Know Your Rights: What Police Can and Can’t Do in Searching an Automobile

Oftentimes, we get clients who have been pulled over by the police and ask to search their car. It’s important to know your rights and circumstances in which police can or cannot search your car.

  1. Probable Cause: Generally, police officers need probable cause to conduct a search of a vehicle without a warrant. Probable cause means that there is enough evidence to reasonably believe that a crime has been committed or that evidence of a crime can be found in the vehicle.
  2. Consent: If a police officer asks for consent to search a vehicle and the individual gives consent voluntarily, the officer can conduct the search without needing probable cause or a warrant. It’s important to note that you can not only refuse consent to the search, but you can also tell the officer which area(s) of the vehicle can and cannot be searched.
  3. Search Incident to Arrest: If a person is lawfully arrested, the police may search the area within the arrestee’s immediate control. In the case of a vehicle stop, this may include the passenger compartment of the vehicle, but not the trunk.
  4. Plain View: If a police officer sees evidence in the vehicle and it is immediately apparent that the evidence is something illegal, like narcotics, police can search and seize the evidence.
  5. Inventory Searches: If a vehicle is lawfully impounded, the police may conduct an inventory search of the vehicle’s contents.

If you’re pulled over call us immediately. Know your rights!

Following Too Closely – Traffic Lawyer

Fender benders happen all over Georgia every day. If you were involved in a car accident where your vehicle struck a vehicle in front of you, the police officer likely issued you a citation for Following too Closely, and gave you a court date to attend.

Georgia law states that drivers shall not follow another vehicle “more closely than is reasonable and prudent.” This means that causing a fender bender accident, or hitting the vehicle in front of you, is a violation of the Following too Closely law. On the other hand, an officer can issue a citation for Following too Closely even if there was no car accident. This occurs where a police officer observes you travelling too closely “than is reasonable and prudent” to the vehicle in front of you. Even with no accident, following another vehicle too closely is a sufficient legal basis for an officer to stop and investigate you and the vehicle.

Do I have to go to Court for a Following too Closely ticket?

In most courts in Georgia, a court appearance is required. In some cases, an attorney can appear on behalf of someone charged under this law.

What happens if I am charged or convicted with Following too Closely?

Following too Closely is a misdemeanor in Georgia. This means the maximum penalty is 12 months in jail and/or $1,000 fine plus court costs and fees. Additionally, if you plead guilty to Following too Closely, it will be reported to your Motor Vehicle Report and three (3) points will be assessed, and insurance can be notified. If a driver gets 15 points in a 2 year period, your Georgia driver’s license will be suspended. A Following too Closely citation can raise insurance rates.

What are the defenses in a Following too Closely case?

It is a jury question whether or not you followed the other vehicle “more closely than is reasonable and prudent.” An experienced lawyer can use this statute in negotiations with the prosecutors. Plea negotiations can occur where the Following too Closely charge gets reduced to a different violation that does not carry points, or get reported to your insurance. A jury trial, or a bench trial in front of the Judge, are options in a Following too Closely case in Georgia.

If you have been cited for Following too Closely and issued a citation, call us today for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999.

Drive Out Tags

When you buy a new (or new to you!) car in Georgia, the seller will typically provide you with a temporary tag for you to put on the new car while you register the vehicle and wait for a permanent license plate.

If you are stopped in Georgia with a temporary license plate and issued a citation related to the license plate/registration, you may have been stopped without cause.

Under Georgia law, the purchaser of a new or used vehicle may operate it with a temporary plate during the period within which the purchaser is required to register under law. The temporary plate must bear the dealer’s name, location, and an expiration date 45 days from the date of purchase. If a police officer stops you for having a temporary tag, under Georgia case law, this is an improper stop. The Georgia Court of Appeals held in a case called Hinton v. State that stopping a car with a drive-out tag solely to ascertain whether the driver is complying with the vehicle registration laws is not authorized. Instead, the police officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the driver is driving with an invalid drive-out tag.  That is, the officer must reasonably believe that the tag was altered, fake, or does not comply with the requirements above.

If you are stopped after buying a new car and the officer tells you he wanted to check your tags, his reason for stopping you is invalid, and if he gives you a citation for anything (even if it has nothing to do with your tags!) you may have a valid defense to the case or to have any evidence collected thrown out.

