Under Georgia law, prosecutors can prove that a driver was operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol by establishing that their blood alcohol content level was over the legal limit or by establishing that the driver was unsafe due to their drunk driving.
Many drivers refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test in an effort to protect themselves from serious DUI-related consequences. In the past, the refusal of a breath test could be used against drivers in court. However, this is no longer the case. The Georgia Supreme Court recently ruled that a DUI breath test refusal can no longer be used against a driver in a DUI criminal trial. The court said that the portion of Georgia's DUI laws that allowed prosecutors to use refusals as DUI evidence violated the state constitution's protection against self-incrimination. This ruling will make it more difficult for the state to prosecute DUI cases, but officers may still be able to get a warrant from a judge to require the driver to submit to a blood test.
The court's unanimous decision stems from a case involving a woman who was arrested for a DUI in 2015. Prosecutors in her case attempted to use her breath test refusal as evidence against her at trial, but her attorney argued that it would violate her constitutional rights. A lower court ruled against the woman, so she appealed to the state supreme court.
While breath test refusals can no longer be used in criminal cases, they can still be used in administrative proceedings to determine whether to suspend a driver's license.