Those flashing red-and-blue lights that you see in your rearview mirror as you're driving home are just the start of your problem. An ordinary traffic stop has the potential of turning into a nightmare if the police officer who stops you suspects that you've been drinking and driving. You can bet that you'll be asked to take a breathalyzer test—and you may worry that the glass of wine you had for dinner or the beers you had before you left the bar will land you in trouble.

Should you refuse to blow into the breathalyzer? Here's what you need to know about your rights and your options:

Can you refuse to blow into a breathalyzer?

In short, yes, you can refuse to comply with the officer's request for a breathalyzer. While that definitely won't win you any goodwill, it does force the officer to do one of two things: either get a warrant for a blood test to see if you've been drinking or drop the issue.

What happens once you refuse a breathalyzer test?

Refusing the breathalyzer test isn't without consequences. In some "no refusal" jurisdictions, a refusal will just prompt the police to call the local judge and get a warrant anyhow. In all states, you risk the potential of a suspended license under "implied consent" laws that making driving a privilege conditional upon your compliance with biological testing. (Exactly how stiff of a penalty you face for refusal varies greatly from state to state.) 

Is there any point, then, in refusing the breathalyzer?

If you're going to lose your license for a while anyhow, and the police can still (probably) get a warrant for a blood test, it doesn't seem like refusing is ever in your best interest—but it might be. By submitting to a breathalyzer test you are, essentially, consenting to the invasion of your privacy and the search of your body for evidence of drunk driving. If the police find it, it's pretty easy for them to get that evidence into court.

On the other hand, when you refuse to submit to the test and force the police to get a warrant, you preserve your right to challenge the basis for the search. The officer may have to demonstrate to the court what probable cause they had for suspecting you of being intoxicated. That may give your DWI attorney a useful avenue of defense.

Are you still unsure what you should do in a difficult situation? You can ask to call a DWI lawyer before you make the decision—and that may be the first step toward a solid defense.