MACON, Ga. -- The right to say, "No." It's a decision from the Georgia Supreme Court that allows anyone to opt out of taking a breathalyzer without facing an arrest because they refused.
Drivers stopped for a suspected DUI will no longer need to expect an officer to enforce a breathalyzer test. A new Georgia Supreme Court opinion gave drivers the right to refuse the test and not have it used against them in court.
That's according to assistant district attorney John Regan, who added that even though a refusal can't be used against someone in court, there are still other ways to prosecute impaired drivers.
"The breath test is the last test. We still have the standardized field sobriety tests, we will have everything we've seen beforehand. The deputies are wearing body cams that will all be recorded. So just because the breath test is out, the standardized field sobriety tests are going to be in there," Regan said. "If you refuse to do a breath test, which is absolutely your right under Georgia law, we can't use your refusal against you and it has to be a voluntary consent if you choose to do it. It has to be a voluntary consent. That still doesn't stop the deputy from pursuing probable cause outside of that to get a search warrant and we can get your blood."
Before the decision was passed down, the implied consent law stated that a person gave their consent once they got a driver's license -- meaning an officer could arrest someone based on the field sobriety test.
Lieutenant Scott Davis said that a DUI arrest doesn't just depend on someone's refusal of a breath test, but what happens during the entire traffic stop.
He said if deputies stop someone for what they suspect is impaired driving, they might ask the person to walk in a straight line, heel to toe, as part of a field sobriety test. This test would be given before a deputy or a trooper would have asked for a breath test. People suspected of driving under the influence might also be expected to lift their foot parallel and six inches above the ground while they count, Davis said.
"There is no arrest made on the basis of a refusal, if you're stopped if you're legitimately impaired, but you refused the test, we don't just say, 'Okay, you get a free pass because you're refusing.' The Supreme Court opinion doesn't negate the law standing as far as the impairment," Davis said.
Regan said that under Georgia's current Implied Consent Law, if someone refused a breath test it could be used against them in court, but the Supreme Court's new opinion changes that.
"You're granted a privilege of driving on Georgia's highways and biways, and you get a Georgia driver's license, there's an implied consent that you've given consent for your blood, breath, or urine in a stop if you're stopped," said Davis.
Regan said Monday's decision will leave legislators with the task of reworking the Implied Consent Law to fit the state Supreme Court's ruling. Anyone who's been convicted of a DUI also won't be able to appeal it, he added. The ruling only applies to DUI cases moving forward.