In the last two posts, I’ve discussed Miranda warnings and what they mean in a general sense. In this post, I would like to focus how those same Miranda rights work in a Florida DUI stop. If you have been stopped (detained) by a law enforcement officer while you were driving you can do the following:
- Refuse to answer any of the officer’s questions (this refusal to answer questions can usually not be used against you);
- You can (and typically should) refuse to take any field sobriety (although the jury may be told that you refused if the officer warns you that the refusal can be used against you);
- You can refuse to take any breath, blood or urine test (and you should typically refuse to take the test when you have never previously refused even though the jury may be told of the refusal if the officer reads you an “implied consent warning”); and
- You can refuse the officer’s request to search your person or vehicle.
In Florida, every valid driver’s license contains verbiage concerning the “Implied Consent” that if you are asked to submit to a drug test, you will do so or forfeit your license. This is where it gets confusing. Florida’s Implied Consent seems to contradict the Miranda warning. In Floirda DUI cases after being advised of your Miranda rights (if Miranda precedes Implied Consent, if often does not), the next question asked of the driver is whether he will submit to a chemical test of his breath, blood or urine.
When the driver informs the police officer that he wants to speak with an attorney (a right guaranteed by Miranda), the officer typically tells him that the right to speak to an attorney does not apply to his decision to take the breath test.
Obviously, the interaction of the Miranda rights and the Implied Consent warnings seem to contradict each other. This problem is often referred to as the “confusion doctrine.”
In many of these cases, your DUI lawyer can argue that the refusal should not be admissible because the reading of Miranda warnings created confusion as to the obligation to submit to the breath, blood or urine test. In certain cases, the Court’s have applied the doctrine to dismiss evidence about the refusal, but only when the driver made his confusion known to the law enforcement officer so that the officer had a chance to clarify the driver’s rights.
Even if the Court refuses to exclude evidence of the refusal at trial, this confusion doctrine can be argued to the jury to explain the reason the driver refused to submit to the chemical test. Jurors are often sympathetic to the plight of the driver when confronted with these seemingly contradictory doctrines.
In those cases, the jury could return a verdict of “not guilty” because the jury has a reasonable explanation for the refusal that does not involve the driver’s consciousness of guilt. Prosecutors may also be sympathetic to this problem which could contribute to their offer to reduce the charges before trial.
It is confusing when you’re in legal trouble and there are two competing, even contradictory legal principles at play. An experienced DUI lawyer can help you sort it all out.