Judges considering forced blood draws in Chatham County - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Judges considering forced blood draws in Chatham County

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CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) -

Should officers be able to draw your blood without your permission if they suspect you of driving under the influence?

It's already in practice in counties around Metro Atlanta, and it may be coming to Chatham County.

The idea is that if a driver refuses to take a breathalyzer or blood test, an officer can turn to a judge and get a search warrant for the suspect's blood and draw it without their permission.

Citing an increase in traffic fatalities, Savannah-Chatham Metro Police and the Governor's Office of Highway Safety are asking Chatham County's Recorder's Court judges to be on call this summer, ready to sign a warrant whenever a driver refuses to take a test.

"We're not out here to violate anybody's rights," said Powell Harrelson of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.

The push for forced blood draws is part of stepped-up traffic patrols dubbed Operation Thunder. All summer long, troopers from around the state, along with the Governor's Office of Highway Safety and Metro Police, will saturate the county with traffic checkpoints and stepped-up patrols.

"We want to make sure that the community is fully aware that all eyes are on them," said Metro Police Chief Julie Tolbert.

Recorder's Court judges haven't decided yet whether they'll sign off on the forced blood draws, but DUI attorneys are already crying foul.   

"I think it's a mistake," said DUI attorney Doug Andrews. "Georgia values citizens' individual rights."

Andrews said if officers have made a strong enough case with field sobriety tests and dash-cam video, "they don't need a blood draw."

Georgia isn't the only state that does forced blood draws. So do Tennessee and Wyoming. Metro Atlanta has  embraced the trend.

"No refusal has worked well all over the state," said Harrelson.

In January, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled the practice lawful, but Andrews wonders about unintended consequences of inserting a needle in an unwilling driver's arm.

"They're gonna hurt someone," he said.

Police say so will drunk drivers.

"I don't have pity for anybody out there who gets a DUI," said Harrelson. "There's too many taxis, too man cabs, too many friends."

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