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MILLER V. STATE – A121A000 – Good Cop or Bad Cop, You’re Probably Going to Jail: Keeping Cool in the Hot Seat

At around 3:00 a.m. on May 1, 2010, Scott C. Miller was pulled over for speeding. He was clocked at going 64 m.p.h in a 45 m.p.h zone. When the officer approached the vehicle he noticed a distinct odor of alcohol. The officer asked if Miller had been drinking. Miller responded that he hadn’t had much and that he had stopped drinking earlier in the evening. Miller voluntarily submitted to field sobriety tests as well as a hand-held breath test. The hand-held breath test returned a positive result for alcohol. The officer then told Miller “as long as you continue to be cool or whatever and be cooperative, what I’ll do it, is I’ll make the process go by real quick.” The officer then arrested Miller and read him his implied consent rights. Miller consented to a State-administered breath test which returned readings of .129 and .124 BAC. He motioned to suppress the evidence of his State-administered breath test, asserting that the officer coerced him into taking the test. Miller’s motion was denied and he was challenged on appeal.

Miller contended that the officer coerced him into taking the State-administered breath test. Specifically, Miller claimed that when the officer assured him that “as long as you continue to be cool or whatever and be cooperative, what I’ll do it, is I’ll make the process go by real quick.” As established in Page v. State (2009):

even when the officer properly gives the implied consent notice, if the officer gives additional deceptively misleading information that impairs a defendant’s ability to make an informed decision about whether to submit to testing, the defendant’s test results, or evidence of his refusal to submit must be suppressed. The suppression of evidence, however, is an extreme sanction and one not favored in the law.

The tension in the precedent established in Page between “deceptively misleading information” and the suppression of evidence as an extreme sanction unfavored by the law is the crux of Miller’s appeal. Specifically, was the “cool and cooperative” statement deceptive and misleading enough to warrant the suppression of Miller’s breath test results. The Court ruled that the statements did not warrant suppression. According to the Court, since the statement was not made specifically to coerce Miller into taking the test, and since the State-administered breath test was not mentioned until several minutes after the statement was made, the “cool and cooperative” cannot be considered deceptive as defined in Page v. State and clarified in State v. Rowell (2009). Legal reasoning aside, the various statements and tone implicit to encounters between police officers and citizens may inspire feelings of paranoia, intimidation, relaxation, or any other number of emotions or states, each of which will “coerce” or affect the reasoning of a citizen. For the sake of practical governance legal lines must be drawn, but is important for citizens to make a clear distinction between police encounters and/or arrests and prosecution. Through the lens of Georgia DUI law, Miller’s appeal makes the importance of these distinctions clear.

As we outline on our site, there are two types of DUI charges: DUI Per Se and DUI Less Safe. The State can charge an individual with DUI Per Se when he or she is found, through a State-administered chemical test of her blood, breath, or urine, to have a BAC of .08 or higher within three hours of driving. If the State does not obtain this piece of evidence they will charge an individual with DUI Less Safe, which assumes that because of the alcohol an individual has ingested he or she is less safe to drive. The distinction to make in suspicion of DUI arrest and the subsequent charge is that of investigation and prosecution. Every DUI arrest begins as a DUI Less Safe investigation and either end there or moves into a DUI Per Se investigation. Every single one. No matter what the cop says or insinuates, the bottom line is that if you are pulled over and suspected of DUI, there is an investigation going on in which you have control over what evidence is collected. The less evidence there is, the harder it is to get convicted. You may refuse any tests, though an officer can attempt to get a warrant for a blood test. As established in Page and Rowel, there is a definition of what an officer cannot do in terms of coercion, which creates a gray area as to what he or she can do. By law, it cannot be said that Miller was coerced into consenting to a breath test. In reality, Miller knows he was.

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