by Bill Simon
SB-94 on The House Floor Today: More than meets the eye
Today, SB-94 will be on the House Floor for a vote. Under the Agenda, it is listed as concerning only “Criminal Procedure; require a procedure for enhancing witness identification accuracy.”
However, that is not all this bill contains. This bill has been modified in the House Judi-Non-Civil Committee with all of the contents of what WAS in HB-430. SB-94 went from a 3-page bill passed by the Senate to a 30-some-odd-page bill that will be before the House today. It still contains the original SB-94 subject matter, but it has quite a few more substantive changes to “search and seizure laws” in Georgia. Some of these changes include:
1) It enables law enforcement to obtain secret search warrants (Page 8, Lines 272)
2) It enables law enforcement to secretly retain seized property (Page 11, Lines 338,339)
3) It removes the presumption of innocence until proven guilty by extending probable cause for a search warrant to include crimes “about to be committed” instead of a crime that is “being committed” or “has been committed” (Page 6, Line 184)
4) It allows non-certified personnel to apply for or issue search warrants based on their limited knowledge and experience even though have no “duty of enforcing the criminal laws..” (Page 6, Line 182)
5) It allows the state to appeal an unlawful search verdict and thus further delay the return of property unlawfully seized (Page 11 lines 357-358)
6) It allows law enforcement to video record in a property without the consent of the owner (Page 22 lines 741-743)
7) It removes local control and accountability of surveillance in a jurisdiction by allowing it to be initiated and monitored remotely without consent and participation of local authorities (Page 17, lines 563-564).
8) It allows law enforcement to, essentially, ruin someone’s life with an illegal surveillance, BUT they are exempt from prosecution or taking responsibility in any way if they claim they had “good faith” in doing the action (Lines 568-570, Page 17)
Frankly, it is at this stage of the Session that I believe I can put myself…partially…in the life of most of you legislators. I said “partially” because I have no idea what you individually have to deal with in your own lives, separate from your responsibilities in the Legislature.
But, you are nearly 2.5 months into a near daily grind of dealing with brand new subjects, meeting with tons of people, sitting through committee meetings, taking phone calls, trying to still stay connected to your “regular life with regular people and family,” all the while trying to focus on making “good decisions.” It’s very tough, no doubt.
But, I just have to ask you to please, consider just half of points above of concerns about this modified SB-94 bill, and consider all the times you’ve heard “Well, we had good intentions” when a truly, preventable, bad result (an officer got killed in the line of duty and/or an innocent person for injured or killed) occurred as the result of a law enforcement action in this state.
Supposedly, there were “good intentions” when the Habersham County sheriff deputies busted in a house and threw a flash-bang that injured an 18-month old. There were “good intentions”, supposedly, of sheriff deputies descending upon a house in Laurens County on the basis of the word of a known thief that there was “meth” in that house…and killing a good man who had no drugs in the house, or anywhere else
The answer to “bad results” is not to enable more people to be able to engage in acts to cause more bad results to happen, and then to give immunity to the results of their actions, all on the basis of “well, we acted in good faith.”
Judi-Non-Civil Chairman Rich Golick, at the end of the discussion in committee last Wednesday said this about HB-430/SB-94: “Balance must be struck…in giving law enforcement the proper tools…without going too far.”
With the “good faith” clause entered on this bill, there is no “going too far” because even if law enforcement ‘goes too far,’ they will get immunity. And, since it is usually law enforcement that investigates their own…there will be no concept of ‘going too far.’
It is said often that the Road to Hell is paved with “good intentions.” The Road to More Deaths via Law Enforcement Acts in Georgia is going to be paved with “good faith” if SB-94 passes the House…and if it then passes the State Senate’s ‘Special Orders’ process.
You legislators are exhausted…but, please, do not make a decision of such significance as this one on a bill that will not get both chambers’ careful review or scrutiny.
This is not an issue of “Well, we should negotiate with the Senate that we’ll pass SB-94 if they pass HB-XYZ” type of deal. This is not a bill that creates the Official Georgia State Snake-in-the-Grass (well…wait, that might be accurate, actually..) that has insignificant results if passed.
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