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How the Recent U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Blood-Alcohol Testing May Affect Georgia Drivers

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision may affect how states are able to combat drunk driving.  In the case, Birchfield vs. North Dakota, the Court considered whether warrantless blood tests are a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches.  That Amendment reads, in part:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (U.S. Constitution)

In a 7-to-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme court ruled that, yes, warrantless blood tests do violate the Fourth Amendment.  Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito reasoned that while blood tests do play an important role in the fight against drunk driving, that they are “significantly more intrusive” than other means of testing.  For example, blood tests require a technician to piece the driver’s skin and extract a sample of blood, which police officers can later retain.  The Court stated that police officers should secure a warrant prior to arranging for such bodily intrusions.

Although the Court did find the warrantless blood tests to be unconstitutional, the Justices did give a nod to laws imposing criminal penalties on suspected drunk drivers who refuse to take breath tests.  Justice Alito wrote that breath tests do not violate the Fourth Amendment because there is no real physical intrusion on the driver’s body, and because there is a great need for this type of testing.  Unlike blood tests, the breath tests only indicate the concentration of alcohol on the driver’s breath (no other measurements), and police cannot maintain a sample.

Georgia has similar laws relating to state-administered blood alcohol content (B.A.C.) testing.  Under the “Georgia Implied Consent Law” any person driving a moving vehicle “shall be deemed to have given consent… to a chemical test or tests of his or her blood, breath, urine, or other bodily substances for the purpose of determining the presence of alcohol.”  Those who refuse such tests may lose their driver’s license for a minimum of one year.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Birchfield vs. North Dakota could potentially alter how Georgia handles its drunk driving investigations and cases.  Legal scholars suggest that police officers may be forced to rely on the breath tests, rather than the blood testing.  Further, lawmakers may reconsider warrantless blood testing altogether, if the state’s policies are in violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizures.  If you, or someone you know, has been injured in an accident related to D.U.I. and need help with a personal injury claim, give Atlanta Personal Injury Law Group – Gore LLC a call today at (404) 436-1529.

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