Georgia Criminal Law – Auto Theft Offenses

Georgia has several laws dealing with the theft of motor vehicles. This article serves to explain the nature of the offenses, possible punishment if convicted, and defenses to such charges.

Carjacking

Under O.C.G.A. § 16-5-44.1, a person commits the offense of vehicle hijacking when they take a car from another person by force and violence or intimidation, while in the possession of a firearm or weapon.

A person convicted of motor vehicle hijacking faces a 10 to 20 years imprisonment, and a fine ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. For a second conviction for carjacking, the new conviction results in a life in prison sentence plus a fine ranging from $100,000 to $500,000. It is not necessary that the defendant committed the prior carjacking in Georgia in order to receive a life sentence.

Motor Vehicle Theft

Unlike the above carjacking statute, there is no specific offense related to the nonviolent theft of an automobile. Rather, an individual who commits a nonviolent auto theft may be charged with “theft by taking” which O.C.G.A. 16-8-2, which makes it a crime for a person to “unlawfully take or, being in lawful possession thereof, unlawfully appropriate any property of another with the intention of depriving the owner of the property, regardless of the manner in which the property is taken or appropriated.”

As we can see, a person may be charged with theft by taking regardless of whether they took the property with or without permission of the owner, so long as the person takes the property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. A common example of the former is when a person takes a vehicle with the permission of the owner, but then fails to return the vehicle to the owner.

This situation is also similar to the offense of “theft by conversion” which occurs when, being in legal possession of another’s property pursuant to an agreement (such as a lease or other rental agreement), converts the property to the person’s own use, in violation of the agreement. This is not a breach of contract issue but rather the punishment of depriving the owner of their property.

Punishment for Motor Vehicle Theft

O.C.G.A. § 16-8-12 provides sentencing guidelines for a defendant convicted of nonviolent motor vehicle theft, regardless of whether the defendant has been convicted of theft by taking or theft by conversion. The law creates different levels of punishment based upon the type of vehicle stolen.

Vehicles Used in Commercial Transportation of Cargo

O.C.G.A. § 16-8-12 (a)(8) provides, a person convicted of stealing a vehicle engaged in commercial transportation of cargo faces a minimum of 3 years imprisonment and a maximum of 10 years in addition to a fine of $5,000 to $50,000. A sentencing judge has the authority to place the defendant on probation or suspend the sentence in lieu of prison time. Furthermore, if the defendant has a commercial driver’s license (CDL), a conviction for commercial vehicle theft will cause a loss of their CDL.

Non-commercial Vehicles

If the vehicle at issue was not engaged in commercial transportation of cargo, the offense is punished based on the value of the vehicle. Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 16-8-12 (a)(1), if the vehicle is valued at:

$1,500.01 to $5,000: 1-5 years in prison

$5,000 to $25,000: 1-10 years in prison, and

$25,000 or more: 2-20 years in prison

Interestingly, a sentencing judge has the ability to punish the offense as a misdemeanor, regardless of the value of the property. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor conviction is one (1) year in jail and $1,000 fine, or both.  

Joy Riding

Georgia law prohibits joy riding under the criminal trespass statute rather then a specialized joy riding statute. Joyriding is commonly defined as the taking or driving someone else’s vehicle without their permission. Examples can include children taking their parent’s car or valets or mechanics driving the owners car without their permission. The key difference between joyriding and theft is the degree of intent. Joyriding does not require proof the person intended to deprive the owner of the vehicle permanently. Under O.C.G.A. § 16-7-21, a person commits criminal trespass by entering another person’s vehicle for an unlawful purpose or enters the vehicle of another after having been previously forbidden from doing so by the owner. Typically, joyriding is punished as a misdemeanor. It may, however, be punished as a felony if the defendant fails to return the vehicle after a significant period of time, the defendant intends to use the vehicle to commit a crime, or if the defendant damages the vehicle while joyriding.

Contact Us

If you or a loved one is facing criminal prosecution, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation. Our firm has specialized knowledge and experience in handling criminal cases in various jurisdictions across Georgia.

