Learn How a New DUI Initiative in Georgia Might Affect You

The Georgia Department of Driver Services reported 2,878 Administrative License Suspensions and 12,008 Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Convictions in 2020. Those numbers are down significantly from 2008 when there were 11,365 Administrative License Suspensions and 44,017 DUI Convictions, but there’s still much work to be done to discourage drinking and driving going forward. To that end, Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety is launching a new initiative that could significantly impact future incidents of suspected DUIs. Thanks to a $44,190 grant from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety plans to establish a phlebotomy program.

What Will Georgia’s New Phlebotomy Program Entail?

Using grant funds, Georgia’s new phlebotomy program will involve the training of both local and state officers – which will entail 10 hours of online training and 32 hours of classroom training. After completing the program, the officers will be qualified phlebotomists with the same qualifications as those found in hospitals, doctors' offices and other licensed medical facilities. The $44,000 grant will also cover the cost of blood-drawing equipment. Training will be facilitated by The Georgia Public Safety Training Center (GPSTC). 

What is the Inspiration Behind the New Phlebotomy Program?

In a press release, Allen Poole – the director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety – said, “A blood test is often the key piece of evidence needed to convict a DUI driver in court, but the barriers law enforcement officers are facing in getting blood drawn during a DUI investigation are resulting in too many of these cases going to trial without any toxicology evidence.”

The agency believes that training officers to become qualified phlebotomists and providing them with the necessary blood draw equipment will assist the prosecution of DUI cases by presenting critical toxicology evidence at trial. The benefits are two pronged: 1) A more accurate measure of the blood content of a suspected impaired driver will be achieved by drawing the blood sooner in the investigative process, and 2) Officers will be able to return to their patrol duties sooner without having to wait for a blood test to be performed by a third party.

Precedence for the success of similar programs has been seen in Texas, Minnesota, Colorado, Maine, Idaho, Washington, Utah and Arizona – where the nation’s first law enforcement phlebotomy program was launched in 1995.

What Could This New Program Mean to You?

If detained for a suspected DUI, knowing what to expect and how to respond could mean the difference between a suspended license and/or potential DUI conviction. The new phlebotomy program means the officer who pulls you over will have the capability to draw blood to determine the presence of alcohol, drugs, or both in your bloodstream and give an accurate read of the blood alcohol level (BAC). A DUI arrest will likely occur when a test shows blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher in drivers over 21 years old in non-commercial vehicles, .02 or higher in drivers under 21 years old in non-commercial vehicles, and .04 or higher for drivers in commercial motor vehicles.

What Should Your Next Steps Be If Pulled Over for a Suspected DUI?

Banks, Stubbs & McFarland Criminal Defense and DUI Attorney, Jacob Stidham, weighs in with what to expect and how to respond if pulled over for a DUI in Georgia:

“If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being arrested for DUI, it’s likely that you are going to be asked to take a ‘state administered chemical test.’ This is a fancy way of saying they are either going to ask you to provide a breath sample by blowing into an Intoxilyzer® 8000 machine or they are going to ask you to consent to a blood draw. At the initial stage, you have the right to refuse to provide a sample. If you refuse a breath test, the Supreme Court of Georgia has ruled that your refusal cannot be used against you in court. However, if you refuse the blood draw, the Court is still deciding whether that refusal can be admitted against you or not. As far as blood draws go, if you initially refuse the test, many jurisdictions are now seeking search warrants to take your blood after your refusal. If an officer obtains a warrant to take your blood after you refuse, then you have a more difficult choice to make. If you refuse after a warrant is obtained, then an officer has the discretion to charge you with obstruction of justice for refusing to comply with a search warrant.”

He adds that there are some additional factors to consider in deciding whether or not to consent to a state administered test. Under Georgia law, if you refuse to consent, or if you take a test and the results show a blood alcohol level over 0.08, the officer may also issue you with a Department of Public Safety (DPS) Form 1205 – notifying you of an administrative suspension of your license. An administrative suspension is a parallel civil case which has nothing to do with your criminal case or whether you are actually guilty, but which can nonetheless suspend your license to drive in Georgia. Jacob points to three options if you are issued a 1205:

  • You could do nothing – in which case your license will be suspended 45 days after issuance of the notice.
  • You could challenge the suspension with an Administrative License Appeal or ‘ALS hearing.’ If you choose to challenge your suspension, you must file the notice within 30 days of your arrest date.
  • You could install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle and obtain a temporary driving permit in lieu of having your license suspended.

Jacob reiterates that whichever option you choose is up to you, but points to several factors to consider in the decision-making process. “First, if you took the state administered test, the results came back over a 0.08 and this is your first DUI within 5 years, then your license will be administratively suspended for 30 days. You will be eligible for a limited driving permit during this time and your license is eligible for reinstatement after the 30 days expires. However, you should note that this suspension is different from the 120-day suspension you would receive if you were found guilty of Driving Under the Influence, although you’ll get credit towards the 120 days for any time you spend on suspension from the administrative process.”

He warns that if you refuse to take the test, then you have some larger concerns to consider. If you challenge your administrative suspension and the suspension is upheld by the Administrative Law Judge – who is separate from the judge on your criminal case – then you will be suspended for 12 months and not have access to a limited permit. This is known as a ‘hard’ suspension because there is no remedy, and you must not drive for the full period. Jacob does point to a potential escape hatch. If your DUI is dismissed or reduced to a lesser charge, the suspension is lifted upon the Department of Driver Services being notified that the DUI is no longer pending and has not resulted in a conviction. Unfortunately, this can often take months or even years, depending on your jurisdiction.

If this is a first DUI within five years and you opt to install an ignition interlock device in your car, Jacob reveals that this choice could be a double-edged sword. An ignition interlock is a device that requires you to provide a breath sample before the vehicle will start to insure you have not consumed alcohol. It may also periodically require samples while driving to insure you are maintaining sobriety. If you fail to provide a sample or the machine detects alcohol, it will cut off your engine and not allow you to drive further. The machine will also issue a violation report to the interlock company which is often turned over to prosecutors. On top of that, you must pay for the installation of the ignition interlock device and its continued service, but it means you will be eligible for a limited permit. This permit is issued for 12 months and, although you are allowed to drive while the permit is active and the device is installed, you will NOT be able to shorten this permit. In other words, if you elect the ignition interlock, even if your DUI is dismissed or reduced to a lesser charge, you will still have the interlock until the 12-month period expires.

“With Georgia’s recent announcement that they are going to begin training police officers to do blood draws directly instead of taking people to the hospital, there is an added layer to this discussion,” Jacob shared. “Drawing blood to correctly collect a forensically admissible sample is actually much more complicated than many people think it is. While you will still have the right to refuse this blood draw, if you submit, you will likely need to consult with an experienced DUI attorney who can review all the facets of your case. Your attorney can take a closer look at the blood draw to ensure that each step was performed correctly and to assess whether there are holes or problems with the case, including whether the officer correctly drew and stored your blood, and whether it was correctly tested – which may have sway in the outcome of your case.”

In Closing…

Needless to say, your best line of defense is to drink responsibly and to never drink and drive. However, if you do find yourself faced with DUI charges in Forsyth County and Cumming, GA, Stidham and the team of skilled DUI attorneys at Banks, Stubbs & McFarland LLP welcome the chance to represent you. To get started, fill out our quick contact form or call us at 770-887-1209 to schedule your appointment.