Should I perform Field Sobriety Tests?

If you have been pulled over for DUI, the police officer may ask you if you would consent to field sobriety evaluations. Field Sobriety Evaluations are a series of tests which are, in theory, designed to aid officers draw accurate conclusions about a suspect’s blood alcohol consumption. Despite that these tests are only around 75% accurate when administered correctly, they are still thought of as legitimate tests of a person’s intoxication level by most judges and jurors. For this reason, allegedly “poor” performance on field sobriety tests can sway jurors to convict someone for DUI, even if they are not.

So is it in your best interests to perform field sobriety tests? This is a complicated question which will vary depending on the circumstances, but generally, it is better to refuse to participate in the field sobriety evaluations, as it provides the officer with less potentially incriminating evidence. It is important to bear in mind, however, that refusal to submit to field sobriety evaluations is admissible in trial as circumstantial evidence of intoxication. Taken together with other evidence of possible intoxication (slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, admission of drinking, etc.) may support an inference that the suspect was an impaired driver.

That being said, it is easier to make an argument that the officer got it wrong when they arrested you for DUI if the only evidence they have is the smell of alcohol on your breath and bloodshot eyes than if they have evidence of poor performance on field tests. Additionally, even if you refuse field sobriety tests, the officer still has the authority to arrest you. Georgia case law has held that an officer’s observation of bloodshot, watery eyes and odor of alcohol is sufficient to support an arrest for suspected DUI. If you are pulled over for DUI, even if you refuse field sobriety tests, do not be surprised if you are arrested anyway. Instead, stay calm, make no incriminating statements, and as soon as you are able, call an experienced DUI defense lawyer.

We offer free consultations to anyone who has been charged with driving under the influence. Call us today at 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine Edmonds.

DUI IN THE MUNICIPAL COURT OF ATLANTA

By: Attorney Erin Dohnalek

After an accused has been arrested for a DUI, if one of the following occurred, an accused MUST send the 30-day appeal letter to attempt to save his/her driver’s license:

  1. After the accused has been arrested, an officer on scene from the Atlanta Police Department read him/her the correct “Implied Consent” notice and he/she refused to comply with either a blood, breath, or urine test in order to determine his/her blood alcohol content, OR
  2. The accused consented to a blood, breath, or urine test and the results showed that the blood alcohol content of the accused was above the legal limit.

If one of the following occurred, it is of vital importance to send the 30-day appeal of the license suspension letter prior to the deadline or risk the suspension of the accused person’s driver’s license. The suspension could last as long as 1 year.

After sending the 30-day letter, the accused must also be ready to defend his/her criminal allegations. The penalties for a DUI conviction are serious, thus, it is of great importance to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands all of the elements of the offense, the affirmative defenses to such a charge, and all possible options for the accused.

According to O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391, a person commits driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs when it renders them less safe to drive, the person’s alcohol concentration is .08 or more at any time within 3 hours after such driving occurred, or there is any amount of marijuana or other controlled substances present in the accused person’s blood, breath, or urine.

Once the Atlanta Police Department transfers the criminal charge to the Atlanta Solicitor’s Office, the criminal case will begin at a proceeding known as an arraignment. There are a few options when the case has landed here at the Municipal Court of Atlanta. Such options include:

  • The accused may plead guilty to DUI, which, for a first DUI conviction, usually will result in 12 months of probation, which requires completion of a Risk Reduction course and at least 40 hours of community service;
  • The accused may plead not guilty to DUI and seek a bench trial with the municipal court judge;
  • The accused may plead not guilty to DUI and seek a jury trial. This will result in the case being bound over to the Fulton County State Court, OR
  • At arraignment, the accused has the option to speak to the Atlanta solicitor in a pretrial conference to discuss other possible options, such as a reduction from the original DUI charge.

Due to the complexity of a driving under the influence criminal case, as well as the related license suspension proceeding, it is essential to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who is skilled at defending such allegations. At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our attorneys are knowledgeable about all possible options for our clients and have vast experience defending such charges. Therefore, if you have been arrested for driving under the influence, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

What to expect during a DUI stop in Atlanta, GA

By: Attorney Alex Henson

If you are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol in Atlanta you might be pulled over and investigated by police. What can you expect during a DUI stop?

First, the officer might ask you if you’ve had anything to drink. You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer the question, but always be polite and respectful. Any statements you make could be used against you later in court.

