Georgia Criminal Law – Preliminary Hearings

Defendants held in custody without bond are entitled to a preliminary hearing under Georgia law. Preliminary hearings are a vital pre-trial proceeding where the defendant has an opportunity to be released from custody if the State cannot prove the existence of probable cause for the charges against the defendant. This adversarial proceeding affords the defendant the chance to cross examine the State’s witnesses and present evidence negating probable cause.

If the presiding judge determines probable cause exists for one or more charges, the case is then “bound over” to the trial court. If not, the charges have been dismissed[i]. This article will outline the laws governing preliminary hearings, the standard of proof, rules of evidence, role of the judge, and guidelines for how such hearings should be conducted.

What is a Preliminary Hearing?

Also called committal hearings, commitment hearings, or probable cause hearings, preliminary hearings are a post-arrest, pre-indictment, pre-trial hearing to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to justify detaining a defendant on the charges against him/her.

The State bears the burden of proving the existence of probable cause. The defendant has an opportunity to challenge the State’s case and argue for their release due to a lack of sufficient evidence justifying a probable cause determination. The defendant gets a sneak peek at the evidence in the case and the prosecutor has the chance to assess the strength or weakness of a given case.

Right to a Hearing

Although there is no Federal or Georgia constitutional right to such a hearing, Georgia statute O.C.G.A. § 17-7-20 provides for this right. The right to a preliminary hearing is waived, however, if the defendant posts bond on the case and is released from custody.

Preliminary hearings are conducted after a “reasonable” time is afforded to the State and defense to prepare for the hearing. If a defendant is deprived of their right to a preliminary hearing a reviewing court may grant habeus corpus relief.

Right to an Attorney

The preliminary hearing is a “critical stage” of the criminal process under the 6th Amendment and therefore defendants are entitled to the assistance of counsel. A defendant cannot be forced to proceed without an attorney if there is a reasonable probability of obtaining counsel without great delay. A defendant may testify at the preliminary hearing but should be cautious because the statement could be used against him/her at trial.

The Judge’s Role

At the preliminary hearing, the judicial officer shall:

  • Explain the purpose of the hearing
  • Inform the defendant of their rights
  • Ask the defendant if they intend to enter a plea or otherwise waive their right to the hearing
  • Make a probable cause determination for each charge
  • Maintain a record of the proceeding
  • Make rulings on objections by either party
  • Provide a record of the outcome to the appropriate court

The rules of evidence apply at a preliminary hearing with the exception of hearsay evidence. Further, the right to confront witnesses under the 6th amendment does not apply as this is a trial right.

Contact Us

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

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Although the State may later try to indict the earlier dismissed charge via grand jury proceeding.

Understanding Computer Theft Crime in Georgia

In response to a growing number of computer-related crimes in both the government and private sectors, the State of Georgia enacted the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act (Act), O.C.G.A. §16-9-90 et. seq. The Act establishes four criminal offenses, all major felonies, for violations of the Act: Computer Theft, Computer Trespass, Computer Invasion of Privacy, and Computer Forgery.

 

Computer Theft is defined as when any person who uses a computer or network with knowledge that such use is without authority and with the intention of either taking property of another; obtaining property by any deceitful means or artful practice; or converting property to such person’s use in violation of an agreement to make a specified application or disposition of such property.

 

Courts have held that there is sufficient evidence of computer theft when the defendant used a computer, owned by her employer, with knowledge that such use was without authority, and with intention of removing programs or data from that computer and appropriating them for her own use.

 

However, courts have held there was no criminal theft where an employee got on his employer-owned computer, printed out e-mails, and used the e-mails for a competing business while still employed. The Court held that the use of the computer was not without authority and so he cannot be guilty of the computer theft crime. See Sitton v. Print Direction, Inc., 312 Ga. App. 365 (2011).

 

The State of Georgia vigorously prosecutes these types of cases. If someone is found guilty of computer theft, the maximum penalty is a $50,000 fine or 15 years in prison, or both. In most situations, if someone is charged with computer theft, there may be enough facts to also charge them with the other computer crimes like computer trespass and computer forgery, which can increase the sentencing if convicted.

 

If you or a loved one has been charged with a computer crime in Georgia, call the Law Office of W. Scott Smith for a free consultation at 404-581-0999. An aggressive criminal defense team can investigate and raise numerous defenses in Computer Crime and Computer Theft cases, and can protect you through the criminal justice system.

