February 18, 2019 10:27 AM
Just in this morning, first reported by the AJC, the Georgia Supreme Court has unanimously agreed that a person accused of driving under the influence can refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test, both roadside and at the jail, without that refusal being used against them in court.
Justice Nels S.D. Peterson wrote in the opinion:
We acknowledge that the State has a considerable interest in prosecuting DUI offenses (and thereby deterring others), and that our decision today may make that task more difficult. The right to be free from compelled self-incrimination does not wax or wane based on the severity of a defendant’s alleged crimes.
According to Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, there are 10,876 deaths nationally each year attributed to intoxicated drivers. In 2016, the Georgia Department of Highway Safety reported that there were 368 alcohol related deaths in our state. That places Georgia significantly above the national average per state.
In ruling that parts of this law are unconstitutional, the Georgia Supreme Court has set the stage for a re-write by state legislators. While some may argue that this opinion will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s hard to imagine that they would strike down a unanimous ruling. If we want to continue to protect our citizens from intoxicated drivers on our highways and by-ways, that re-write should become a top priority in the 2019 legislative session.