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Ask a Trooper: How can refusal of a breath test bring charges?

Sgt. Neil Dickenson, Minnesota State Trooper

Question: If the results of a preliminary breath test reading can't be used against a DWI suspect in court, why is a suspect charged with refusing PBT if that's what they choose?

Answer: Under state law, PBT is authorized when a law enforcement officer has reason to believe that a person has violated DWI laws. There are certain situations where the PBT can and will be used for charging certain offenses. You can refuse field sobriety tests and the PBT, but if the officer has reason to believe that you are impaired, you can and will be arrested.

According to the law, the PBT test results can't be used in any court action except the following:

• To prove that a test was properly required of a person;

• In a civil action arising out of the operation or use of the motor vehicle;

• In an action for license reinstatement;

• In a prosecution for a violation of driving while impaired;

• Test refusal;

• In a prosecution or juvenile court proceeding concerning a violation of section underage drinking and driving or underage alcohol consumption;

• In a prosecution for an alcohol-related school or Head Start bus driving;

• Limited license; or

• In a prosecution for a violation of a restriction on a driver's license, which provides that the license holder may not use or consume any amount of alcohol or a controlled substance.

In addition to the PBT, law enforcement officers are trained to look for clues of impairment by indicators such as driving conduct, slurred speech, bloodshot/watery eyes, odors and other types of evidence. The officer will have the driver perform a series of standardized field sobriety tests such as a walk and turn, looking at the eyes and one-leg stand.

The best situation for a driver and for the safety of others on the road is to commit to a sober ride:

• Plan for a safe ride — designate a sober driver, use a cab or public transportation or stay at the location of the celebration.

• Speak up — offer to be a designated driver or be available to pick up a loved one anytime, anywhere. If you see an impaired person about to get behind the wheel, get them a safe ride home.

• Buckle up — the best defense against a drunken driver.

• Report drunken driving — call 911 when witnessing impaired driving behavior. Be prepared to provide location, license plate number and observed dangerous behavior.

A portion of state statutes were used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota, send your questions to Sgt. Neil Dickenson, Minnesota State Patrol, 1131 Mesaba Ave., Duluth, MN 55811. You can follow me on Twitter @MSPPIO_NE or reach me at