In a case that could influence how judges handle DUI penalties in Florida, the high court in Vermont recently ruled that a prior conviction on a DUI charge can serve the dual purpose of criminalizing a blood test refusal and enhancing penalties for subsequent offenses.
At issue in the Vermont v. Wainwright and the State v. Wilder cases was the question of whether a refusal of an evidentiary blood-alcohol test by a suspected drunk driver could do both. The trial court had held that no, it could not. However, the Vermont Supreme Court, in considering both cases recently, reversed those earlier decisions, finding that the plain language of state law allowed the same prior DUI conviction to serve as both an element to establishing criminal refusal and to also bolster the punishment for the refusal.
Here in Florida, it is generally not considered a crime if a person refuses a chemical test after being arrested for driving under the influence. That doesn't mean there aren't consequences - most namely, an automatic, one-year license suspension. But it's not a crime - unless you have previously been arrested for DUI, at which time you refused to submit to a chemical test and, as a result, had your driving privileges suspended.
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