Those flashing blue and red lights are the last thing any driver wants to see. Even if you don't think you broke any traffic laws, getting pulled over can instigate instant stress and fear. If the officer who pulled you over seems to suspect that you've broken the law, perhaps by having a drink before driving, that can make the situation even more stressful. All it takes is a simple driving error, like grazing the center line with a tire, to give an officer probable cause for a traffic stop and roadside sobriety test.
After a field test, which could have inaccurate results depending on your stress level and other contributing medical conditions, the officer that pulled you over will ask to perform a chemical test, such as a blood or breath test. At that point, you may feel like saying no. Can you refuse a chemical test during a roadside stop in Tennessee? If you do, what kind of consequences could you potentially face?
Yes, drivers have limited rights to refuse chemical testing
The Supreme Court ruled last year that citizens do have the right to refuse chemical testing. Under the previous law in Tennessee, drivers who refused a breath test during a traffic stop were subject to arrest. After an arrest, law enforcement could compel that person to provide a blood sample for chemical testing. The Supreme Court found that it was reasonable to arrest people who refused non-invasive breath tests.
They also ruled, however, that in order to compel someone to provide a blood sample, a warrant was needed. Blood testing, they found, was more invasive and therefore required some judicial oversight to prevent unreasonable searches and potential abuses by those in positions of authority.
What happens if you refuse chemical testing?
If you refuse a breath test, you can expect to get arrested. Officers will likely inform you of the potential consequences for such a refusal. You will lose your license for a full year the first time you refuse a breath test and for two years the second time. If there was a crash that injured another person, you could face a two-year suspension of your license. If the collision resulted in a death, that time extends to five years.
Refusing chemical tests may not help you defend against a charge of driving under the influence either. The officer who arrested you may testify in court as to your refusal, and the courts can consider that refusal an indication that you knew you would likely fail the chemical test. You may end up having to deal with all the consequences of an alcohol charge while also adding an extra year of suspension of your license.