Next, the officer might ask you to perform certain exercises to see if you are safe to drive. These exercises are called Standardized Field Sobriety Tests and your performance could be used against you in court later. The most common of these tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the one leg stand, and the walk and turn. It is voluntary to participate in field sobriety tests. Refusing to participate cannot be used against you in court later.

The officer may decide that you are under the influence and less safe to drive. If the officer decides to arrest you, he or she may read you Georgia’s implied consent statement and request chemical testing of your breath or blood. These tests are voluntary, but refusal can result in your license being suspended. If you have been arrested for DUI and would like a free consultation, call us at (404) 581-0999.

After my DUI arrest, the officer took my license. How can I get to work?

If you have been arrested for a DUI in Georgia and an officer took your license, you may be wondering how you can get to work, school, or even your court date without the risk of getting into trouble. If this is you, then take a look at the citation you were given when you were arrested and take a deep breath. At the bottom of the citation, you should see something that says “temporary driving permit.” Georgia law requires an officer who is arresting you for DUI to seize your license. The citation you receive acts as a temporary driving permit for a period of 45 days from the date you were arrested or while your ALS hearing is pending. For information on filing an ALS petition, please check out this blog post: https://www.peachstatelawyer.com/georgia-administrative-license-suspension-als-hearings-during-the-pandemic/

If your license was valid at the time of arrest, the officer MUST give you this permit. If you did not receive the permit and your license was valid, let us know so that we can contact DDS on your behalf.

This permit, unlike a restricted license or a limited permit, is functionally the same as your regular license. You can travel for work or leisure without restriction on this permit. Additionally, you can find your drivers license number on your citation and visit DDS.georgia.gov and select “check license status” to actually view whether or not your license is valid. So long as the website says your license is valid and you have the 1205 form, you should not have to worry about getting pulled over and not having your license on you. However, be sure to bring the 1205 form with you when you drive in case you are stopped.

If your license has been taken because of a DUI arrest, DO NOT WAIT. Call us today. You have 30 days from the date of the arrest to try to save your license, and on the 46th day after the arrest, the 1205 permit expires. We can help.

Call us at (404)-581-0999!

Georgia DUI: How many points in a DUI?

In Georgia, a driver’s license will be automatically suspended if engaged in serious traffic violations. Therefore, a DUI does not accumulate any points on your driving record, also called a Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) but carries immediate consequences. For a first DUI conviction (for drivers over the age of 21), your license will be suspended for 12 months by DDS (Georgia Department of Driver Services).

 

Ways a driver can reinstate their license after six months:

  • Your license has already been suspended for 120 days;
  • Completion of a state-approved Risk Reduction Program; and
  • Submit a $210 fine for license reinstatement fees.

Note that this reinstatement will depend on your driving history and will permit you to drive to and from work and school and other permissible places.

 

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.

Can I get a DUI if I am under .08 in Georgia?

            Most of us are aware that the legal limit for a DUI for a driver over 21 years old is .08. What comes as a surprise to most, however, is that you can also be charged with DUI even if you were well below the legal limit. How is this possible? You can be arrested and charged with DUI, even if you blew below the legal limit, under Georgia’s DUI Less Safe law. In practice, it is a very common way to be charged with DUI in Georgia.

            Georgia law has criminalized DUIs into a few different categories. The two most common ways to be charged with DUI are DUI Per Se and DUI Less Safe. DUI Per Se occurs when a person is arrested after being alleged to be in control of a moving vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 grams or more. This means that after he or she was arrested, law enforcement obtained a blood alcohol reading either by a breath, blood, or urine test taken typically at the jail or a hospital.

What happens if I don’t blow or take a breathalyzer?

            In this situation, you can still be charged with DUI Less Safe. DUI Less Safe in Georgia means you were in control of a moving vehicle, after having consumed alcohol, to the extent it made you a less safe driver. Evidence in this situation may not include an actual BAC number, but the State will attempt to prove DUI with other pieces of evidence. For example, the State may bring forward evidence of an odor of alcohol, bloodshot eyes, open containers, and/or poor performance on field sobriety tests.

            In some instances, if you decline or refuse the breath or blood test at the officer’s request, the police officer will take out a search warrant to take your blood over your objection. In this situation, you can be charged with both DUI Less Safe and DUI Per Se if the BAC comes back as over .08.

What happens if I blow below the legal limit?