Georgia Arrest Bond Information

In Georgia, every person arrested on criminal charges is entitled to a bail bond hearing to determine if the judge will set bond on their case. A bond is essentially collateral, which secures a promise, once released from custody, to appear in court for future court dates. There are many different forms of bonds that a judge can grant. Some include, but are not limited to, signature bonds, surety bonds, cash bonds, or property bonds.

If a person is arrested in the state of Georgia and taken into custody, he/she must be brought before a magistrate judge within 72 hours of arrest. The purpose of this appearance is to discuss the issue of bond. The judge must consider whether the accused is a flight risk; a threat to themselves or the community; has the potential to commit other crimes while their case is pending; as well as the possibility the accused, if released, will intimate any potential witnesses. Other factors that the judge may consider in granting or denying bond include, but are not limited to:

  • Nature of the crime allegedly committed;
  • Circumstances surrounding the alleged crime;
  • Weight of the evidence against the accused;
  • Past criminal history of the accused;
  • Community ties;
  • Family ties;
  • Mental history of the accused;
  • History of failing to appear;
  • Source of bail funds

The judge does have discretion to deny bond for an accused if they find it necessary to do so in order to protect the community, the victim, or to ensure that the accused appears at his/her future court dates. If the accused is denied bond, this means that he/she will not be released and must be confined during the pendency of their case or while awaiting trial. However, a person who has been denied bond or who otherwise would like to have their bond amount reduced does have options in the meantime. The accused may file for a reconsideration of bond, or in some cases where bond was denied, the accused may request a preliminary hearing, which will determine whether there was (1) probable cause to arrest the accused and (2) to revisit the issue of bond. This allows a second chance for the accused to argue that he/she should be released pending the disposition of their case.

Due to the complexity of bond hearings, as well as the possibility that the accused will spend months in custody pending trial, it is of vital importance to hire a seasoned criminal defense attorney who understands the factors the judge is considering when determining bond, has vast experience with such hearings, and tirelessly advocates for their clients and their constitutional rights. Here, at the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, we do just that. Therefore, if you are under investigation and are potentially facing a future arrest for which bond may be necessary, or a loved one is currently in custody on a pending criminal charge, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

How to Post a Cash Bond at the Fulton County Jail

If your loved one is in the Fulton County Jail with a bond posted, here is how you can post a cash bond to get them released. 

  1. Go to the jail with your UNEXPIRED license/identification card (must be over the age of 18) and the amount required on the posted bond in EXACT CHANGE. To get the exact amount with all the additional fees included, you can call the jail beforehand with the inmate’s name and date of birth. You can also check the bond amount at www.cashbondonline.com
  • Once the jail has verified your identity and the payment has been received, the jail will start the release process. This process can take from a couple minutes to a couple hours because the process depends on a lot of factors such as their workload and checking for any holds. 
  • As long as there are no holds on the inmate, the payment will secure the release of the inmate. 
  • The bond amount paid will not be returned to you until the entire court case for the defendant is over.

Link to the Fulton Bonding Website: http://www.fultonsheriff.org/bonding-agencies.html

Georgia Criminal Law – Types of Bail Bonds

In Georgia criminal cases you are allowed to get a bond in order to be released from custody. Getting a bond is essentially assuring that you will attend all the mandatory court appearances with an amount of money that the Judge sets for you. A Judge will determine your eligibility of bond with factors such as past criminal history, risk of fleeing, employment history, and whether the defendant has close ties in the community – also referred to as Ayala Factors.

In Georgia, there are 4 types of bond that you can get set:

  • Signature
  • Property
  • Cash
  • Surety

A signature bond is often granted to defendants if their charge is minor or if it is their first time committing a crime. This type of bond typically does not require the defendant to pay any kind of money, and the defendant is allowed to go free as long as they sign a document promising to show up to all of their mandatory court appearances.  In Fulton County, the t majority of bonds we acquire for our clients on non-murder or domestic violence cases are signature bonds.  The key to a signature bond in Fulton County is to be cooperative and compliant with a Fulton County pretrial release officer.

A property bond requires the defendant to use their property such as the title to your car or real estate as collateral instead of paying the bond with money. Typically, the value of the property should be about twice as high as the bail amount the Judge set in order for it to be accepted as collateral. This type of bond can be complicated because you need an appraiser to calculate the value of the property.  In Fulton, Dekalb, Gwinnett and Cobb Counties you can use more than one property as long as the properties are located in Georgia.

