DUI test refusals prompt blood warrants
By Rhonda Cook
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Suspected drunk drivers stopped by the State Patrol’s DUI task force or Douglas County sheriff’s deputies may be forced to give up their blood if they decline a breath test.
“If we have someone refuse, and if we have enough probable cause, we contact a State Court judge and request a search warrant for that person’s blood,” Douglas Chief Deputy Stan Copeland said. So far, those are only two agencies in metro Atlanta that routinely seek search warrants to draw blood if a suspect refuses the breathalyzer, but Atlanta Police Department Maj. Lane Hagin said APD may soon take up the practice. Officials say more suspects are refusing tests, and the blood test warrants give officers another option.
“DUI is a dangerous thing. And our levels of refusals were increasing, and with a refusal it’s hard to convict them,” said Sgt. Jeff Puckett, who runs the State Patrol’s DUI Nighhawks. The unit a few months ago started using the tactic in Fulton County, where a magistrate is available 24/7 to handle warrant requests.
Copeland said blood evidence strengthens DUI cases significantly. In the next week, an estimated 3.2 million motorists will be on Georgia roads, according to AAA. With more people on the streets and highways, going to holiday parties and family gatherings, the chances of encountering an impaired driver increases, said Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office for Highway Safety. On New Year’s Eve, for example, the later it gets the likelihood increases that someone behind the wheel has had a drink. At midnight it’s close to 60 percent, Blackwood said.
Many DUI defense attorneys tell clients and prospective clients to decline field sobriety tests and breathalyzer tests if they have been drinking because that would give prosecutors more evidence. Some say tests are unreliable, either because of faulty equipment or poor application.
Under Georgia law, a suspect can decline a field sobriety test and a blood, breath or urine test for alcohol. But most likely the suspect will be arrested based on other evidence — smell of alcohol, fumbles taking out a license, bloodshot eyes, or slurred speech. Refusing tests could lead to the driver’s license being taken for up to a year.
Blood tests are typically taken at jail. The sample is sent to the State Crime Lab for analysis with the expectation that the findings will be used as evidence, in addition to the officer’s testimony and video.
Cory Yager, whose law firm specializes in DUI defense, said if a driver has not been drinking and is “in good health maybe you should do them [breathalyzer tests] because that’s going to prevent them from going to jail. “The rub in the state of Georgia is the way the law is written it almost invites people to play Russian roulette,” Yager said. “You know you’re OK if you drank one [alcoholic beverage] but what if you drank two?… For a person who isn’t sure, the best thing to do is decline all of their tests.”
We here at North Buckhead Driving and DUI School are trying to make the roads a little safer. We have weekly DUI / Risk Reduction Classes as well as Defensive Driving Classes. You can sign up by calling our office at (678) 510-2099 or by visiting our website at http://www.northbuckheaddrivingandduischool.com/ and using our secure registration system
Remember, we’re Atlanta’s first choice for: