By Greg Morin
Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. This sentiment pretty much sums up the state of affairs in Georgia with respect to DUI evidence collection. If a driver is pulled over in Georgia and is suspected of being inebriated, then the law requires that the officer ask if they will submit to a BAC (blood alcohol content) test. The law also permits the driver to refuse, however under Georgia’s “implied consent” laws (one’s tacit agreement with the state in order to acquire a driver’s license) any driver who refuses will have their driving license revoked for not less than one year. However, just as in an M. Night Shyamalan movie, there is a twist. Since 2006, if you refuse the test, the police can then get a search warrant and forcibly extract your blood. This is done in rather Guantanamo-esque style in Gwinnett county (see video, http://goo.gl/FvQsY) where at least five burly officers forcibly hold the suspect down while being tightly strapped to a gurney. This dehumanizing treatment is visited upon both the resistant and compliant alike.
Now don’t get me wrong, those that drive under the influence of anything (alcohol, drugs, texting, etc) are among the vilest sort of individuals. They put their own selfish pursuits above the safety of others as they recklessly navigate our roadways. Removing such drivers from the roads should be one of the paramount goals of the police. I see no issue with sobriety stops per se. Were the roads not monopolistically owned by the government it would be equally incumbent upon private road owners to purge their roadways of such drivers (dangerous roads are bad for business). So while I object to the government owning roads (as there is no justification for state sanctioned monopolies in any industry) I also recognize the reality today is that they do own them. Therefore, as owners, they have an obligation to keep them safe. Sobriety checkpoints are a valid tool to achieve that goal. The only problem with such checkpoints from a civil liberties standpoint is when they are used as a pretext to engage in warrantless searches and seizures that have nothing whatsoever to do with driving safety.
If the goal is to remove impaired drivers from the road before they can cause harm, then this is clearly achieved via license loss. Forcing a BAC test is superfluous if license loss has already occurred. In fact, making the penalty for refusal equal to the penalty for a positive test would more efficiently achieve the desired goal. It would both provide an even greater incentive to not drive drunk while removing from the roadways those that do so anyways. If an accident has occurred and a presumably drunk driver kills someone, then that driver is not going to go free even if they refuse a BAC test; they will be prosecuted based on their actions. Absent any mitigating circumstances (like proof of being drug/alcohol free) they will incur the maximum penalty. A refusal harms no one but the accused.
The 5th Amendment guarantees the right of each person not to “be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Obtaining a warrant to invade someone’s body makes a mockery of the intent of this amendment. If this is not compelling someone, then I don’t know what is. If some day there is technology that can read memories shall the police be permitted to obtain warrants against all suspects and witnesses and then forcibly extract whatever information they deem might be relevant? The truth is important. Justice is important. But results are what matter. The goal should be to achieve the desired result without violating human rights and dignity. So yes, the ends do matter, but the means of achieving those ends matter even more. America, Georgia, is selling its soul for the illusion of justice and safety.
Greg Morin is a member of the Libertarian party and CEO of Seachem Laboratories located in Madison. Constructive comments are welcomed to this paper or at gregmorin.com