Wisconsin Statutes:

“Prohibited alcohol concentration” means one of the following . . . If the person has 2 or fewer prior convictions, suspensions, or revocations. . . an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more[; or,] [i]f the person is subject to an [ignition interlock device order] or if the person has 3 or more prior convictions, suspensions or revocations . . . an alcohol concentration of more than 0.02.”

So, as you can see, a DUI charge under Section 346.63(1)(b) requires evidence of the driver’s BAC. In fact, a DUI charge under this section is based entirely on the driver’s blood alcohol concentration at the time of his or her arrest. If you are driving with a prohibited alcohol concentration (i.e., a BAC of 0.08 percent or above), this is all prosecutors need to prove that you are guilty of DUI.

Now, let’s take a look at the second way prosecutors can prove a DUI case in Wisconsin. Section 346.63(1)(a) states:

“No person may drive or operate a motor vehicle while . . . [u]nder the influence of an intoxicant . . . to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safely driving . . . .”

This form of DUI does not require evidence of the driver’s blood alcohol concentration. Under Section 346.63(1)(a), if prosecutors can show that you were drinking and that this rendered you “incapable of safely driving,” then it doesn’t matter whether your BAC was over the legal limit at the time of your arrest.

How can prosecutors prove that you were under the influence of alcohol if they don’t have your BAC from the breathalyzer? Depending on the circumstances of your case, prosecutors may be able to use a variety of forms of evidence to prove that you are guilty. For example, in many cases, prosecutors will be able to use evidence such as:

  • An open container in the vehicle
  • The driver’s admissions to the police
  • The driver’s performance on the field sobriety tests (FSTs)
  • The arresting officer’s testimony regarding the driver’s behavior or appearance
  • Dash camera or traffic camera footage

Again, these are just examples. Since prosecutors don’t need your BAC to prove that you were driving drunk, even if you refused the breath test, it is still extremely important that you discuss your case with an experienced DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible. If prosecutors have other evidence against you, they may still be able to secure a conviction—and, if so, you are still at risk for substantial penalties.

What Are the Consequences of Refusing a Breath Test in Wisconsin?

Since prosecutors can prove a DUI case regardless of whether they have the driver’s BAC reading, does it really matter whether you refused the breathalyzer during your DUI stop? One again, the short answer is, “Yes.” There are two very important reasons why:

1. “Implied Consent” Violations Carry Substantial Penalties in Wisconsin

First, “implied consent” violations carry substantial penalties under Wisconsin law. Since this violation relates to your breathalyzer refusal—not your actions behind the wheel—you can face these penalties regardless of whether you were driving drunk. In Wisconsin, the penalties for first-time “implied consent” violations include:

  • A 12-month driver’s license suspension
  • A 30-day waiting period before you can apply for an occupational license
  • Mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device for 12 months

2. Prosecutors Can Use Your Refusal Against You in Your DUI Case

Second, while prosecutors won’t be able to rely on your BAC if you refused the breathalyzer, they will be able to rely on your refusal. Under Wisconsin’s “implied consent” law, refusing the breathalyzer creates an inference that you knew you were driving drunk. While it may be possible to overcome this inference by arguing that you refused the test for other reasons (i.e., you didn’t understand the test was mandatory or you were worried about a “false positive”), there are never any guarantees in court.

Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Wisconsin DUI Defense Lawyer in Madison

If you are facing a DUI charge in Wisconsin after refusing the breathalyzer during your traffic stop, it is important that you discuss your case with an experienced defense lawyer as soon as possible. We offer free initial consultations, and we can explain everything you need to know about fighting your DUI (and your “implied consent” violation). To speak with a Wisconsin DUI defense lawyer in Madison as soon as possible, call 608-257-0440 or tell us how we can reach you online now.