Early in 2019, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down part of the state’s DUI law, when justices ruled in favor of drivers who decline an officer’s request to take a blood alcohol breath test, saying that action can’t be used against them.
Justices found using a suspected drunk driver’s refusal to take a Breathalyzer test to prove their guilt violated the state Constitution’s safeguards against self-incrimination. They also affirmed an earlier ruling that said forcing drivers to take breath tests is unconstitutional.
Law enforcement and legislators react to the decision
In the wake of the court’s ruling last February, police can still ask drivers suspected of being under the influence to voluntarily take breath tests, and they can require blood and urine tests to measure a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
However, Georgia lawmakers must pass an amendment to the state’s Constitution to override the Supreme Court ruling. That action requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate, which must be followed by statewide voter approval.
Justices leave penalties for refusing a breath test in place
While the Supreme Court ruled that a breath test refusal can’t be used against a suspected drunk driver in a criminal case, it can still result in an automatic one-year suspension of their driver’s license. That’s because license suspensions are considered administrative penalties and not crimes.
The court’s ruling effectively removes one tool from police and prosecutors in DUI cases. However, drivers need to be aware that there is still a distinct possibility that they can be arrested and prosecuted for DUI when they are suspected of drunk driving.
Police change enforcement strategy
Some police departments across Georgia still ask drivers to willingly submit to breath testing, while others rely on dashcam video, field sobriety, and blood and urine tests. Thousands of drivers still face DUI charges each year and even a first-time offense can result in fines up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail.
If you are arrested, an experienced DUI attorney is vital to your defense and will challenge police over test results, and whether they had probable cause to stop you in the first place. Your attorney will also fight for your rights to keep your driver’s license and help reduce or avoid other penalties, which can bring severe consequences for years to come.