Georgia DUI Law – What a Georgia DUI Costs

In 2018, there were 21,784 DUI convictions in Georgia. A DUI arrest and conviction has serious consequences. Among those consequences, you can expect to pay a significant amount of money in defending the case. This article serves to provide a general idea of what it costs to be arrested and convicted of DUI.

  1. Bail/Bond: $150 – $2,500. Cost of bail in a DUI arrest depends on a variety of factors including but not limited to prior criminal history, case facts, and ties to the community.
  2. Towing: $50 – $200. The cost of towing and impounding a car can increase daily.
  3. Insurance Increase: $4,500 or more. Depending on your insurance carrier and driving history, your rates could double, triple or even quadruple over a period of three to five years.
  4. Legal Fees: $2,000- $25,000.
  5. Fines: $300 – $5000. These base fines vary depending on the nature of your offense and any prior DUI’s. These base fines do not include statutory court costs which can increase the base fine by 50% or more. 
  6. Alcohol Evaluation: $95 – $300. The law requires completion of an alcohol and drug evaluation and treatment if recommended by the evaluator.
  7. Classes: $500 – $4,000. As part of a DUI conviction you will be required to complete a Risk Reduction class (also referred to as “DUI School”). This class costs $350. You are also required to complete a Victim Impact Panel which costs roughly $100.
  8. License reinstatement fees: $210 – $410. License reinstatement generally costs $210. However, depending on your history, you could be required to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle in order to reinstate your license. You would have to pay for the installation of the device plus daily maintenance costs.

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.

Traffic Tickets while Traveling through Atlanta, Georgia

by Ryan Walsh

We receive calls every day from people who receive traffic tickets while driving on the highways of Georgia. Due to traffic, congestion, construction, and rural police departments, out of state residents are targeted and ticketed every day.

These local courts think they can make money off of you since you live out of state. They think you will just pay the fine and move along. Sometimes the officer will even tell you that it is a non-points violation and can just be paid online when that isn’t actually the case.

Georgia is a points state, meaning every conviction for a moving violation involves points that may be added to your out of state license. Also, the conviction may be reported on your driving history and affect insurance rates.

Traffic tickets in Georgia involve more than just a payment of a fine. It is important to understand the risk of just paying the citation on your driving history. It may cost you a lot more than just the fine amount.

Common traffic tickets we see involving out of state drivers include move-over violations, super speeder tickets, hands-free device citations, and accident cases.

I work every day in the traffic courts around Georgia and can give you the best advice on how to approach your citation. Call us today at 404-581-0999 and ask for Ryan Walsh or e-mail me anytime at ryan@peachstatelawyer.com.

Georgia DUI Law: Challenging the Stop, Defective Equipment

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).

Georgia DUI Law: Challenging the Stop, Improper Turn

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 what type of things police officers are looking for when stopping for improper turn.

The Offense

O.C.G.A. § 40-6-120 requires the driver of a vehicle intending to turn at an intersection to do the following:

(1) RIGHT TURN. Both the approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway;

(2) LEFT TURN.

(A) As used in this paragraph, the term “extreme left-hand lane” means the lane furthest to the left that is lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction as the turning vehicle. In the event of multiple lanes, the second extreme left-hand lane shall be the lane to the right of the extreme left-hand lane that is lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction as the turning vehicle. The third extreme left-hand lane shall be the lane to the right of the second extreme left-hand lane and so forth.

(B) The driver of a vehicle intending to turn left shall approach the turn in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of the turning vehicle. Whenever practicable, the left turn shall be made to the left of the center of the intersection and so as to exit the intersection or other location in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction as the turning vehicle on the roadway being entered.

(C) In the event of multiple turn lanes, the driver of a vehicle turning left shall exit the intersection in the same relative travel lane as the vehicle entered the intersection. If the vehicle is in the second extreme left-hand lane entering the intersection the vehicle shall exit the intersection in the second extreme left-hand lane. Where there are multiple lanes of travel in the same direction safe for travel, a vehicle shall not be permitted to make a lane change once the intersection has been entered.

