The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution states “[t]he 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.” The search and seizure provision of the Georgia Constitution is basically identical to the Fourth Amendment. Thus, the law in Georgia requires that when a warrant is issued, it must be based on probable cause supported by an oath or affirmation. However, a recent class action civil lawsuit filed by an Augusta attorney, John R.B. Long alleges that in Richmond County, this is not always the case.
According to the Augusta Chronicle, the Civil Court of Richmond County has been allowing court clerks to sign “search warrants for officers to take DUI suspects to a local hospital for an involuntary blood draw.” The Chronicle states that “Long contends the search warrants for DUI blood draws are of a template design that doesn't require officers to swear in person to the facts asserted in the affidavits” and that “[g]ranting a clerk judicial power, as the Augusta code does, violates the state's Constitution.”
Long's client had to submit to a blood draw in late September of 2016 after a search warrant was issued and signed by an administrative assistant with the court. The Chronicle states that “[a]ccording to the affidavit and warrant in [Long's client's] case, the affidavit and search warrant were both issued at 2:21 a.m." The complaint, which was posted in an article about the case by WRDW-TV News 12, alleges that this "implies that there was no time to even swear the officer." Long is arguing that, under Georgia law, a judge should have to “determine probable cause for search warrants.”
According to the Augusta Chronicle, Omeeka Logins, the State Court Solicitor in Richmond County stated that “there is law supporting the practice of clerks signing search warrants, although it is old law.” However, the Solicitor's office still is going to examine “several hundred cases in which search warrants for blood were signed by clerks.” They will look to see if there is evidence besides the BAC level. In cases where there is, “the prosecution will proceed as a DUI or driving when less safe.” But, according to Loggins, if there is no evidence besides the level of alcohol in the blood, then “the prosecution will be postponed until there is a ruling in the legal challenge.”
The complaint names the Sheriff of Richmond County and the Clerk of the Civil Court of Richmond County as defendants in the case. The Augusta Chronicle reported that Richmond County has used search warrants to obtain blood alcohol testing in about 240 cases since the beginning of the year.