In Illinois, when your license is suspended after a DUI arrest, it’s called a Statutory Summary Suspension. It’s not a punishment handed down by the judge, but rather an administrative action taken by the Illinois Secretary of State. It’s automatic, and it’s separate from any criminal prosecution for driving under the influence.

If you take a breath test at the police station and fail (over the legal limit of .08), the officer will inform the Secretary of State. If this is your first offense, the Secretary of State will suspend your license for six months. If you’re not a first offender, the suspension is 12 months. Either way, it doesn’t take effect immediately. The suspension period usually begins 45 days after your arrest. You will get a notice of suspension.

You have the right to refuse to take a breathalyzer test at the police station. However, there is a penalty. If you refuse the test, your license will be automatically suspended for 12 months, and 36 months if you’re not considered a first offender. For purposes of Statutory Summary Suspensions, a “first offender” is someone who hasn’t had an offense in the last five years. The same person, however, may not be considered a first-time offender by the court.

Although the summary suspension is automatic, it’s not set in stone. An attorney can challenge the suspension. If you act quickly and are successful, you can avoid loss of driving privileges. You also have the option, if you’re a first offender, to apply for a monitoring device so that you can drive during your suspension (after the first 30 days). It’s a device installed in your car that requires you to blow into it before the car will start. It only starts if you’re sober.

The decision to refuse a breathalyzer test is a tough one. You are risking a longer suspension. However, if you take the test, it can be used as evidence against you. (Note: The results of a breath test taken at the side of the road cannot be used against you by the prosecutor, and there is no penalty for refusing that one.)  Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer or general advice that will work in every situation.
Written by Michael Helfand