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Gwinnett DUI Case Raises Constitutional Questions

DUI Picture 1A recent Georgia Supreme Court case involving the constitutional rights of those arrested for DUI has led to some interesting discussion and some legal maneuvering. In a Gwinnett County trial court criminal case, the defendant Mr. Williams was convicted of a DUI related to drug use. At the time of his arrest, his blood was tested by the authorities without a search warrant. The defendant sought to suppress the blood test evidence based on the lack of a search warrant under both the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and a similar provision of the Georgia Constitution. In addition, the defendant asserted that the Georgia statute, Official Code of Georgia Annotated section 40-5-55,  which allows for implied consent to testing when drivers take the roads, is unconstitutional as applied in his case. He argued that his consent was not voluntary. The trial court denied his arguments and allowed the results of the test into evidence.

However, the Georgia Supreme Court found that the defendant’s arguments on this issue were meritorious and sent the case back to the trial court to reconsider the defendant’s motion to suppress. Under the Georgia law, if a suspected DUI driver fails to give voluntary consent to being tested, which is essentially waiving his or her right to require authorities to secure a warrant, authorities are then permitted to suspend a driver’s license for one year. The question that the Georgia Supreme Court reviewed was whether this essentially amounts to an involuntary consent, rather than a voluntary one.

 Although the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision has led to some confusion about the application of the Georgia implied consent law, the administrative arm of our legal system has attempted to clarify the high court’s decision. In two subsequent cases, administrative law judges (ALJ) interpret the decision differently than perhaps defendants would have hoped. Two ALJ’s have essentially ruled that evidence collected for a DUI, such as a breath test, does not have to be shown to have been given voluntarily when considering whether a license suspension is appropriate. The ALJ’s have thus far concluded that the more strict Constitutional standards that apply in a criminal case, such as the Williams’ case, are not applicable in a administrative case in which a license suspension is being considered. To rule otherwise would have a major impact on the state’s ability to manage DUI and take drivers off the roads after they have been proven to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

This is not the end of the Constitutional question — the Georgia Supreme Court has remanded the Williams case to the trial court for a determination of consent in that case. The outcome of that determination could well mean further appellate decisions in the Georgia courts on this issue.

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