It’s OK to feel disoriented if a law enforcement officer pulls you over and asks if you’ve been drinking. It’s a nerve-wracking situation, and you don’t want to inadvertently say or do the wrong thing because you’re nervous.
One particular part of the law has recently become more clear, however. Because of a 2019 court ruling, you can refuse to take a breathalyzer test – and choosing to do so can not be used against you in court.
Protection against self-incrimination
For a long time, Georgia law enforcement operated under the rule that if a person arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) refused to take a breathalyzer test, that choice could be used as evidence against them during a court case. In 2019, the Georgia Supreme Court declared this unconstitutional.
According to the ruling, that policy violated the state constitution’s protections against self-incrimination, one news report explained. That’s because, in part, a breathalyzer requires the suspect to perform an action, and that action might be self-incriminating.
In response, the Georgia General Assembly quickly passed a bill the state’s governor then signed into law, changing the language officers must use when addressing a DUI suspect. They are no longer allowed to say that refusing a breathalyzer can be used as evidence against the suspect in court.
You can still lose your license
A law enforcement officer can still ask a driver to take a voluntary breathalyzer test, but prosecutors can’t use the driver’s refusal against them in court. News reports suggest this means more drivers suspected of DUI will face urine or blood sample requests. Those chemical tests require officers to get a warrant, but they are also not optional for drivers.
However, refusing a breathalyzer test after a lawful arrest can still result in an automatic license suspension.
As always, law enforcement officers must not only uphold the law – they must follow it themselves. If you are arrested on suspicion of DUI, it’s important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible, particularly if the officer said or did something that is a violation of your rights. There are ways to defend against a DUI charge and potentially minimize its impact on your life.