Former Gwinnett Co. Commission Chairman Charles Bannister filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing Sheriff Butch Conway of falsely and wrongfully arresting him for DUI. Bannister asserts that this DUI arrest was part of a plan to remove him from office in Gwinnett.
The federal lawsuit accuses Sheriff Conway and two of his Gwinnett officers of false arrest, false imprisonment and retaliatory prosecution. The suit seeks damages for humiliation, embarrassment and anguish which the DUI arrest caused Mr. Bannister.
Bannister was arrested for DUI in June 2010 in Lilburn while he was driving his county issued car. At the time of the DUI arrest, Bannister submitted to two breath tests which were negative for alcohol. Nevertheless, the Gwinnett sheriff's deputies booked Bannister into the county jail, took his mug shot and then transported him in shackles to the Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville for a blood test. The blood test was negative for alcohol as well. Following these results, Sheriff Conway made a public apology for their mistake.
This incident brings up a lot of public policy considerations. First of all, most DUI cases in Gwinnett County are alcohol cases and the Gwinnett DUI officer requests that a breath test be conducted on the Intox5000. Thousands of prosecutions in Gwinnett have been based on over the limit test results alone. This has been true even when drivers look good on videotapes of field sobriety evaluations. What I find odd is that even Sheriff Conway did not trust the results of the Intox5000 when it came back as a 0.00 BAC for Chairman Bannister. His deputies proceeded to take Bannister for a blood test. If the Intox5000 is reliable, why did the Sheriff not trust it? That calls into question the validity and reliability of every single person who has been convicted in a DUI case in Gwinnett County.
Another troubling issue with this incident is the administrative license suspension problem associated with refusals and alleged refusals of the breath and blood tests in Georgia. Under Georgia law, if an officer suspects a driver of DUI and requests that they take a blood or breath test, a refusal of this test leads to a one year "hard" suspension of one's Georgia driver's license. If the DUI is reduced by a Gwinnett prosecutor to reckless driving or if you go to trial and win on the DUI charge, the license suspension ends, but many drivers cannot risk losing their license even for a short time. If Mr. Bannister had refused to submit to a blood test after taking a breath test that was negative because he felt he was being wrongfully harassed, his driver's license could have become suspended until the charge was dropped or a "not guilty" verdict was returned. This is troubling but true.
In reality, what happens in many DUI cases in Gwinnett County involving a refusal of a blood or breath test, is that the Gwinnett officer agrees to drop the administrative license suspension if the accused agrees to plead guilty to the DUI. Since many will lose their job if they lose their license (or have responsibilities to their children / families that require driving), many with winnable DUI cases waive their right to contest their case so they can avoid the administrative suspension penalty.
It is scary to think how much power Gwinnett County DUI officers can have. It is completely within their discretion to stop your car, conduct field sobriety tests on you, determine if they think your performance is satisfactory, and then choose what kind of chemical test to subject you to. What is increasingly scary is that you can be arrested even without a drop of alcohol in your system. DUI – drug arrests are common if they think you are driving under the influence of an illegal substance such as marijuana, or even a lawfully prescribed medication.
A knowledgeable Gwinnett County DUI lawyer is needed if you feel you have been wrongfully or unjustly arrested or charged in Gwinnett County. There are many possible defenses to DUI and sometimes, as Mr. Bannister's case exemplifies, the arrest itself was completely wrong and possibly politically motivated. There is too much at stake to just "see what happens." Contact the Gwinnett Co. DUI Law Office of Richard Lawson today.