Municipal Court of Atlanta – Atlanta Move Over Attorney

Georgia’s “move over” law is designed to keep officers, emergency workers, and first responders safer when they are stopped on the side of the road with their emergency lights flashing. It was passed in 2003 to reduce the number of police officer and HERO fatalities that were occurring due to traffic crash responses. The law saves lives and makes sense, but unfortunately, too many Georgia motorists are unaware that it exists until they are slapped with a $500 fine.

If you have been issued a citation for violating the Move Over law in Atlanta either by Atlanta Police Department or Georgia State Patrol, your citation will be prosecuted by the City of Atlanta Solicitor. Your court date will be set at the Municipal Court of Atlanta at 150 Garnett Street in Atlanta, Georgia. In many instances, attorneys can appear on behalf of their clients for move over violation citations.

Under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-16, Georgia law requires drivers to move over to the next lane if safely possible when passing a stationary emergency vehicle, towing vehicle, or recovery vehicle when their lights are flashing. If moving over is absolutely impossible, the law requires you to slow down to below the speed limit but to be prepared to stop your car. Violations can result in a fine of $500 for the first offense. Once you factor in the court costs, however, this can put you well above $500, even if this was your first offense, and even if you had never heard of the law. Paying the fine on your citation means you are admitting you are guilty to the offense which raises a number of consequences.

A violation of this statute could cost you much more than the fine itself. A conviction for this traffic offense will also add 3 points to your driving record. A driver with 15 points in a 24 month period will have their license suspended. Points on your record also subject you to higher car insurance rates because your insurer believes you are more likely to file a claim than someone with lower points on their record. Getting just one traffic ticket can boost an average person’s auto insurance premiums by as much as 22 percent.

Additionally, violating Georgia’s move over law can be a basis for an officer to stop your vehicle which can lead to even more serious charges. Under both the Georgia and the United States Constitutions, an officer needs “reasonable articulable suspicion” to justify pulling your vehicle over for an investigative stop. Violating this statute gives the officers that power to stop you and investigate you, which ultimately can lead to a DUI arrest or the investigation of other potential and more serious crimes.

To avoid these repercussions of violating Georgia’s move over law, always drive attentively and don’t risk being pulled over or injuring the emergency workers on the side of road. If you see lights ahead, do all that you can to safely move over. If moving over safely is impossible, remember to slow down below the speed limit when passing emergency lights, and be prepared to stop. It can save lives, and it can save you money and the hassle.

If you have been cited with a violation of Georgia’s move over law, call our office and we can help you navigate the system. Our office has extensive experience in traffic violations and DUI defense. Fighting traffic tickets with an attorney’s help is important because any conviction on your record will greatly reduce the possibility of having future citations lowered or dismissed. Our firm can handle your traffic ticket case with the expertise you need to save your record. Give us a call for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.

Civil Forfeiture – What does it mean?

Unfortunately you got stopped by the police while driving and you had something in your car that was illegal that resulted in your arrest – maybe your stash of THC cartridges, some loose leaf marijuana, and the cash you had been saving up.  Your main concern is of course the pending criminal case against you, but did you know the state can also seize the drugs, cash and even your vehicle?

It’s called civil forfeiture, and it’s legal in Georgia under the Uniform Civil Forfeiture Procedure Act.  The State can seize any assets it claims were used in furtherance of the illegal activity.  So what do you do?  You need to protect yourself in the criminal case and also in the civil forfeiture case.  You’ll know your property has been seized because you’ll be given a Notice of Seizure either by the police at the time of your arrest, or recently after.  Timing is important here, because you have only 30 days to notify the prosecutor’s office that you are asserting a claim on the property.  During this time you’ll want to gather all the documentation you have to show that your seized property was not used in furtherance of the illegal activity.  This could be proof of purchase of the vehicle, pay stubs from your employer, etc.  A knowledgeable attorney can file the notice of your claim with the proper documentation, ensuring that it gets to the right people.

From there the State will serve an official document on you called a Complaint.  They must do so within 30 days of receiving the notice of your claim.  Once you have been served with the Complaint, you then have only 30 days to respond by filing what is called an Answer.  Once all the paperwork is submitted, the court will hold a bench trial, usually within 60 days, to determine if your property should be returned to you.

This is a multi-step, technical process, and our law firm can help you navigate it to get your property back.  If you’re facing a criminal case with civil forfeiture of your property, call the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Laying Drag

According to O.C.G.A. § 40-6-251, laying drag is defined as operating a vehicle “in such a manner as to create a danger to persons or property by intentionally and unnecessarily causing the vehicle to move in a zigzag or circular course or to gyrate or spin around.”

