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Fourth Amendment Trumps Georgia Implied Consent
By Lance Tyler

State v. Williams, S14A1625 (2015 WL 1393406), issued March 27, 2015, is a well reasoned, unanimous decision written by Presiding Justice Hines, that resolves a long standing conflict between the statutory requirements of Georgia's implied consent law and the protections founded in the Fourth Amendment. 
Since the decision in Strong v. State 231 Ga. 514 (1973), Georgia officers have been constitutionally authorized to compel a state-administered blood-alcohol test based upon probable cause to arrest for DUI, without having to get a search warrant or show an exception to the warrant requirement. The rule from Strong was a per se exigency rule, otherwise known as a "single factor exigency rule." With the decision in Williams, the Court abrogated the per se exigency rule that originated with Strong and applied the traditional Fourth Amendment analysis for actual consent. Where there is no search warrant, the presumption is that the search is per se unreasonable, subject only to a few specifically established and well delineated exceptions. State v. Slaughter, 252 Ga. 435 (1984). If the officer does not obtain a search warrant, the State must be able to show, by a totality of the circumstance, an exception to the warrant requirement. Id. Where the State is relying upon the consent exception to the warrant requirement, "mere compliance with the statutory implied consent requirements does not, per se, equate to actual, and therefore voluntary, consent..." Williams, Supra, citing Cooper v. State, 277 Ga. 282 (2003). 
Williams, involved a routine DUI arrest wherein the officer complied with the statutory implied consent requirements and the trial court applied the extant rule from Strong and its progeny. In DUI cases like Williams, in which a defendant submitted to a test under the implied consent law, if a motion to suppress is filed based upon violation of the defendant's rights under the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section I, Paragraph XIII of the Georgia Constitution, the State now has the burden of proving the defendant acted freely and voluntarily under the totality of the circumstances. In such a hearing, the State may still be able to admit "special facts" to show exigent circumstances as an exception to the search warrant requirement, thereby eliminating the need to prove actual consent - particularly in cases involving accidents with injuries.  
In applying this new case, there are some areas for caution. Williams addressed a state-administered blood test and, while there is currently no basis to distinguish a compelled breath test for alcohol from a compelled blood test, there is certainly the risk the Court may change that in the future. In Cooper, Supra, the Court specifically declined to apply the "special needs" exception to the search warrant requirement to implied consent, but that too is an area that may be at risk of change, particularly in breath test cases. The most likely immediate change will be an increase in search warrants in DUI cases and eventually a change in the implied consent notice. Until then, the routine DUI case, wherein the accused submitted to a test under implied consent, is ripe for challenge.

Lance Tyler, of the Tyler Law Firm, LLC, is a Gwinnett DUI defense attorney and was the trial and appellate attorney for Williams. His office is located at 1325 Satellite Blvd. NW, Suite 1501, Suwanee, GA 30024,  (678) 869-5101, ltyler@tlfdui.com
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