I am under 21 and got a DUI… help!

If you are under 21 and have been charged with DUI, it is important to note that there are big differences between defending a DUI when someone is over 21 and a DUI where you were under 21.

The biggest difference between them is the acceptable blood alcohol content for young drivers. While the legal limit for drivers 21 and over is .08, drivers under 21 may not “be in actual physical control of any moving vehicle while the person’s alcohol concentration is 0.02 grams or more at any time within 3 hours after such driving or being in physical control from alcohol consumed before such driving or being in actual physical control ended.” OCGA 40-6-391(k)(1). This means that folks under 21 can drink less and still be considered DUI.

The other main difference is the mandatory minimum punishment under law. For a first offense in 5 years, folks under 21 who plead or are found guilty to DUI must be sentenced to 1 day in jail (although you will receive credit for any time you already served, and may be able to serve your time on weekends or during non-working hours), 40 hours of community service which must be completed within 60 days of the date of sentencing, an alcohol and drug evaluation and any additional treatment recommended by the evaluator, an a DUI Risk Reduction class. You must also be on probation for 12 months. Your license may also be suspended.

If you are under 21 and you have been charged with DUI, it is important to understand your rights and any defenses. Call our office for a free consultation. 404-581-0999.

Keeping Evidence of Bad Character Out of Your Trial

It is not uncommon in criminal cases for the state to attempt to introduce evidence of other bad things defendants have done. The Georgia Rules of Evidence are very clear that this evidence can not be admitted for propensity purposes. That means the state can’t introduce bad character evidence just to try to make the jury believe that because a defendant acted a certain way in the past that they acted in the same way during the commission of whatever crime they are charged with. For example, if you are charged with armed robbery, the state cannot admit evidence that you were involved in another armed robbery just to say “because he armed robbed someone in the past, he armed robbed someone this time”. But the state will also often try to use the Rules of Evidence to get around this ban on bad character evidence. If the state can convince a judge that they are attempting to bring in the evidence as proof of intent, motive, knowledge, identity, plan, or purpose, they will be allowed to present the evidence.

Additionally, the evidence the state is attempting to introduce should be kept out if any probative value (i.e., usefulness) is substantially outweighed by prejudice to the defendant. It is important to hire an attorney who will zealously fight to keep any bad character evidence out of your trial. At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, we fight to protect our clients and will work tirelessly to prevent the state from being able to introduce this bad character evidence to the jury. If you have been charged with a serious crime like murder, rape, armed robbery, or aggravated assault in Fulton, Cobb, Dekalb, Gwinnett, Clayton, or Rockdale Counties, call our office at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

How do I get a reduction to Reckless Driving in my DUI case?

If you have been charged with DUI, you likely have many questions about what your best options are, how you can best defend your case, and what you can do to help your attorney as they prepare your case and pursue your interests with a prosecutor.

The best thing you can do to help your attorney and improve your prospects for being offered a reduction is to avoid getting additional charges, especially charges involving drugs or alcohol. Getting another DUI while one is already pending can severely hurt your case and reduce your chances of getting a reduction by a great deal.

There are several things you can do to improve the likelihood of getting a reduction. Completing 40 hours of community service at a 501(c)(3) organization is one task that costs nothing, and is generally a required term of probation. The organization cannot be religiously affiliated, but volunteering at an animal shelter, public library, or soup kitchen are all great ideas.

Completing a Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim Impact Panel can also be beneficial. This online panel consists of individuals sharing their stories about the impacts of drunk driving. You can sign up here: https://online.maddvip.org/.

Taking a DDS-sponsored Risk Reduction class is also generally a condition of probation. There are online and on-the-road options available all over Georgia. For a list of locations and their contact information, visit this link: https://online.dds.ga.gov/ddsgeorgiagov/locations/certified-dui-schools.aspx.

The last thing you can do is get an alcohol and drug assessment done. This can be through any State-sponsored provider, and can be done in person or over the phone. The cost of the assessment varies depending on the provider, so you may choose to shop around to find the right counselor for you. If, after your evaluation is complete, any treatment is recommended, you can also help your attorney by working on the recommended treatment.

These steps show integrity and proactiveness, and can be good mitigating evidence for your attorney to provide to the prosecutor. For questions or a free consultation, call us at 404-581-0999.

 

Why do I have Multiple DUI charges??

If you are charged with DUI, you may have noticed that you do not have just 1 charge of driving under the influence, but you could be charged with several. But what does this mean and how does this affect you?

If you are charged with multiple counts of DUI stemming from the same incident, the most likely reason is because there is a chemical test of your blood, breath, urine, or other bodily substance which indicates a blood alcohol concentration of at least 0.08 grams and/or at the time of the DUI stop, there were children under the age of 14 in the vehicle.

Generally when a prosecutor accuses a DUI, they will attempt to categorize the offense as as many different kinds of DUIs as they can. If your case does not have a chemical test, that is, you refused the State’s requested chemical test and no one sought a warrant either for your blood or from hospital records, you are likely charged with DUI Less Safe. In Georgia, the State does not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your blood alcohol concentration was a 0.08 or above, merely that you were driving while you were under the influence of alcohol, and as a result of the alcohol consumed, you were a less safe driver. This means that the State does not have to have “proof” of your BAC, only that you had consumed some amount of alcohol.

However, if you consented to the officer’s requested chemical test or the officer sought a warrant for your blood, and the results of that test or blood draw indicated a BAC of 0.08 grams or more, you are likely charged with DUI Unlawful Alcohol Content, also referred to as DUI “per se.” This kind of DUI does require evidence of a defendant’s BAC, generally in the form of a scientific report.