There are two exceptions to this law:

(1) If the driver lays drag as a necessary maneuver to avoid a collision, injury, or damage to their vehicle or person, they will not be prosecuted under this statute.


(2) If the driver is operating the vehicle in or on any raceway, drag strip, or similar place customarily and lawfully used for such purposes, it will not be construed as laying drag in accordance with O.C.G.A. § 40-6-251.

The State of Georgia has ample case law detailing how laying drag is made, and further, whether certain evidence of laying drag can constitute criminal conduct pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 40-6-251. For example, the following circumstances are not sufficient evidence to cite a driver for laying drag:

(1) It is not unlawful for a driver’s vehicle tires to cause smoke while he/she is making a turn, and it would not be sufficient evidence to prosecute a driver for laying drag.


(2) There also will not be enough evidence to prosecute a driver for laying drag if the only evidence of laying drag is the sound of an engine coupled with screeching tires. There must be additional evidence in order to prosecute a driver for laying drag.


The offense of laying drag will be characterized as a misdemeanor The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor in the State of Georgia is 12 months in custody, and a $1,000 fine.

In Georgia, laying drag also includes assessing three points on an accused person’s driver’s license. If he/she has assessed 15 or more points in any 24-month period, he/she will be at risk of a suspension of his/her driving privileges.

However, if the accused person is under the age of 18 these general rules are different. Drivers under the age of 18 will have their driver’s license suspended if they have accessed four or more points in any 12-month period. Thus, laying drag for a driver under the age of 18 can have much more serious consequences than drivers older than the age of 18.

Contact Us

Due to the severity of the penalties for laying drag, it is of vital importance to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who is knowledgeable of all possible options for an accused dealing with such serious allegations. At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, we are skilled at defending such charges. Therefore, if you or a loved one has been cited or arrested for laying drag, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Habitual Violator Conviction and License Suspension in Georgia

Being declared a habitual violator can have very long-term and harmful effects on drivers in Georgia. Habitual violator is a status that occurs when convicted of certain traffic offenses, and it results in an immediate five year license suspension. It is also an offense that goes onto a person’s criminal history and can even lead to felony charges and prison time.


Convictions arising from a single incident or separate incidents to any three of the following violations within a 5-year period, as measured from date of arrest will cause the driver to be declared an Habitual Violator in accordance with O.C.G.A. §40-5-58:


  • Homicide by Vehicle (1st Degree) as defined by O.C.G.A. §40-6-393 (a) or (b)


  • Homicide by Vehicle (2nd Degree) as defined by O.C.G.A. §40-6-393 (c)


  • Any felony in the commission of which a motor vehicle is used


  • Hit & Run – Leaving the scene of an accident as defined by O.C.G.A. §40-6-270


  • Racing on Highways or Streets as defined by O.C.G.A. §40-6-186


  • Using a Motor Vehicle in Fleeing or Attempting to Elude an Officer as defined by

O.C.G.A. §40-6-395


  • Operating a Motor Vehicle with a Revoked, Canceled, or Suspended Registration as

defined by O.C.G.A. §40-6-15


  • DUI and DUI Child Endangerment


  • Feticide by Vehicle (1st Degree) as defined by O.C.G.A. §40-6-393.1 (a) (1)


  • Serious Injury by Vehicle as defined by O.C.G.A. §40-6-394


All three offenses can be from the same incident, or on the other hand, can be still be counted if they occurred within a five-year period. For example, it is possible to become a Habitual Violator if convicted of DUI, Hit and Run, and Child Endangerment in one incident. However, even if you pled nolo contendere to Hit and Run five years ago, and are later charged on different dates for any of the above crimes, this too will trigger Habitual Violator status. In order for due process to be met, the State must comply with specific notice requirements to drivers as it relates to Habitual Violator status.


Even if you pled guilty in Court under Georgia’s First Offender Statute to the above offenses, the Department of Driver Services still counts it as a conviction. Likewise, a Nolo Contendere plea is also considered a conviction under this statute and will not save your license.


A person who is declared a Habitual Violator immediately undergoes a five-year long driver’s license suspension. There may be a limited permit available after first serving a two-year hard license suspension.


Can I get a limited permit after being declared a Habitual Violator?


A 3-year limited driving permit may become available after the first two year suspension so long as the person has not been convicted or pled nolo to any moving traffic offense in the two years prior to applying. An approved Defensive Driving course or Risk Reduction course is also required to obtain a probationary license. Additionally, the person applying for a limited permit must submit a sworn affidavit that he or she does not use alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs. In cases involving two or more DUIs, an Ignition Interlock is required to be installed on the vehicle for a period of 12 months. In order to be granted a probationary limited permit after being declared a Habitual Violator, it must be shown that the “refusal to issue such a permit would cause extreme hardship to the driver.”


