Georgia
DUI investigations usually begin with a routine traffic stop. At a minimum, in
order to stop you and your vehicle, the stopping officer needs to have
“reasonable and articulable suspicion” to believe a crime has, or is about to
be committed. An officer normally satisfies this requirement by observing a
traffic or equipment violation. However, if it is determined the officer did
NOT have reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop your vehicle; this could
result in the suppression of evidence and the ultimate dismissal of a DUI
charge.

Therefore,
it is crucial to examine the most common types of traffic violations that
result in a DUI investigation. This article serves to inform you of the nature,
methods of proof, penalties, and challenges to a defective equipment offense in Georgia.

The Offense

O.C.G.A. §§ 40-8-7(a) and (b) state:

(a) No
person shall drive
or move on any highway any motor vehicle,
trailer, semi trailer, or pole trailer, or any combination thereof, unless
the equipment upon any and every such vehicle is in good working order

and adjustment as required in this chapter and the vehicle is in such safe mechanical
condition as not to endanger the driver or other occupant or any person upon
the highway
.

(b) It is
a misdemeanor for any person to drive or move
, or for the owner to
cause or knowingly permit to be driven or moved, on any street or highway any
vehicle
or combination of vehicles:

(1) Which
is in such unsafe condition as to endanger any person
;

(2) Which
does not contain those parts or is not at all times equipped with such lights
and other equipment in proper condition
and adjustment as required in
this chapter; or

(3) Which
is equipped in any manner in violation of this chapter
.

Even
if you are driving perfectly, a police officer may still stop your vehicle if
any of its equipment is non-operational. Examples include, but are not limited
to, missing taillight, broken tag light, or a low hanging bumper. Although the
spirit of this law is to protect other motorists from defective vehicles on the
road, this traffic offense is often used as a “pre-textual stop,” meaning the
officer stops you for this offense in hopes of discovering another criminal
offense, particularly DUI. Although the law used to criticize these types of
stops, a line of United States Supreme Court cases has weakened these types of
challenges.[1]   

Penalties

Under
Georgia law, technically, these equipment violations are misdemeanors and are
therefore punishable with up to a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to one year in
jail. Although these are the maximum punishments, equipment violations
generally do not result in jail time. Normally, if you get the defective
equipment fixed, and provide proof of such to the prosecuting attorney, your
case will likely be dismissed.

Challenging the Stop

If an
officer pulls you over for an equipment violation and ultimately arrests you
for DUI, you may lodge a challenge to the stop of your vehicle through a motion
to suppress or a motion in limine. These challenges are designed to attack the
stop, arrest, or any evidence gathered as a result of an unlawful stop and/or
arrest.

If you
are facing a DUI-Less Safe
case, the State will have to prove “less safe driving.” If you have only been
cited for defective equipment, the State will have great difficulty in proving
alcohol caused you to be a less safe driver because there is no “less safe”
driving act (ie. speeding, failure to maintain lane, improper turn, etc.). This
is a major issue a defense attorney should raise during trial.

Contact Us

If you or someone you know has been
arrested for driving under the influence, contact the law firm of W.
Scott Smith at 404.581.0999
 today for a free case evaluation. You’ll find a local Atlanta DUI attorney ready to aggressively fight
on your behalf. You can also find out more detailed information about Atlanta laws here.


[1] See, Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532
U.S. 318, 121 S. Ct. 1536 (2001); Whren
v. U.S.
, 517 U.S. 806, 116 S. Ct. 1769  (1996); Ohio
v. Robinette
, 519 U.S. 33, 117 S. Ct. 417 (1996); and Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 117 S. Ct. 882 (1997).