DUI CHARGES IN GEORGIA
CRITICAL: You should contact a DUI Lawyer immediately after your arrest. The first important deadline to protect your license expires 30 days after your arrest! Waiting too long could result in your driver's license being suspended for at least one year.
Police are more aggressive than ever in arresting people on suspicion of drunk driving, called Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in Georgia. Some other states call it DWI but its basically the same thing. The police don't care how close you are to home, how old you are, or if you have a perfect driving record and no criminal history. The police and courts are incredibly harsh when it comes to DUI arrests, even for first time offenders. DUI charges can have a terrible effect on all different parts of your life: your job, your family, or your future. As soon as you are arrested, you need to find an experienced lawyer quickly who can help.
Why is there a hurry in finding a DUI lawyer?
Some of your rights are affected almost immediately by a DUI arrest, even before your case gets to criminal court. Before you deal with the criminal courts, you may be dealing with the Department of Drivers Services about a license suspension. (Yes! Even before you've been found guilty of anything!) If the arresting officer took your license and/or gave you a piece of paper called a DDS 1205 notice, your license will be suspended for a minimum of one year if you do not appeal within 30 DAYS. A DUI attorney can help you get the appeal filed quickly to prevent that immediate automatic suspension. Once your suspension is appealed, your case will be scheduled for an administrative license suspension (ALS) hearing. An experienced DUI attorney should represent you at this suspension hearing.
Another issue is whether you may choose to seek an ignition interlock limited permit within that 30 day window. This ignition device requires that you blow into it in order to start and drive your car, and would allow you to continue driving for limited purposes like work or school. The ignition interlock is an alternative to going through the suspension hearing, but this option also has its drawbacks, and should be thoroughly discussed with your lawyer.
And remember, all of these decisions, and the risk of losing your license for a year, happen within 30 days of your arrest – long before you even have a court date.
Understanding how DUI works in Georgia and what your options are is another important step in protecting your future. There are two ways the prosecution will try to prove you guilty of driving under the influence:
- DUI Per Se
- DUI Less Safe (which also covers DUI Drugs)
People are often charged with both types of DUI and the prosecution just decides later which is the easiest route to get a conviction.
What's the difference between DUI Per Se and DUI Less Safe?
DUI Per Se
If you took a breath test or gave a sample of blood or urine at the time of your arrest (not at the side of the road, but after you are arrested and brought to jail), the prosecution will receive a report on your Blood Alcohol Level (BAC) from that test. If your BAC is .08 or higher (.02 or higher if you are under 21, .04 or higher if you are driving a commercial vehicle), they use this as “per se” evidence you were unsafe to drive. “Per se” means that this is proof all “by itself.” They may also use other evidence to support their claim, such as your performance on field sobriety tests and how you were driving before you were stopped.
DUI Less Safe
If you refused to have your blood, breath or urine tested, or your BAC came positive but below the “per se” limit of .08, you can still be prosecuted for DUI under the DUI Less Safe law. The prosecutor will argue that there was other evidence to prove that you were unsafe to drive. The police officer may testify saying things like this:
- that he smelled alcohol on you and that you were slurring your words or having difficulty walking;
- that you failed the roadside field sobriety tests that were administered, and that the results of those tests indicated that you were impaired;
- that the manner in which you were driving before you were pulled over demonstrated that you were impaired.
Often DUI defendants are insistent that these three things are not true in their case. While they may be correct, it is not that simple. Field sobriety “tests” are the activities an officer asks you to do when he is investigating you at the side of the road – like the walk and turn, the one leg stand, and following a pen or finger with your eyes (called HGN). These tests designed for you to fail. They are not truly scientific and are subjectively based on what the police officer decides to say they witnessed. A driver may think they did fine on the tests, but the officer will say in his report that he observed “clues” that meant you actually failed the test. And keep in mind, the officer conducting the “test” is usually the same officer that just pulled you over for suspicion of drunk driving. So, the officer probably wants you to fail the tests, because that justifies them pulling you over in the first place. In other words, the officer will say you failed these tests because it protects him. And finally, many officers do not even administer these “tests” correctly.
How you were driving prior to being pulled over can also be twisted to argue that you were impaired. An officer may say you failed to maintain your lane because your wheel touched the lane line on the road. There may be dashcam video that shows this as well. In reality, we all “fail to maintain lane” constantly when we are driving, as some bit movement within a lane is very normal. But that normal non-impaired behavior can be twisted to suggest you were impaired at the time you were arrested.
Lastly, when a police officer testifies that he smelled alcohol on you, he knows that there is virtually no way to disprove that by itself. Even the best video and audio evidence can't prove or disprove an alleged smell.
The facts are stacked against you from the very beginning in a DUI case. This is why you need an experienced DUI lawyer to fight for you.
DUI Less Safe - Drugs
In Georgia, you can be arrested under suspicion that you were improperly under the influence of drugs while you are driving. There is no specific number or legal limit when it comes to DUI Drugs. You may be tested for the presence of substances in your system, and the State will use that evidence to prosecute you. You can be prosecuted even if the drugs in your system were lawfully prescribed. The prosecutor will use the evidence of drugs in your system along with the tactics for DUI Less Safe that I described above to try to convict you.
Most DUI's in Georgia are treated as misdemeanors which all carry a maximum sentence of 12 months in custody and a $1,000 fine. It is very unlikely that anyone with a first time DUI charge will spend 12 months in jail. For most first time DUI's it can be as little as 24 hours in jail. However, a DUI arrest can be treated as a felony if you have several prior DUI convictions or someone was seriously injured or died as a result of the DUI. Those cases are much more likely to carry stiffer sentences.
When it comes to misdemeanor DUI, exactly how much custody time will be required, what other special conditions you will have to complete (evaluations, community service, DUI School, etc.) are dependent on things like whether it was DUI per se or DUI less safe and whether you have recent prior DUI convictions. An experienced DUI lawyer will guide you through what your worst case and best case scenarios are.
For all DUI cases, no matter whether you believe you are guilty or not, you MUST have an experienced lawyer to help you from the moment you are arrested. Even if you don't have a court date yet, there are things the lawyer can help you with that will put your case in the best position going forward. If you wait too long to get a lawyer, you put your license and your freedom in jeopardy.