The Georgia Supreme Court is currently discussing a law that would change the way DUI stops are handled. More specifically, it would change the way police officers deal with refusals to take a breathalyzer test and how those refusals would be dealt with in criminal court. If the law passes, it may make it almost impossible for a breathalyzer refusal to be used as evidence in a court of law. While some say this is a good move, many are concerned that it will result in higher rates of drunk driving fatalities and accidents. Here’s what Georgia drivers need to know.
In August of 2015, a driver was stopped and the officer who pulled them over suspected they had been drinking. The officer administered a field sobriety test because the scent of alcohol was evident on the driver’s breath. Beyond that, there were several other clues that told the officer the driver had been drinking. Based on the evidence, the officer asked the driver to take a breathalyzer test, but she refused. The officer explained to her that legal ramifications could result from the refusal, but she said she understood and that she still refused. Usually, that refusal would have been brought up during her court case, but she filed a motion asking the court to leave that refusal out of her proceedings. Her reasoning was that if the jury heard that she had refused the test it would violate her right against compelled self-incrimination. The State Supreme Court agreed with her.
Because the State Supreme Court agreed that this driver’s right to self-incrimination would have been violated if her refusal had been included, they set a new precedent in the legal system. Now, as it stands, it’s unconstitutional to include a driver’s refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test in criminal court. Many people are furious about this newly set precedent, stating that it will lead to more unsuccessful prosecutions which will in turn put more drunk drivers on the road. Others believe that this change in the law should have happened a long time ago and that a refusal to take a breathalyzer test shouldn’t automatically speak to someone’s guilt. However, new ambiguities in law have also come about thanks to this legal turn of events.
Before this happened, the laws clearly stated that you would face severe penalties for refusing to take a breathalyzer test. While the refusal itself couldn’t be used as evidence of your guilt, it could be included as a statement of fact. Because Georgia previously had laws on the books, and still does, that establish implied consent — essentially stating that if you drive, you agree to a breathalyzer test — this new precedent leaves a lot of room for confusion. This is understandably making a lot of Georgia drivers confused about what to do next.
Given the new precedent, what happens now? If you’re pulled over and suspected of driving under the influence, should you obey the law and agree to a test? Or should you bank on this new precedent saving you and refuse to take one? Most Georgia DUI attorneys will tell you that it’s easier to fight the legitimacy of a test you took than to fight the appearance of guilt that tends to plague those who refuse. Even though your refusal can’t be used in criminal court anymore, it can still be used in civil court. That means that the State or anyone else involved in the accident could open a civil suit against you and bring up your refusal there. However, if you already refused a test but you haven’t gone to court yet, this new might help your DUI attorney keep that refusal out of evidence.
By and large, it’s usually a good idea to go ahead and take the test and then fight the results later on. If you refuse to take the test, since it can’t be included now, there’s nothing to argue against, which can make your DUI attorney’s job a lot more difficult. However, it’s always best to take the advice of an experienced, qualified Georgia DUI lawyer. Only an experienced and qualified Georgia DUI attorney can help you protect yourself, exercise your rights, and obtain the best possible outcome for you. Get started today.