So long as the above conditions are met, and a fee in the amount of $210.00 is paid, the probationary license may be issued by Georgia Department of Driver Services. These probationary limited permits may have restrictions that limit the specific places the licensee is allowed to drive, or the routes and times of travel, as well as the specific vehicle the licensee may operate.


What happens if I drive after being declared a Habitual Violator without a permit?


            Georgia law makes it a felony offense to drive while being declared a habitual violator. Under O.C.G.A. 40-5-58(c), if convicted of driving after being declared a habitual violator, the punishment is a minimum fine of $750, or 1 to 5 years in prison, or both. In order to be convicted of Felony Habitual Violator, the State must prove the offender was declared a habitual violator, was properly notified of that status, and that he or she operated a vehicle without having obtained a valid license. Georgia law does allow defense of Justification at trial in Habitual Violator cases.


            Similarly, if convicted for any of the above offenses, including DUI, after having been declared a habitual violator is a serious felony offense in Georgia that can carry prison sentences of up to five years and a base fine between $1,000 and $5,000 on top of any sentencing from the new crimes.


While driving as a Habitual Violator is a felony offense in Georgia, it is a misdemeanor offense to be convicted of any minor traffic offense, after having been given a probationary limited permit. A conviction for a traffic offense while on the probationary limited permit can carry fines and up to 12 months in jail.


Being declared a Habitual Violator in Georgia is the most serious of traffic and license issues you can encounter in Georgia. This is why it is important to be represented in all traffic cases as you can unknowingly become a Habitual Violator by paying tickets on any of the above offenses (even a Suspended Registration). The life-long consequences of being declared a Habitual Violator are severe, so make sure to have a Georgia traffic and criminal attorney advocate for you in such traffic cases. If you or a loved one has been arrested for Habitual Violator status, or any of the contributing crimes to Habitual Violator, call us today for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999.

Racing or Drag Racing Arrests and Citations in Atlanta, Georgia

Street racing is considered major traffic violation in Georgia. Throughout 2020, there was a significant increase in Street Racing and Laying Drag in Atlanta. In response, the Atlanta Police Department and Georgia State Patrol implemented a substantial coordinated effort to reduce street racing and laying drag on highways. According to the Atlanta Police Department, there were over 2,000 911 calls made between January and October 2020 to report street racing, or laying drag in Atlanta.[1] This blog will explain in detail the law on Racing in Georgia.


Racing on Highways or Streets, defined by O.C.G.A. § 40-6-186, means the use of one or more vehicles in an attempt to outgain, outdistance, or prevent another vehicle from passing, to arrive at a given destination ahead of another vehicle or vehicles, or to test the physical stamina or endurance of drivers over long-distance driving routes. Georgia law prohibits any vehicle on a highway or street to engage in any race, or speed competition. It is considered a misdemeanor criminal offense. Officers in Georgia can either issue a citation or make an arrest for Racing. After citation or arrest, there will be an arraignment hearing where you will be asked to enter a guilty or not guilty plea. During the course of the criminal case, there may be plea negotiations, a bench trial, or a jury trial.


What is the punishment for Racing in Georgia?


Since it is a misdemeanor offense, the maximum penalty is 12 months in jail for this charge.  In addition to Racing, the officer may also cite you with speeding and reckless driving, which each can carry another 12 month sentence consecutive. In addition to probation or jail, there will be insurance premium increases, and a mandatory license suspension. If you are convicted of Racing in Georgia, the license suspension is a minimum 120 days. A limited permit is an option that can be explored.


However, the driver’s license suspension could be much longer depending on any previous tickets on your motor vehicle report. This is because Racing is a contributing offense towards Habitual Violator status. For example, if in the past five years you were convicted of Suspended Registration, DUI, and Racing, it would be a five-year habitual violator suspension. (Check out our blog on Habitual Violator here: ___________). A skilled defense lawyer will evaluate your motor vehicle report to help advise you on license consequences as well as negotiate favorable resolutions where license suspension, points, and jail are always avoided where possible. Lastly, bench and jury trials are also an option in Racing and other traffic cases.


If you or a loved one has been cited or arrested for Racing in Atlanta, give us a call for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999. With increased focus throughout Atlanta on these types of charges, it is imperative to have an advocate in court if you are charged with Racing or Laying Drag in Georgia.

