On February 18, 2019, Attorney Greg Willis obtained a landmark victory in the Georgia Supreme Court in Elliott v. State where the Court declared provisions of Georgia’s DUI laws unconstitutional. The high court declared that using an individual’s refusal to submit to a breath test cannot be used against them at trial because it violates the state’s constitutional protections against self-incrimination.
The case began in August 2015 after Ms. Elliott was pulled over by an Athens-Clarke County police officer for allegedly committing traffic violations. After admitting to the officer that she had consumed alcohol earlier in the day, Ms. Elliott was subsequently arrested and read Georgia’s implied consent notice. Among the many inaccurate statements contained in Georgia’s implied consent notice is one that informs drivers that a refusal to submit to chemical testing can be used as evidence in trial. Notably, the notice does not inform drivers that Georgia’s self-incrimination protections grant them the constitutional right to refuse breath tests for DUI purposes.
When faced with the decision of whether to submit to the chemical breath test, Ms. Elliott chose to exercise her constitutional right to refuse and declined to provide the officer with a breath sample.
Shortly after he was retained by Ms. Elliott, Attorney Willis filed several motions in the State Court of Athens-Clarke County, and argued, among many other things, that it would be unconstitutional to use Ms. Elliott’s refusal to submit to chemical breath testing as evidence against her at trial because the refusal is protected under Paragraph XVI of Georgia’s Constitution. Essentially, Attorney Willis argued that using a defendant’s refusal to submit to a chemical breath test as evidence against the defendant in trial is unconstitutional because it would be similar to a prosecutor telling a jury that a defendant on trial for murder is guilty because he chosen to remain silent.
As Attorney Willis stated during an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “What kind of right is it if you cannot exercise it? I think it’s plain and simple, black letter law.”
The trial court disagreed with Attorney Willis and he appealed the case to the Georgia Supreme Court, trusting that the high court would recognize the unconstitutionality of using a defendant’s exercise of their constitutional right as evidence against them.
Hours after the Court delivered its decision in Elliott, prosecutors informed state police departments to prepare themselves to obtain more warrants for blood and urine tests, and because the implied consent notice must be rewritten because of the Court’s decision in Elliott, prosecutors are now advising officers to no longer read the notice to DUI suspects – a decision that may give rise to several additional legal issues for current and future DUI cases.
The arguments raised by Attorney Willis and adopted by the Georgia Supreme Court will have long lasting and far reaching effects for prosecutors and law enforcement seeking to prosecute DUI suspects. Attorney Willis believes that the constitutional rights of every individual should be protected at all costs, and his dedication to ensuring that clients are zealously advocated for has been a driving force in Attorney Willis’s decades of success.
This case is a victory for Ms. Elliott, but also for all Georgia residents and motorists of the state’s roadways because it is a reminder to those tasked with enforcing the law that they must do so in a way that does not infringe upon the rights guaranteed under our constitutions.
If you have been arrested for a DUI in Georgia, contact our Atlanta DUI attorneys at Willis Law Firm today to let us protect your rights, reputation, and future.