Court Clarifies Law on Refusal to Take an Breath Test in Florida DUI Case – Arenas v. Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

A DUI arrest in Florida can come with serious consequences. So can refusing to take a breath alcohol test incident to such an arrest. Before you can be punished for the refusal, however, the legality of the arrest must first be determined, as the Second District Court of Appeal explains in Arenas v. Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Ricardo Arenas was driving in Lee County at around 1 a.m. when a county sheriff’s office pulled him over on suspicion of DUI. After Arenas refused to take a breathalyzer or field sobriety test, the officer arrested him and charged Arenas with DUI and refusing the breath test.

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles later suspended Arenas’ driver’s license based on his refusal to take the breath test. While the State Attorney ultimately declined to prosecute Arenas, finding that there was not sufficient evidence to support the charges, the license suspension remained in place.

Following a hearing, a DHSMV hearing officer upheld the suspension, finding that the officer had probable cause to pull Arenas over and that Arenas declined the breath test after being informed that the decision would result in a license suspension. The hearing officer did not consider whether the DUI arrest was based on probable cause.

Arenas then sought a writ of certiorari, asking a circuit court to review the hearing officer’s decision. When the circuit court declined, Arenas appealed to the Second District, which granted the writ, ruling that the lawfulness of the officer’s stop and arrest must be reviewed in order to determine whether the license suspension should be upheld.

In Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles v. Hernandez, the state Supreme Court ruled that DHSW can suspend a driver’s motor vehicle license for refusing to take a breath test only if the refusal is incident to an lawful arrest and that the driver has a right to challenge whether the arrest was lawful. The Hernandez court did not resolve, however, the question of whether a DHMV hearing officer has the authority to review the lawfulness of a stop and arrest.

Nevertheless, the Second District ruled that a judge or administrative hearing officer must be able to determine whether a stop and arrest were lawful, that is, based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause. “In order to avoid subjecting Mr. Arenas to a miscarriage of justice or unconstitutional treatment in his case, as the supreme court has warned, the lawfulness of his stop and arrest by Deputy Jones, which has never been determined, must be reviewed and decided,” the Court ruled. As a result, the Court remanded the case to the circuit court to determine the appropriate body for considering the lawfulness of the stop and arrest.

A DUI conviction is a serious matter that can have a far-reaching effect on your life. As this case shows, the fines and penalties for driving under the influence are severe: you could be fined thousands of dollars and ordered to pay even more in restitution in addition to having your driver’s license revoked and spending months or even years in prison. If you’re facing a DUI charge in Florida, your best option is to consult with an attorney who can advise you regarding your legal defenses and the best course of action.

The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine are experienced in handling DUI cases and have consistently provided high quality representation to clients all over Florida, including in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach.

Related blog posts:

Corpus Delicti in Florida DUI Cases – Bribiesca-Tafolla v. State

Florida Woman Convicted of DUI Forced to Pay More than $300,000 – Ianieri v. State

Can Police Use Your Silence Against You? Supreme Court Decides not to Decide