The most common way to violate this law is when you make a “wide turn.” A wide turn is when you start your turn in one lane and drift over into another lane while executing or finishing your turn. This is a common maneuver you will see on the road and a close look at the language of the law prohibits this conduct.

Interestingly, in State v. Morgan, 260 Ga. App. 263, 581 S.E.2d 296 (2003), the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s suppression of the traffic stop. Morgan was stopped for making a right hand turn into the left lane of two eastbound lanes of Hwy 278, then immediately got into a left turn lane to turn onto Hazelbrand Rd. approximately 100 yards from where he entered Hwy 278; the turn was reasonable and the reasonable suspicion for the stop was unreasonable. Because the spirit of our traffic laws is to ensure safe and reasonable driving among motorists, the Court decided, given the facts of Morgan and the reasonableness of his driving, there was no reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop his vehicle even though Morgan made a wide turn.

Challenging the Stop

Like any traffic stop,  is important to challenge the officer’s observations to determine whether the stopping officer has reasonable and articulable suspicion necessary to stop your car. The most successful way to accomplish this is to challenge the officer’s perception. Key issues include, but are not limited to:

  • Distance between the officer and your vehicle
  • Angles of officer’s observation
  • Traffic conditions (no traffic makes an improper turn more reasonable and safe)
  • Lighting
  • The mechanics of the turn

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.

Traffic Tickets and Young Drivers

Under 21 and Received a Ticket?

Traffic tickets happen to the best of us. There are very few people who have not been stopped by a police officer, whether it be for Speeding, Failure to Yield, or even Following too Closely.  The consequences of receiving a traffic ticket in Georgia vary depending on the severity of the traffic offense, as well as on the motor vehicle history of the driver. Georgia law may assess points on your license that can cause insurance increases, and will even suspend your driver’s license depending on the offense. However, there is nobody who is affected more harshly with a traffic ticket than a young driver. Drivers under the age of 21 are treated differently than adult drivers, and drivers under the age of 18 are treated even more severely than that.  

Mandatory Suspensions

There are certain mandatory suspensions for drivers under 21 years of age:

  • Hit and run or Leaving the scene of an accident
  • Racing on highways or streets
  • Speeding
  • Fleeing or Attempting to Elude
  • Reckless driving
  • Improper passing
  • Unlawful passing of a school bus
  • Aggressive driving
  • Driving Under the Influence

It can get worse

The suspensions for an under 21 driver are a minimum period of 6 months. In these scenarios, there is no limited permit for work or school available. If you get two or more of the more serious traffic tickets when you are under 21 years old, your license is suspended for a full 12 months. Thus, if you are a young driver charged with a traffic offense, it is imperative to have an attorney represent your interests in negotiating your case to a reduced charge that will not have the same affect on your driving privileges.

If you are a driver between the age of 15 and 17, Georgia law can be even more harsh. In addition to the above offenses that can suspend your license, even minor tickets can suspend your license when you are under 18 years old and still in high school. This is based on Georgia law that suspends young drivers’ licenses after only 4 points in a 12 month period. This can mean just 1 speeding ticket can suspend your license.

What’s next?

There are several options if you are a young driver in Georgia facing traffic offenses. Diversion programs allow young drivers to complete a driving course or community service in exchange for a dismissal of the ticket. Defense attorneys can negotiate with the prosecuting attorney to reduce the charge to fit within another charge that does not suspend your license or raise your insurance. If you or a young driver you know has been charged with a traffic ticket in Georgia, call us today for a free consultation. We have represented young drivers all over Metro Atlanta and Georgia with insurmountable success. 404-581-0999.

Georgia’s New Distracted Driving Law for Georgia Drivers

by Mary Agramonte

 

As you have probably heard, Georgia’s new law on Distracted Driving will become effective on July 1, 2018. Georgia’s legislature has made the use of a cell phone will driving illegal in response to an alarming rise of traffic fatalities and serious injuries from car accidents.

