In Olevik v. State, the Supreme Court of Georgia (on October 16, 2017) held that the Georgia Constitution prohibits law enforcement officials from compelling a person suspected of DUI to “blow their deep lung air into a breathalyzer.” The protection against self-incrimination enshrined in the Georgia Constitution, and in Georgia case law dating back to 1879, differs from the United States Constitution, as the latter only provides protection for individuals against incriminating themselves through testimonial evidence. Tangible evidence, such as the results of a breathalyzer test is not protected by the self-incrimination provision of the 5th Amendment.
Georgia law has a two tier DUI statute under which an individual who operates a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol can be charged. First, a person is guilty of “DUI per se” when he or she operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (“BAC”) of 0.08 grams or more. Moreover, regardless of BAC, it is unlawful for a person to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the extent it is less safe to do so. The latter is commonly known as “DUI less safe.” This two tier statutory framework reflects the Georgia legislature’s belief in the importance of combatting drivers who get behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, the enforcement of this important policy requires cooperation from the suspect, as determining whether a driver is under the influence requires field sobriety and chemical tests of the driver’s breath, blood, or urine. So, to elicit cooperation from potentially impaired drivers, Georgia enacted an implied consent statute which provides that drivers have agreed to submit to chemical testing as a condition of receiving a driver’s license, and that a person’s driving privilege will be suspended if he or she refused to take a chemical test after being arrested for a DUI offense, or having been involved in a traffic accident resulting in serious injuries or fatalities.
Mr. Olevik was arrested and charged for DUI, and after the trial court rejected his motion to suppress the breath tests on the basis that the he was coerced into taking the test in violation of his right against compelled self-incrimination, Olevik was found guilty of the charges following a bench trial. Olevik appealed the denial of his motion to suppress the breathalyzer results, but the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that his claims were precluded by earlier case law. However, at oral argument Olevik’s attorney requested that the court reexamine whether the precedent remained good law. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that Klink v. State was wrongly decided to the extent that it “concluded that a breath test did not implicate the state constitutional right against compelled self-incrimination.”