            In Georgia, you can still be arrested and charged with DUI Less Safe. This is because a BAC greater than .08 is not a requirement in DUI Less Safe cases. If you blow a .07, a .06, or even a .05, you can and will still be prosecuted for DUI. This seems shocking to some, but we see it happen regularly. The State, in this situation, still has to prove impairment- meaning the prosecutor must still prove you were a less safe driver because of the alcohol.

Georgia’s Law on Alcohol Content

In Georgia, you are Per Se impaired if your blood or breath test shows a result of .08 grams or more. If your BAC is more than .05 but less than .08 grams, there is no inference of impairment. This means it is up to the judge or the jury to consider whether or not you were actually a Less Safe driver or not. In Georgia, a BAC of even less than .04 can get you into court fighting for your life and freedom. In a scenario where the BAC was les than a .04, Georgia law has a presumption that you were NOT impaired. The State can rebut this inference through other evidence in a trial. A different BAC applies in cases where the driver is under 21 years old. In that situation, an under 21 DUI ‘legal limit’ is .02 grams.

We routinely see drivers with a ‘below the legal limit’ DUI have their cases prosecuted. Do not assume that the prosecuting attorney will throw the case out based on having been less than .08 grams. If you were arrested, the State will most likely bring the prosecution’s case with any other evidence they have, even if they do not have a BAC or if the BAC was below a .08 grams.

DUI cases are one of them most litigated cases in Georgia courtrooms. This is because there is so much at stake with a DUI conviction: jail time, lengthy and involved probation sentences, suspended licenses, and a criminal history that cannot be expunged. There are numerous defenses to DUI Less Safe and DUI Per Se cases, no matter what the BAC is or what county you were arrested in. If you or a loved one has been arrested for Driving under the Influence, call W. Scott Smith today for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999.

Georgia DUI Law – Necessity Defense to a DUI Charge

There are many legal challenges and defenses available to defendants in a DUI case. One of these defenses is an “affirmative defense.” An affirmative defense is one in which the defendant argues that, even if the allegations of the indictment or accusation are true, there are circumstances that support a determination that he cannot or should not be held criminally liable. In the context of a DUI, the defendant would be arguing to the judge or jury that the defendant was in fact DUI, but the defendant is justified or excused in driving under the influence. One justification defense[1] to DUI is “necessity.”   

Under federal law[2], the doctrine of necessity requires:

1) the defendant reasonably believed that a danger or emergency existed that he did not intentionally cause; 2) the danger or emergency threatened significant harm to himself or a third person; 3) the threatened harm must have been real, imminent, and impending; 4) the defendant had no reasonable means to avoid the danger or emergency except by committing the crime; 5) the crime must have been committed out of duress to avoid the danger or emergency; and 6) the harm the defendant avoided outweighs the harm caused by committing the crime.

In 1991, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed a conviction for DUI because a jury could have found driving under the influence was justified when Defendant was driving 8 ½ month pregnant wife to the doctor.[3] 

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] O.C.G.A. § 16-3-20

[2] Manners v. Cannella, 891 F.3d 959, 11th Cir. (2018)

[3] Tarvestad v. State, 261 Ga. 605 (1991)

Georgia DUI Law: Calendar Call

There are several court dates in the life of a DUI case. The first court date is arraignment. This is where the court formally notifies the defendant of the charges and asks the defendant whether they plead guilty or not guilty. After arraignment, the case is then scheduled for a “calendar call,” court date.

What is Calendar Call?

The purpose of calendar call is for the parties to appear in court and “announce” to the judge the status of the case. This way, the judge will know whether the case is going to be a trial, a plea, or if the case needs to be continued due to an outstanding issue (missing evidence, witness unavailability, accountability court applications, scheduling conflicts, etc.). Calendar calls promote judicial efficiency.

Who Must Appear?                                                             

Unrepresented defendants must appear at calendar call. Failure to appear will cause a bench warrant to be issued for your arrest and forfeiture of your bond. At calendar call, an unrepresented defendant who does not desire to hire an attorney may announce “pre-trial” at calendar call. This announcement signals to the judge that the defendant wishes to have a brief conversation with the prosecuting attorney about the case in an effort to reach a resolution. In this “pre-trial” conference, the defendant should ask the State what their offer is on the case. If acceptable, then accept. If the offer is unacceptable, or confusing, or seems fishy, the defendant should hire a lawyer. It is important to remember any statements the unrepresented defendant makes to the prosecutor can be used against the defendant at trial.

