The Georgia Supreme Court has invalidated a key provision of a law used to obtain convictions of drunken drivers involved in serious accidents. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the court unanimously ruled that police cannot require drivers involved in accidents with serious injuries or fatalities to submit to blood or breath tests without probable cause. Before the ruling, the “implied consent” law allowed police to seek the tests even when there was no indication the driver was impaired or intoxicated.
The licenses of drivers who refuse to take the alcohol and drug test could have been suspended for a year. Refusal of the test also could have been used as evidence in court.
“This could certainly cripple the prosecutions of a number of important cases,” said Clayton County District Attorney Bob Keller. Atlanta lawyer Bob Chestney, whose firm challenged the law, called the ruling “a victory for personal freedom from government intrusion.”
Justice Harris Hines said the need to prevent drunk driving does not justify an exception to the constitutional requirement of probable cause. Otherwise, it could be argued that the state’s interest in securing evidence in any situation of potentially serious criminal conduct would justify dispensing with any finding of probable cause,” he wrote.
The ruling will not affect the vast majority of DUI cases. But it is almost certain to affect some of the most serious ones.
Police still will be allowed to seek a blood test or breath test if there is evidence a driver is intoxicated, such as a car seen swerving on the road or a driver smelling of alcohol, slurring speech, or unable to walk a straight line.