Greg Willis Testifies at the Georgia House of Representatives

– [Chairman] Introduce yourself and then give us your testimony.


– Thank you, Mr. Chairman, the members of the committee. My name is Greg Willis. I’m a practicing attorney in Georgia. I’m very proud of this state that I practice in. I’m very proud of our Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. And, what this provision is doing is deleting our Paragraph 16 in its entirety. And, the reason I say that is, because the every state, even ones without constitutions, which I don’t recommend they have to follow the US Constitution. So, in other words, what is being proposed is that we be left with nothing but federal law as it relates to self-incrimination. And, I also want to point out that every single argument discussed by the prosecutor attorney’s counsel this morning, that was raised at our Georgia Supreme Court in oral arguments and also in briefing in all of these recent cases that have come down. And, obviously they did not, they were unsuccessful in those arguments at our Georgia Supreme Court. Every day of my life growing up, my grandfather beat into my head what the Court of appeals said about our rights. And, he fought in World War II, and literally every day of my life, he walked around his house with his chest poked out about what a great place we live in and what these rights mean to us. And, that we had to fight for them and do this. And, it had a lot to do with how I ended up in defense work and fighting for our constitutional rights. And, the Court of Appeals said it a whole lot more eloquently than I ever could.

But they said, “They are sacred jewels,” talking about these constitutional rights, “Which have come down to us from an English ancestry forced from the unwilling hand of tyranny by the apostles of personal liberty and personal security. They’re hollowed by the blood of a thousand struggles and restored away for safekeeping in the casket of the Constitution. It is infidelity to forget them. It is sacrilege to disregard them. It is despotic to trample upon them. They are giving us as a sacred trust into the keeping of the courts who should with sleepless vigilance guard these priceless gifts of a free government.” And, that’s just speaking to our personal liberties. And, we’ve always chosen personal liberty over law enforcement and the tyranny of what we felt was from England. I handled the Elliot case. And, I’ve read every single brief at the Supreme Court. I’ve read every single brief that’s been filed by the prosecutors in regards to Paragraph 16 for the last 10 to 15 years.

I haven’t read the one from 1789, but I’ve read a lot of cases. And, the Supreme Court of Georgia got it right. It was a unanimous decision there. There were no dissenting votes in regards to the interpretation of Paragraph 16. Justice Peterson in writing the opinion specifically said that, “This was an unbroken line of history from 1789,” talking about the Day case that Mr. Samuels mentioned earlier. And, he’s correct. The Georgia Courts got it right. And, with sleepless vigilance, our court did what it was supposed to do. Our Supreme Court interpreted it. It disagreed with PAC. And, they have argued every single time that these decisions in the past were incorrectly decided. And, every single time our Georgia Supreme Court of late has agreed that these are acts. So, I do wanna address a few things about the things we heard.

First of all, a blood test can be taken without you acting. And, the reason that’s not considered a Paragraph 16 issue is because if you can do it to a dead body then you can, it’s not considered an act. That’s why blowing into a breath test machine can’t be done. You can’t do it to a dead body. Fingerprints are not, that is not an issue for Paragraph 16, because you can take the fingerprints from a dead body. You don’t have to do anything like what the one leg stand or blowing into a breath test machine. Voice examples is one thing. You have to have a living body, and they have to cooperate handwriting example, you have to have someone cooperate. So those are the examples of things that are implicated by our current Paragraph 16. License suspension, just in the civil case that we talked about the divorce. Self-incrimination does not solve any problem on the civil side. So, the license suspension and Justice Nahmias mentioned this in one of my oral arguments. He said to the state, “Well you can suspend someone’s license for a year or two years or five years or for the rest of their life, can’t you?” And that’s the answer. The self-incrimination clause has nothing to do with the civil side of this where they can suspend their driver’s license. There also, warrants are available. And, law enforcement is using warrants. I see that happen. Also, warrants are getting refused. Judges are reading the warrant affidavit and they’re listening to testimony and say, “There’s not enough probable cause here to stick this person.” So, they’re disagreeing with law enforcement. And, that’s what the point of the warrant is is to make sure there is probable cause to put them through this process. And, our Constitution and this is one of the major themes of every single decision by our Georgia Supreme Court, our Constitution has been revised four times since the Day decision.

