DUI law got a shakeup Monday morning.
Case law had held that if a law enforcement officer asked for a breathalyzer test, Georgia drivers couldn't refuse.
A new ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court changed that. Officers can no longer compel drivers to take the test.
The unanimous decision on Olevik v. The State, the case in question, hinged on a legal technicality.
Keith Fitzgerald, an attorney at Hogue and Hogue in Macon, said "the fine line with the Georgia constitution is that you're never forced to give something, but you can be forced to be present while something is taken."
Since breathalyzer tests need suspects to give their breath, the court ruled that requiring them was unconstitutional. Drivers now have the right to refuse the test.
If they do, they'll still be subject to punishment, but it will come from civil court. The consequences for refusing a test include a minimum one-year license suspension.
Sergeant Lawson Bittick of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office says the ruling doesn't change department policy on DUI enforcement--their officers were already told not to require the test.
But, he says, it does serve as a reminder to execute their duties properly.
"I think it reiterates to a law enforcement officer," said Bittick, "that he or she does not have the right to tell a defendant they're going to do something without...some legal justification from the court."
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