4/1/2015Georgia Supreme Court Questions Implied Consent Law
Blood draws under the Georgia implied consent DUI law could be suppressed under a state Supreme Court ruling.
Georgia's implied consent law may not be around much longer. On Friday, a unanimous state Supreme Court laid the groundwork for a future ruling that could effectively nullify the statute that imposes automatic punishment on motorists who refuse to provide a blood sample or breath test upon demand. The implied consent law helps police investigate drunk driving (DUI) cases by allowing what are considered searches under the Fourth Amendment to take place without a search warrant.
John Cletus Williams learned about this after a Gwinnett County police officer pulled him over for swerving on September 22, 2012.
"Georgia law requires you to submit to state administered chemical tests of your blood, breath, urine, or other bodily substances for the purpose of determining if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs," the officer told Williams. "If you refuse this testing, your Georgia driver's license or privilege to drive on the highways of this state will be suspended for a minimum period of one year."
Williams agreed to the blood draw, thinking he had no choice. The officer called the incident an ordinary DUI and admitted there were no unusual or exigent circumstances with the case. A county judge convicted Williams based on the blood evidence, saying the implied consent law rendered Fourth Amendment concerns irrelevant. The high court disagreed.
"The state court's analysis is flawed," Presiding Justice P. Harris Hines wrote for the court. "A suspect's right under the Fourth Amendment to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures applies to the compelled withdrawal of blood, and the extraction of blood is a search within the meaning of the Georgia Constitution."
In Missouri v. McNeely (view case), the US Supreme Court held that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream did not automatically create "exigent circumstances" that absolve police of their duty to obtain a search warrant before drawing a suspect's blood. The justices required police to either get a warrant or cite a legitimate emergency justification for not doing so.
There were no exigent circumstances in the Williams case, so the Georgia high court was left to rule on whether Williams voluntarily consented to having his blood drawn after being read the implied consent notice that told him that he had no choice. The justices said they needed more information.
"In considering Williams's motion to suppress, the state court failed to address whether Williams gave actual consent to the procuring and testing of his blood, which would require the determination of the voluntariness of the consent under the totality of the circumstances," Justice Hines concluded. "Consequently, the judgments of the state court are vacated and the case is remanded to that court for proceedings consistent with this opinion."
A copy of the ruling is available in a PDF file at the source link below.