[1] Reckless Driving, Laying Drag, and Racing on Highways/Streets Charges Issued by APD

Laying Drag Arrests and Citations in Atlanta, Georgia

This past year saw a new illegal trend in Atlanta: Laying Drag. We saw it everywhere from local news coverage to live streamed social media posts of cars driven in a circular course while bystanders gathered to look on. In response to the increase in Laying Drag in Atlanta, the Atlanta Police Department and the Georgia State Patrol has cracked down by issuing hefty citations and making arrests for those involved. In fact, Atlanta Police Department has a specific street racing detail that “aggressively monitors and pursues” those involved in laying drag or street racing. Likewise, there has been a sharp increase in prosecutions for laying drag.


Under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-251, Georgia law prohibits drivers from operating their vehicle in a manner that creates a danger to persons or property by intentionally and unnecessarily causing the vehicle to move in a zigzag or circular course or to gyrate or spin around. Citations or arrests can be made if laying drag was on highways, streets, or even in parking lots.


The exception under Georgia law for driving in such a way is to avoid an accident or collision. Otherwise, laying drag in Georgia is a misdemeanor criminal offense. The penalty for misdemeanors in Georgia is jail time up to 12 months or a $1,000 fine, or both. Paying a ticket online or at court for laying drag is a guilty plea and admission of guilt.


If convicted of Laying Drags in Georgia, the Department of Driver Services will also assess 3 points onto your driver’s license. This can cause insurance premium increases and even a license suspension depending on what other citations you have on your record, or are given at the same time as Laying Drag. For example, most police officers will issue at a minimum BOTH a Laying Drag ticket simultaneously with a Reckless Driving ticket. Reckless Driving is a charge that is reported to your criminal history and would assess an additional 4 points on your motor vehicle report.


Given the increase in police patrols and news coverage on this type of driving behavior, it is imperative to have an attorney advocate for you in court if you are cited or arrested for laying drag. Skilled lawyers can negotiate favorable resolutions. Both bench trials and jury trials are an option in Laying drag cases. Give us a call today for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999 to discuss your case.

No Proof of Automobile Insurance in Georgia

Georgia law requires that drivers maintain minimum motor vehicle liability insurance. Additionally, drivers must carry proof of that insurance in their vehicle at all times. Georgia law does allow proof of insurance via electronic format or paper.


What is the Required Minimum Georgia Insurance Coverage?

  • Bodily Injury Liability: $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident
  • Property Damage Liability: $25,000 per accident

If you are pulled over driving a vehicle that does not have minimum insurance, you can be arrested or cited and charged with violating Georgia’s No Insurance statute under O.C.G.A. 40-6-10.  Georgia law requires that police officers determine if the driver has minimum insurance coverage every time the law enforcement officer stops a vehicle or requests driver’s license. You can be charged under this statute even if you were not the driver so long as you “authorized” someone to drive your vehicle without insurance.

What is the Penalty for Driving with No Insurance in Georgia?

Driving without insurance is a misdemeanor criminal offense that carries minimum fines and the possibility of 12 months in jail, or both. The minimum base fine for No Insurance is $200.00 and the maximum fine is $1,000.00.

Convictions for No Insurance will result in a license suspension.  On a first conviction, it is a 60 day license suspension, with no limited permit available. In order to reinstate after this suspension, you must pay a $210.00 reinstatement fee, show proof of having prepaid for six months of minimum insurance coverage, and maintain that policy for three years. On a second conviction within 5 years, it is a 90 day license suspension, the same prepaid policy requirements as the first, and a higher reinstatement fee of $310.00.


No Proof of Insurance in Georgia


Failure to keep proof of insurance in the vehicle is a separate charge from having no insurance at all.  If you in fact did have valid insurance at the time of the citation or arrest, the Judge must reduce the fine to $25.00 and not submit your license to be suspended. However, if you simply pay the fine on the No Proof of Insurance ticket, you will still incur the license suspension as if you had no insurance at all.


There are numerous defenses and mitigating factors if you or a loved one is charged with No Insurance or No Proof of Insurance in Georgia. Skilled lawyers can use new insurance policies in mitigation to try to have the Court reduce or dismiss the charge and sentence.


Paying a ticket on these offenses will result in license suspension, high fines, potential jail, and lengthy probation sentences. If you have been cited or arrested for No Insurance or No Proof of Insurance, call us today for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999.