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Georgia Supreme Court Weakens Implied Consent Law

Last month in Williams v. State, the Georgia Supreme Court remanded a defendant’s DUI case after the trial court erroneously failed to address whether the defendant gave actual consent to his blood test.

After a bench trial, defendant John Cletus Williams was convicted of DUI and failure to maintain lane in violation of Georgia law. Prior to trial, he unsuccessfully moved to suppress the results of his blood test on the grounds that it was obtained without a search warrant in violation of the Fourth Amendment. He argued that Georgia’s implied consent statute was unconstitutional as applied to him because it did not amount to voluntary consent for Fourth Amendment purposes.

Williams was arrested in September 2012 by a Gwinnett County Police officer. While in custody, the officer read Williams his statutory implied consent notice and requested Williams to submit to a blood and urine test, characterizing it as a “yes or no question.” William’s responded “yes.” The officer did not ask Williams if he was willing to freely and voluntarily give a test. Williams was then taken to a medical center, where blood and urine samples were taken.

The trial court denied Williams’ motion to suppress, rejecting his argument that statutory implied consent implicated the Fourth Amendment. The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed.

In reaching its holding, the Georgia Supreme Court first briefly outlined relevant Fourth Amendment law. It explained that a suspect’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures applies to blood draws, and that the extraction of blood qualifies as a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. Searches conducted without a warrant are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, subject to a few well-established exceptions.

In the context of blood draws, the first well-recognized exception to the warrant requirement is the presence of exigent circumstances. The Williams court recounted the Georgia Supreme Court’s prior holding in Strong v. State that the dissipation of alcohol in the body automatically, as a matter of law, provides the exigency for a warrantless blood test incident to arrest. After Strong, however, the United States Supreme Court rejected such a per se rule that the natural metabolization of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream constitutes an exigency under the Fourth Amendment. Thus, the Williams court held: “to the extent that Strong v. State holds otherwise, it is hereby overruled.”

The Georgia high court held that there was “no dispute that there were no exigent circumstances” in Williams’ case. The court therefore shifted its analysis to the voluntary consent exception to the warrant requirement, the second “well settled” exception in the context of a DUI blood draw. The court recounted its prior holding that distinguished compliance with the implied consent statute from the constitutional question of actual consent. The Williams court explained that McNeely only reinforced this holding.

The Georgia Supreme Court concluded that in considering Williams’ motion to suppress, the trial court erroneously failed to address whether Williams gave actual consent to his blood test, which would require a determination of voluntariness under the totality of the circumstances. Thus, the court vacated the trial court’s judgement and remanded for proceedings consistent with its opinion.

This opinion places the continued vitality of Georgia’s implied consent law on shaky ground and strengthens the constitutional rights of Georgia DUI defendants.

If you have been charged with a DUI crime in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation for those in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses. To learn more and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 217.525.0520.

More Blog Posts:

Illinois Appellate Court Upholds Defendant’s Suspension Based on Officer’s Incomplete Report, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, April 1, 2015.

Illinois Counties with the Highest DUI Arrests, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, March 2, 2015

Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Defendant’s DUI Based on Officer’s Fourth Amendment Violation, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, February 13, 2015




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