DUI suspects refusing breathalyzers frustrating to prosecutors

CENTRAL FLORIDA — Eyewitness News has learned that four out of 10 drivers stopped for DUI in Florida refuse breathalyzers. That is in spite of what is printed on Florida's drivers licenses, "Operator of a motor vehicle constitutes consent to any sobriety test required by law."

Traditionally, the Fourth of July weekend is among the deadliest on Florida's roads. If this year is like most, dozens of people will be killed by drivers who have been drinking.

"It is a very dangerous weekend to be on the road," said Assistant State Attorney Michelle Perlman.

It is also very frustrating for law enforcement. The word is out in Florida that if you're suspected of driving drunk you should not submit to a breath test.

"I think in county court, DUI is probably 40 percent of the docket," said Perlman.

However, at least four out of 10 in Florida refuse a breath test, making prosecution more difficult.

Eyewitness News traveled to Austin, Texas, where law enforcement does not take "no" for answer. If someone suspected of drunk driving refuses a breathalyzer they take your blood.

"It's (expletive), and people should be able to refuse," said citizen Joseph Collins.

"A lot of the lawyers would tell their clientele, 'whatever you do, don't provide a chemical specimen,' so word got out and the rate of refusals went up," said John Bundick with the Austin Police Department.

Texas officials said the blood draws are working to get people to submit to the non-invasive breath test.

"Some people, they don't want to run the risk of having a needle put in their arm so they would rather provide a specimen of their breath than take the chance that they would have a needle stuck in their arm," said Bundick.

Drawing blood when someone refuses a breath test has been done in Florida by Brevard and Hillsborough counties. However, after gaining a conviction, Brevard County saw it overturned.

"I would love to see the law changed because I'm frustrated as a prosecutor with the limitations of proving a drug or chemical substance case," said Perlman.

Unless the state Supreme Court rules differently, blood draws will only be allowed when someone's hurt, or a suspect is stopped for at least a third time.

"I definitely would support it, yes I would," said beachgoer Jessie Gainey.

"I think it would be fine," said Victoria Mauro. "It's the law to not drink and drive so I don't see why not, why it would be wrong."

"I think it's against your rights, more than a breathalyzer," said Ted Kryla.

The state Attorney's Office said that DUI defense attorneys are part of the problem. Many advise against taking breath tests so someone can avoid giving up evidence used against them. Eyewitness News checked online and found several websites that spell out what to do and not do if you're stopped.

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