ATHENS – Juwuan Briscoe was placed in double locked handcuffs Saturday night, put in a squad car and taken to Athens-Clarke County jail, where he spent a little over an hour. And then the word got out: Georgia football player arrested.
All for the offense of driving without a valid driver’s license.
Yes, Briscoe was also charged with not wearing a seat belt. But that’s usually just a ticket. It was the lack of a driver’s license that sent Briscoe to jail, and re-ignited the question: Is that really necessary?
The UGA police appeared sensitive to the question. Attached to the Briscoe arrest report was an official opinion from the Georgia Attorney General’s Office – in 2008 – that anybody found driving without a valid license should be fingerprinted.
And it is indeed true that UGA and Athens-Clarke County police are not the only ones in Georgia who arrest for that offense. It just gets more attention when it’s a high-profile athlete — and four times in the past three years it’s happened to a UGA athlete.
But can you be thrown in jail just for leaving your license at home? No, according to multiple police departments surveyed for this story.
The distinction is whether you actually own a license or not, and Briscoe did not, in Georgia or Maryland.
The Georgia Driver’s Manual outlines 10 instances in which a driver can be taken into custody, including driving on a suspended/revoked license, and “no license.” But does “no license” mean not having it on you, or not having one at all?
“The answer is not so simple,” Gwinnett County Police Department public information officer Cpl. Michele Pihera said. “There is a separate charge of not having a license in possession, but the driver could be charged with this code section (no license) instead. It may come down to the officer not having the ability to confirm the driver’s identity, thus charging with ‘No License.’ Recorder’s Court has the ability to alter charges later.”
In Gwinnett County alone last year, there were 456 charges for having no license, and 1,444 charges for having a suspended/revoked license.
In Atlanta, the police department does not require an arrest for driving on a suspended license, unless the officer determines the driver knows it was suspended. Similarly, not having your license on you normally won’t result in arrest, but not having one at all “would most likely” lead to an arrest, according to Sgt. Warren Pickard, of the Atlanta Police Department’s public affairs office.
“As with all traffic arrests, officers usually have some discretion,” Pickard said. “The predominant factor to determine whether to arrest or not is governed by the likelihood and the ability of the subject to appear in court. Out-of-state drivers will require arrest to post a bond.”
Briscoe, a resident of Waldorf, Md., did not indicate to the police that he had a Maryland license, according to a UGA spokesman. A computer check would show if he did.
Shaq Wiggins and J.J. Frazier, the past two UGA athletes known to be jailed for license issues, were both in-state residents. Wiggins, then a member of the football team, was arrested in January of 2014, charged with driving on a suspended license and for speeding (52 mph in a 34 mph zone.)
Frazier, now a junior guard for the men’s basketball team, has run into this problem twice. The first time, Frazier was pulled over for not obeying a stop sign. He was found to be driving without a license, and subsequently arrested. The second time, Frazier was pulled over and found to be driving on a suspended license, and was charged with that as well as improper driving.
“I was irresponsible,” Frazier said later, after the second incident. “Didn’t pay a speeding ticket and then I paid the price, tremendously.”
The Athens-Clarke County jail web site shows a record of everyone booked within the past week. As of noon on Monday, seven people in the previous week had been arrested for driving on a suspended license. That was the only charge for three of them, while another was also charged with having no proof insurance, another for altering their plates. The other two were charged with marijuana and open container offenses.
Briscoe was the only arrest in the previous week for having no license.
Ken Croy, is a criminal defense lawyer in Marietta who used to be a state court solicitor. He has represented policemen. He called the Briscoe situation a more complicated one, and understands both sides.
“You could be given a ticket for that,” Croy said. “Our criminal justice system gives tremendous discretion to police officers, and that includes the discretion to take them in and fingerprint them for something like this. But they did not have to. They could absolutely have said: Here’s your court date.”