Represented defendants may have to appear at calendar call, depending on the judge. Most judges will allow the attorney to appear and make an announcement on the defendant’s behalf. Therefore, it is critically important attorneys know the judge’s preferences in advance of court as to avoid a possible bench warrant. If a judge is particular about represented defendants appearing in court, the attorney may still be able to excuse the defendant by filing a “waiver of presence,” with the court. This is simply a notarized document signed by defendant stating they waive the right to be present. Furthermore, some judges will allow attorneys to make their calendar call announcements via email in advance of court. This saves the attorney and possibly the defendant a trip to court.

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.

Georgia DUI Law: How a DUI Becomes a Felony

The vast majority of DUI arrests are charged as misdemeanors in Georgia. There are certain circumstances, however, that will cause the DUI charge to be elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony. This article serves to explain the three major ways a driver in Georgia could obtain a felony DUI charge.

Multiple Prior DUI Convictions

A fourth DUI arrest within a ten year period[1] that results in a conviction is punishable as a felony. A first, second, or third DUI conviction in a ten year period will be treated as a misdemeanor, although the third conviction will be a high and aggravated misdemeanor.

If convicted of a fourth offense within a ten year period, the judge has the authority to impose a prison sentence between one and five years (all of which may be on probation except 90 days).

Causing Serious Injury or Death

You can be charged with a felony if you seriously injure another person while driving under the influence. Under O.C.G.A. 40-6-394(b), “[a]ny person who, without malice aforethought, causes an accident that results in bodily harm while violating Code Section 40-6-390 or 40-6-391 commits the crime of serious injury by vehicle. A person convicted of violating this subsection shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than 15 years.” Bodily harm is defined as, “an injury to another person which deprives him or her of a member of his or her body, renders a member of his or her body useless, seriously disfigures his or her body or a member thereof, or causes organic brain damage which renders his or her body or any member thereof useless.”

Similarly, “[a]ny person who, without malice aforethought, causes the death of another person . . . [while driving under the influence] shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than three years nor more than 15 years. O.C.G.A 40-6-393.

High Risk Operator

The law recognizes people who are convicted of DUI should be punished more severely because they are transporting children at the time of impaired driving. This occurs in two ways.

A third conviction of DUI child endangerment will result in a felony charge. This offense is punishable by one to five years imprisonment and a fine of $1,000 to $5,000.

Finally, under O.C.G.A. 40-6-391.3, a school bus driver convicted of DUI while driving a school bus is punishable as a felony. The school bus driver will face a one to five year prison sentence and a fine between $1,000 and $5,000.

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] Measured from the dates of arrest (but only since July 1, 2008). Arrests resulting in convictions prior to this date do not apply towards the total number of arrests for this purpose.

Georgia DUI Law: Motion to Suppress

A motion to suppress seeks to exclude illegally obtained evidence based upon a constitutional violation.[1] The purpose of a motion to suppress is to determine, before trial, whether particular evidence will be admissible at trial. If the judge finds the evidence is not admissible, the prosecuting attorney may determine they cannot go forward on the case and dismiss it entirely. If the judge rules the evidence is admissible, the defendant may be more inclined to enter a guilty plea knowing the objected to evidence will be admitted.

A motion to suppress must:

  • Be made in writing
  • Raise a constitutional ground or basis
  • Allege sufficient facts to place the prosecution on notice of the claim of unlawfulness
  • Be filed no later than 10 days after arraignment (unless judge allows for extension in writing)

A failure to comply with these requirements could result in a waiver of your motion and ability to resolve these issues before a trial.

Once a motion to suppress has been filed, the burden of proving the lawfulness of the legal issues raised is placed on the State. A defendant is general entitled to an evidentiary hearing unless the parties agree to the facts. If so, the judge may rule on the motion without a hearing as a matter of law. The hearing must occur outside the presence of a jury.

For example, in the context of a DUI case, a defendant should file a motion to suppress the results of a chemical test (ex. breath or blood) if there was insufficient probable cause to arrest. The prosecutor would have to call the arresting officer to court and prove to a judge there was probable cause to arrest. Not only could a judge rule in your favor, but a defendant also receives the benefit of officer testimony made under oath. Therefore, if the officer later testifies at trial to something inconsistent with what that officer said at the motion to suppress, the officer’s prior inconsistent statement could be used to impeach that officer (showing they are not credible). 

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[1] A motion to suppress does not apply to (1) attacks on the validity of charging documents (accusations or indictments); (2) chain of custody issues; or (3) to testimony.