The new law will prohibit Georgia drivers from the following:

  • Holding a cell phone at all
  • Texting, reading/ sending emails, using internet
  • Watching or recording videos

The following use of electronic devices will still be allowed even under the new law:

  • Speaking/texting with voice based communication
  • Using an earpiece or Bluetooth to talk on the phone
  • Using a navigation or GPS app

The punishment under this new law will be fines, fees, and points. Specifically, for a first conviction in 24 months, you will face a fine of $50.00 which will not include any surcharges and taxes. A second conviction will increase to $100.00 plus court costs and surcharges.

While the cost is fairly slight for a traffic offense, there will be other repercussions of the law. If an officer sees you on the phone, he now has the ability to pull your vehicle over which in some cases could lead to more serious charges. For example, an officer who has lawfully pulled you over for using your phone can then observe an odor of alcohol coming from your vehicle which can then lead to a DUI arrest.

Overall, this bill is being enacted to save lives as talking and texting on a cell phone while driving places other drivers and pedestrians at risk. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, Georgia will now join the other 47 states that have already enacted laws prohibited texting and driving.

Atlanta Hit and Run Attorneys

by Mary Agramonte

Whenever you are in a car accident involving either property damage or personal injury, Georgia law provides that a driver is required to do the following things:

  • Give your name, address, and registration of the vehicle
  • Upon request, provide a driver’s license
  • Render reasonable aid to injured parties – such as transporting or making arrangements to transport a person to medical treatment if its apparent medical treatment is needed
  • Where person is unconscious, appears deceased, or is otherwise unable to communicate, you must make reasonable effort to ensure emergency medical service and police are contacted.

Under Georgia law, a driver involved in an accident must remain on scene until all four requirements are met. If a driver neglects one or more of the requirements, they can later be arrested and charged with the crime of Hit and Run.

Hit and Run under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-270 is one of the most serious traffic crimes to face. The Department of Driver Services classifies it as a “Major” violation which is in the same category of DUI, Vehicular Homicide, and Fleeing. Hit and Run can not only land you with probation and high fines, it will suspend your license, and can result in you facing jail time.

There are defenses to Hit and Run and ways to negotiate the case to significantly less serious offenses that will not result in jail or a suspended license. With experienced Georgia Hit and Run attorneys on your side, you can fight the case and keep your freedom and driving privileges. If you or someone you know has been involved in a Hit and Run, it is important to retain Hit and Run attorneys quickly. In some cases, an accomplished Hit and Run attorney can be proactive in negotiating lesser charges even before a surrender process. Call us today at 404-581-0999 for a FREE CONSULTATION with one of our knowledgeable Georgia Hit and Run attorneys.

Atlanta Entering Auto Attorney

by Mary Agramonte

Being arrested for any crime can be a stressful experience. Being arrested for Entering  Auto or Theft by Taking can be even more stressful based on the harsh consequences and the idea of facing a felony charge. If you or your loved one has been arrested for Entering Auto in the Atlanta area, it is important to know your rights and to have a team of lawyers behind you from the very beginning fighting for your freedom.

In Georgia, Entering Auto is a felony offense which carries one to five years in prison. If the person arrested for Entering Auto already has a felony on their record, then they could be facing a lengthier sentence. You can be charged with Entering Auto even if you never stole anything from within the vehicle. The crime is complete soon as you enter the car with the intent to commit a theft or felony. Unfortunately, it is not a defense that the owner of the car gave you permission to go in the car initially.

However, there is good news. If you have been arrested for Entering Auto, there are defenses based on lack of intent to commit the theft, and inability for the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. There are ways to avoid the felony conviction as well as the prison time. The judge has the discretion to even sentence you as a misdemeanor for this charge, so you need qualified attorneys ready to present your case in the most favorable way possible.

If you or a loved one has been charged with Entering Auto, it is imperative to get a team of criminal defense attorneys on your side. Having Atlanta Entering Auto attorneys can help you beat the case completely, or minimize the jail and fines. There are defenses to Entering Auto, so do not plead guilty without first talking to an Atlanta Entering Auto attorney. Call us today for a free consultation and know your rights as it relates to an Entering Auto case. 404-581-0999