Are Georgia DUI Warrants Being Legally Obtained?

In September of this past year, it was found that in Augusta, and possibly Richmond County as well, hundreds of DUI warrants were signed court employees (mostly court clerks) across the state, giving permission for invasive blood draws. This practice has been going on since March 2015, apparently on a fairly regular basis. A civil lawsuit was filed by attorney John R. B. Long, after a client of his was forced to submit to a DUI blood draw, and it was later found that, rather than a judge signing the search warrant, the warrant was “rubber stamped” by a court clerk.  A majority of the forced DUI blood draws in these counties now appear to have been “templates,” despite the fact that a search warrant requires a finding of probable cause. The templates may not even have required police officers to swear in person to the affidavits.

Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Those Who Underwent Involuntary DUI Blood Draws

In the case at hand—filed by Long on behalf of his client, Daniel Beasley—as well as any other person who has had an involuntary DUI blood draw which was based on a warrant signed by someone other than a judge—the search warrant was signed by an administrative assistant. Long also contends that, based on the time stamps on the affidavit and the search warrant, it would have been impossible to properly swear in the police officer. Long’s belief is that the citizens of the state of Georgia elect judges to made decisions about search warrants (which require probable cause) and that granting a court clerk judicial power is a violation of Georgia’s Constitution.

Georgia’s Implied Consent Law May Violate the Fourth Amendment

In 2015, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that voluntary consent under the Fourth Amendment does not “square” with the state’s implied consent law. When a bodily fluid is taken without benefit of a warrant, the prosecutor must prove the search was not invalid. Omeeka Loggins, the State Court Solicitor of Richmond County, claims an old law exists which supports the signing of search warrants by court clerks, however in an effort to be proactive, Loggins says the hundreds of cases in which court clerks signed search warrants for involuntary blood draws will be individually examined. In 2017, police officers in Richmond County obtained DUI search warrants for involuntary blood draws in at least 240 cases, yet only seven of those were signed by a judge.

Are Georgia Judges Allowed to “Outsource” the Issuance of Search Warrants?

Augusta attorney, Keith Johnson, calls the issue “fascinating,” noting that, at the very least, the officer’s testimony for a search warrant is required to be given under oath as a non-negotiable part of the search warrant requirement. Long is even more adamant about the practice, saying judges are elected in the state of Georgia to review search warrants, and cannot “outsource” that job to a clerk.

Ensuring Your Rights are Protected

If you have been charged with DUI in the state of Georgia, it is imperative that you act quickly to speak to an experienced Georgia criminal defense attorney to ensure your rights and your future are properly safeguarded. DUIs not only involve Georgia criminal law, but administrative laws as well, and being convicted of a DUI can result in the loss of your driving privileges, high fines, mandatory drug or alcohol treatment, and even time behind bars. For a dedicated attorney who has the necessary knowledge and experience in defending DUI cases, contact Melanie Ellwanger at 404-803-3105, or melanie@hiremelaw.com.