So, this is our fifth constitution, first one in 1877, the last one in 1983. It was ratified in ’82, but it went into effect in ’83. And, the reason that Justice Peterson explained in the decisions that this is continuing is ’cause no one has wanted to change this right. So, the people are obviously not arguing about it and not complaining about this right. And, that is one of the reasons he said that he was gonna follow that law from 1789. And, when the Elliot case was decided, one of the things I said to everybody was this is black letter law. This is where we’ve been since 1789, and where we remain, and where I think we should remain. Justice Benham spoke at my law school graduation, and he’s proudly talked about, this is what makes me so proud of Georgia. He proudly talks about how we don’t just rely on the federal government. We have our own constitution, and we have a higher standard of freedom and liberty in this state. And, that rang so true to me when in every conference I’ve heard him speak at and every time he’s ever spoken that I’ve listened to him, he constantly talks about our great state of Georgia. And, the other thing that I think is important is that the field sobriety evaluations are horribly inaccurate at doing what they’re supposed to do. They are, in a study they show that 46% of people with no alcohol in their system failed the fields. And, so a lot of people are not gonna take the fields, because they’re not gonna be good at them when they’re dead sober with zero alcohol in their system. 46% in that study. I’m over the age of 40. I’m going downhill fast. But, when you’re over the age of 40, you fail fields.


(audience laughs)


– [Male Speaker] Sorry to interrupt.


– Well, I’m over the age of 50, so it’s really tough. But, once you get over the age of 40, you’re failing field sobriety evaluations in the neighborhood of 40, I’m sorry, 50 to 80% depending on the study. But, they clearly are not good for someone as they get older. And, I just don’t think that exercising that right should ever be used against someone to prove their guilt in a case. So, you know, I’m strongly opposed to tinkering with the Constitution. I think those were the words I heard earlier. What we’re doing is we’re deleting a constitutional right that we’ve had in this Georgia really before the first Constitution. But, as written in the Constitution we’ve got it 146 years, I believe now, with no revisions being made. And, if there ever is gonna be a revision made of this importance, it should be done when the Constitution is addressed from start to finish. And, in 1983, everyone was at the table. The governor was involved. Both sides of the of parties were involved and the public was also involved. And, that’s the appropriate time and manner in which to address a constitutional change of this magnitude. And, it is my strong, strong opinion. And, you know, my grandfather obviously lived to tell me about these things. A lot of folks didn’t come back.

A lot of folks made the ultimate sacrifice to get us our constitutional rights here in Georgia and the United States both. And, I think they’re very important, and we should stand strong behind them, and expect the law enforcement to use the Constitution and figure out how to prosecute every single case pursuant to our constitutional rights, rather than trying to change the Constitution to address a particular crime or particular issue that they’re having. They did what they were supposed to do. They argued strongly at the Georgia Supreme Court. It was very qualified counsel at every one of these hearings and for the state.

They lost.

And, this is their result that they’re looking for now is by coming to the legislature to change it. And, I’m asking you not to do that, and demand that they find the proper law enforcement tools and the proper resources to prosecute these cases. And, thank you very much.


– [Chairman] All right.


We have a question from Chairman Smith. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Willis, I’m related to some Willis. I don’t think we’re cousins. I hadn’t traced that. But anyhow, let me ask you this. What was the split on the decision on the Elliot case?


– [Greg Willis] It was unanimous.


– Unanimous.


And so, I would imagine at that point and probably still even to today you still have justices that were appointed by both Republican and Democrat governors of this state. Would that not be true?


– [Greg Willis] Absolutely.


– Okay. Thank you.


– [Chairman] Vice Chairman Reeves


– Mr. Wells, congratulations on Elliot. And, I know your veteran grandfather would be proud of what you’re doing. And there’s, the Fifth Amendment has some civil cases too, when I’ve litigated those and know what a big deal it is to, you know, take on, you know, a big person on the other side and win. So, hats off to you on that.


– [Greg Willis] Thank you.


– You’re here today and you’ve opposed the current draft of this, but are you willing to work in good faith with the other side on this and bring the bear good ideas you’ve seen from other states and try to make this proposal better? Or, as Representative Evans pointed out find other ways that could be fixed short of a constitutional amendment or improved?


– Absolutely, but I’ll go a step further. Many prosecutors have told me they wished PAC would have listened to me years ago and fixed the implied consent warning like my motions have alleged was illegal. And, many prosecutors have told me they were very upset when they lost that battle that PAC would not change the warning consistent with my arguments. And, they were waiting to see what the the Supreme Court did. So, yes, and I’ve been telling prosecutors for a long time that the implied consent laws in Georgia were unconstitutional, including what resulted in the Elliot case. So, absolutely, I’d be happy to help.


– Representative Leverett pointed out something that Representative Hong and I have learned on a Gwinnett County issue about elections and when you can, you know, get decisions made. And, if we can’t have an election until next year anyway will you work the remainder of 2023 with folks bringing your DUI experience to bear to see what constitutional and legal ways we can make Georgia’s road safer while honoring constitutional rights?


– [Greg Willis] Absolutely.


– Thanks.


– [Chairman] All right. That’s all the questions. Thank you sir.


– [Greg Willis] Thank you.

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