A recent decision by a Georgia court shows why drivers charged with DUIs need to understand their rights. It also reveals how tricky the finer points of those rights can be.
Georgia’s laws for implied consent require drivers charged with driving under the influence to submit to tests of their blood, breath or urine. Drivers who refuse will have their licenses suspended for a minimum of one year. They can also have their refusals used against them as evidence in court, but a February ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court now blocks the use of an individual’s refusal of breath testing as evidence during a criminal trial.
What does this mean?
The 91-page ruling centered on the interpretation of Article I, Section I, Paragraph XVI of the Georgia Constitution comes with many far-reaching implications:
- Prosecutors in Georgia will no longer be able to use the refusal of a breath test as evidence in criminal court.
- Until Georgia’s Implied Consent Notice is amended, police officers may read drivers their Miranda rights before asking them to take a blood, breath or urine test.
- As Georgia’s prosecutors find themselves unable to use what had been a valuable piece of evidence, they will look elsewhere for the evidence they need to prove guilt beyond the level of reasonable doubt. It is possible that some prosecutors will be unable to find enough evidence to win a conviction.
One justice clarified that the Court’s opinion didn’t address the use of blood tests or the submission of refusals as evidence in administrative proceedings or civil trials.
The law can change
However, as everyone knows, laws are subject to change. If the General Assembly and people were to reconsider Paragraph XVI, this decision, as one justice states, “may aid in informing” any changes.
For now, however, the decision is more likely to inform the evidence and arguments that lawyers use to prosecute and defend against DUI charges.