Senate vote sends Georgia DUI breathalyzer bill to governor

Police officers would no longer tell motorists suspected of drunken driving that their refusal to take a breathalyzer test could be used against them in court, according to a bill approved Thursday by the state Senate.

The legislation, House Bill 471, now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature. The bill passed the Senate 50-2 on Thursday, and it cleared the state House earlier this month.

The bill was introduced in response to a Georgia Supreme Court ruling last month that requiring suspects to blow into breathalyzers is a violation of constitutional protections against self-incrimination.

Officers can still mandate blood or urine tests, and they can also ask drivers to voluntarily take breathalyzer tests.

The legislation corrects the language police officers read to drivers when they're pulled over. Under current Georgia laws, police tell drivers that breath tests could be evidence in their criminal cases, which is no longer the case since the Georgia Supreme Court's decision.

"After the court ruling, what police would be doing is asking people to self-incriminate themselves, and of course the Constitution has never supported that," said state Sen. Randy Robertson, a Republican from Cataula and a former law enforcement officer. "You'll probably see a lot more agencies go toward the blood test option."

The legislation covers the implied consent warnings that police read in cases of drunken driving, hunting and boating.

But state lawmakers didn't attempt to override the court's decision, Elliott v. the State.

They plan to study the state’s DUI laws and consider additional changes during next year’s legislative session.

It would take an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to reinstate mandatory breathalyzer tests.

Amending the state constitution requires two-thirds majorities in both the state House and Senate, followed by approval from a majority of Georgia voters.