Can a blood alcohol concentration test administered under the implied consent law be unconstitutional? That's the assertion the Supreme Court of Georgia had to consider late last week in the case of Williams v. The State. In a decision rendered Friday, the court ruled that in the case of John Cletus Williams, actual, genuine consent was not given and his case was remanded—an outcome that could cause serious reconsideration of BAC test consent in countless DUI cases to come.
In September 2012, Mr. Williams was arrested by the Gwinnett County Police for failure to maintain lane on the road. In the police squad car, the arresting officer read Williams the statutory implied consent notice, adding it was "a yes or no question." In handcuffs and not yet read his Miranda Rights, Mr. Williams said "yes," a blood sample was administered at a local medical center and substantiate a DUI charge. Mr. Williams' defense, however, later argued that actual consent was not given in this case, that Mr. Williams was coerced, and that the BAC test should be suppressed because it is a violation of Mr. Williams' Fourth amendment rights against illegal search and seizure.
While the original judge did not agree, the Supreme Court had number of details and precedents to consider. In its twelve-page decision, the court cites a number of different considerations:
- There are generally only two kinds of searches, legal warrant searches and unlawful, warrantless searches.
- There is some precedent for allowing warrantless searches in which law enforcement believe evidence is being destroyed.
- This exception has applied to DUI stops, in which the evidence of the crime, a BAC level, is being metabolized and "destroyed."
- The Fourth Amendment does protect "intrusions of the human body."
- "Implied consent" and "actual consent" are actually not the same thing—and that the implied consent law is used to determine if actual consent is given by a suspected driver.
In the end, the Supreme Court vacated the prior decision, ruling that it is the burden of the state to prove whether or not actual consent is given to adminster a BAC test. Mr. Williams' case will now be re-evaluated with direction from the higher court.
A Subtle, but Important Distinction
The Williams v. The State decision stands to be an influential DUI ruling that is sure to change our perspective on DUI stop due process. In the past, it has generally been ruled that "implied consent" means that drivers must submit to a BAC test under any circumstances or incur additional penalties. The Supreme Court of Georgia, however, sees it differently, and places more control and agency in the hands of the accused, and more burden of proof on the law enforcement and prosecutors. In dealing with such a prevalent law, this can only spell good news for those accused of DUI and their ability to assert their circumstances and their constitutional rights.
To find out how the Williams v. The State ruling could affect your DUI charge, we encourage you to call us at the Willis Law Firm today. Our firm has more than 200 years of combined DUI experience and are always ready to apply the newest rulings and laws to our clients' charges to ensure their case is thoroughly considered.