If you are charged with both DUI Less Safe and DUI Per Se, think of them as two ways the State can attempt to prove the same charge. One is not any worse than the other, and a conviction of one results in the other being “merged,” that is, effectively dismissed. The penalties under law are the same for a DUI Less Safe and a DUI Unlawful Alcohol Content, and the effect on your license doesn’t change depending on whether you are convicted of one or the other. A DUI conviction is a DUI conviction.

If you are charged with one or both of the above-referenced kinds of DUIs, and an additional DUI charge, you may be looking at a charge of DUI Child Endangerment. You could be charged with this crime if, at the time of your DUI arrest, there was a child under 14 years of age in the vehicle. The most important thing about DUI Child Endangerment is that, unlike the other two kinds of DUI, it does not merge into a DUI. It counts as an entirely separate DUI upon conviction.

Here is an example: Jayme was arrested for DUI. His 10 year old son, Billy, 6 year old daughter, Sarah, and 14 year old nephew, Steven, are all in the car at the time. When he is arrested, he consents to the officer’s request that he submit to a State-administered chemical test of his blood. When the blood test comes back from the lab, it indicates a blood alcohol content of 0.10 grams. When Jayme goes to Court, he notices that he is charged with 4 counts of DUI: DUI Less Safe, DUI Unlawful Alcohol Content, and 2 counts of DUI Child Endangerment. Note that he could not be charged with a 5th count of DUI for his nephew, because Steven is 14 years old. At trial, Jayme is convicted on all counts. However when the Judge sentences Jayme, he is only sentenced as though he was convicted of 3 of the DUI counts, because the DUI Less Safe would merge into the DUI Unlawful Alcohol Content by operation of law. Again, note that unlike DUI Unlawful Alcohol Content and DUI Less Safe, the counts of DUI Child Endangerment do not merge, even upon conviction of multiple counts of the same. Thus, although the charges all come from one DUI investigation and arrest, they count as 3 separate and distinct convictions of DUI.

Don’t be like Jayme. If you are charged with DUI, call our office for a free consultation. 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine Edmonds.

I was arrested for DUI at a roadblock/checkpoint. What do I do?

Georgia law and the United States Constitution requires that police officers possess a certain level of suspicion in order to stop a driver. Police officers must have reasonable articulable suspicion that a driver is, has, or is about to break the law in order to pull them over. However, DUI checkpoints and roadblocks are an exception to this requirement, and police do not have to have any suspicion whatsoever to stop a car passing through a checkpoint.

If you have been arrested at a checkpoint, you may be wondering how to best defend your case. The good news is that the State must show that the roadblock was conducted in such a way that complies with Georgia law. In the case of Baker v. State, 252 Ga. App. 695 (2001), the Georgia Court of Appeals articulates the six prongs which must be shown to support a stop at a checkpoint. The Court in Baker held that a roadblock is valid when:

  1. The decision to implement the checkpoint in question was made by supervisory officers and not officers in the field;
  2. The supervisors had a legitimate purpose in conducting a checkpoint;
  3. All vehicles passing through the checkpoint are stopped, not just “random” vehicles;
  4. The delay to drivers is minimal;
  5. The checkpoint operation is well identified as a police checkpoint (think flashing lights, marked vehicles, and traffic cones);
  6. The screening officer’s training and experience are sufficient to qualify him to make an initial determination as to which motorists should be administered field sobriety tests.

This test is all-or-nothing. If the prosecutors cannot show each and every one of these elements, the stop and any subsequent observations, statements, or arrests may be suppressed.

If you have been arrested at a checkpoint, you may have a valid defense in your case. Call our office for a free consultation and find out what your best options are. 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine A. Edmonds.

Big Win for DUI Defense and What it Means for You

In November, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a ruling which marks a major victory for the United States and Georgia Constitutions, as well as folks charged with driving under the influence. In Ammons v. State, the Court held that suspects have the right to refuse an officer’s request to perform a preliminary breath test and field sobriety tests. What is more, is that the Court stated that refusal to take the tests is inadmissible under Georgia law.

The Constitution of Georgia protects citizens rights against self-incrimination. In Georgia, the government, including police and prosecutors cannot force you to speak or act in ways that could result in criminal consequences. Before the Georgia Supreme Court issued its decision in Ammons, however, the prosecution could introduce evidence that a suspect declined to take part in field sobriety tests at the request of an officer. The purpose of introducing refusals of field sobriety tests was to indicate to the jury or judge that the suspect refused to perform fields because they guilty. This is an improper purpose, and because of the Ammons decision, the State cannot try to convince the jury of your guilt based on your refusal because it is a constitutional right to refuse to offer incriminating evidence against yourself.

So what does this mean for you? This means that if you are stopped by police and asked to perform field sobriety tests, it may be in your best interests to refuse to do so, particularly if you have been drinking or have a history of DUI arrests.

Of course, if you are reading this blog, you may have already been charged with DUI and wondering what your options are. If you have been charged with DUI and refused field sobriety tests, that refusal is not admissible. However, there may be other evidence in your case that could be admitted if gone unchallenged. You should consider hiring an experienced DUI attorney to protect your interests and ensure that the State is not able to admit evidence which was improperly or illegally obtained. If you want to learn more about your options, call our office for a free consultation. 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine Edmonds.

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!