The legal challenge to clerks granting search warrants for involuntary blood draws is over because the prosecutor has decided the blood tests results in those cases will not be used against people accused of driving under the influence.
Attorney John R.B. Long challenged the issue by filing a Richmond County Superior Court lawsuit on behalf of Daniel Beasley. Long said Thursday he would be dropping the lawsuit. He praised Solicitor Omeeka Loggins for her decision.
A hearing set for Friday in the case was canceled. Attempts to ask Loggins about the issue were not successful for the past week.
Beasley, like nearly 1,000 others have done since March 2015, declined to voluntary submit to a blood test after he was stopped Sept. 24, 2016, and charged with DUI. As in the other cases, the arresting officer didn’t seek out a judge to obtain a search warrant; he went to a clerk in the Civil Court of Richmond County.
A search warrant requires a finding of probable cause based on sworn testimony. Long alleged that the clerks issued warrants for DUI blood draws on a template without swearing in the officers. State law requires someone with judicial power to sign search warrants, according to the lawsuit.
Long’s civil challenge prompted several attorneys to file motions in Richmond County State Court to suppress blood test results in similar cases. Chief Judge David Watkins put the motions on hold until there was a decision in the civil case.
Loggins told The Augusta Chronicle in September that there were several hundred such cases pending. If there wasn’t any evidence of intoxication except for the blood alcohol test, she intended to postpone prosecution until there was a decision in the civil case.
But in one of the pending cases, a speedy trial demand was filed and the case couldn’t be postponed. Elizabeth Grace Jolly, daughter of Superior Court Judge Sheryl B. Jolly, was set for trial on charges of DUI and driving without headlights on Nov. 27.
Jolly’s case was dismissed instead that day. In the motion to dismiss, the prosecutor wrote that there was insufficient evidence to prove Jolly’s guilt. She was arrested July 20 on Broad Street. In the officer’s professional opinion, Jolly did not pass field sobriety tests and he obtained a search warrant from a clerk for an involuntary blood draw. According to the blood test results, Jolly’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit of .08.
Jolly’s attorney sought to suppress the blood test results, and was prepared to present an expert witness who believed the officer did not correctly administer the field sobriety tests, and another witness who would testify Jolly was blind in one eye.
Long said Thursday he believed Loggins did the right thing in deciding to drop the use of the blood test results in clerk-issued search warrant cases. The settlement saves both sides time and money, and it means Richmond County officers will have to obtain search warrants from judges just like officers do in the other 158 counties in Georgia, he said.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org