A cash bond is often set for defendants who are deemed as “high-risk”. This type of bond does not allow for you to use a bail agent, and you must pay the entire amount that the Judge sets in cash. If you pay the bail amount and do not show up to your court date, the money will be forfeited to the court. Most counties have a 10 percent option but you must ask the judge setting the bond to include the 10 percent bond language in the order.

Lastly, a surety bond is a bond that you can use a bail agent/bail bondsman for the amount that the judge sets. In this case, the bail agent/bail bondsmen company will agree to pay the bail money and charge the defendant with a fee, which is typically about 10 percent of the bail amount the judge sets.  

Clayton County Family Violence Battery – Georgia Criminal Defense Attorney

A conviction for Family Violence Battery in Georgia can have consequences that go far beyond a conviction for other misdemeanors.   The State of Georgia, as a whole, has taken a stand against domestic violence.  There are domestic violence task forces across the State, and specialized prosecuting units. Every day we see the impact that family violence arrests have on Georgia’s criminal justice system. Police are told across the State to make arrests for Family Violence Battery if there is any evidence it occurred. Evidence, unfortunately, can be one-sided and be the result of a false allegation.  

For those who have been arrested for family violence, there may be feelings of anxiety and stress as it relates to the potential impact the case will have. Jail time, a criminal history, and forfeiture of firearms for life are all very real concerns when facing Family Violence Battery charges in Georgia. An arrest is not a conviction, and there are options in the criminal process for your Family Violence case.

In order to be prosecuted for Family Violence Battery, the State must prove that the alleged victim falls within the statutory definition for “Household Members or Family.”

Under O.C.G.A. § 16-5-23.1, this includes past or present spouses, persons who are parents of the same child, parents and children, stepparents and stepchildren, foster parents and foster children, or other persons living or formerly living in the same household.

            The State must also prove that there was either “substantial physical harm” OR “visible bodily harm” in a Family Violence Battery case in order to get convicted of the crime.

What happens after a Family Violence Arrest in Clayton County?

First, the person arrested for Family Violence Battery will have their booking photo and finger prints taken and then will be ordered into the Clayton County Detention Center. The booking process, through fingerprints, creates the official criminal history that is then made public. After the booking process, the person arrested for Family Violence will see a Judge in their First Appearance hearing. This is where Bond will be addressed.

In order to get out on bond in a Family Violence case, the Judge must find several factors to be true. The Judge must find that the person accused of Family Violence Battery:

(1) Poses no significant risk of fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court or failing to appear in court when required;

(2) Poses no significant threat or danger to any person, to the community, or to any property in the community;

(3) Poses no significant risk of committing any felony pending trial; and

(4) Poses no significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice.

These are referred to in Georgia as the ‘Ayala Factors’ based on the criminal case that first laid out what must be proven in order to get out on bond in a criminal case. Ayala v. State, 62 Ga. 704 (1993).  Retaining an attorney immediately at arrest means having representation at what many people view as the most important step: getting out of jail as soon as possible. A skilled attorney will do an investigation into the case  and allegations and put forth the best possible argument to have their client released on pretrial bond in their Family Violence case.

In a Family Violence case, the Judge may order certain requirements in order to be allowed out on bond. For example, the Judge can order domestic violence classes, or for the accused to not have any weapons while out on bond. We see in most domestic violence cases, if the person is not represented at First Appearance, that the Judge will issue a No Contact provision and Stay Away Order. This means that once the person is released, they are not allowed in many cases return to their home, or speak to the parent of their child or their husband or wife. This is something that in most cases can be avoided through proper investigation and preparation for a bond hearing.

What is the potential punishment for Family Violence Case in Clayton County?

            The punishment for a family violence case is codified at O.C.G.A. § 16-5-23.1 and the maximum penalty is the same across the State of Georgia. On a first conviction for Family Violence Battery, there is a maximum penalty of 12 months in custody and a $1,000 fine. Keep in mind, that the maximum penalty can be greatly increased based on what the State charges via the Accusation. For example, if there is one count of Family Violence Battery, one count of Simple Assault, and one count of Disorderly Conduct, and the charges all based on different conduct, the maximum penalty in that case would be three years to serve. A second or subsequent conviction with the same family member (as classified above) or another family member results in a felony conviction with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.   

While a first lifetime conviction of Family Violence Battery appears to be just a misdemeanor, there are several collateral consequences that do always appear at first glance.  For instance, under Federal law, any person convicted of a crime of domestic violence can no longer lawfully possess a firearm.   Georgia’s classification of Family Violence Battery falls within the Federal definition of “domestic violence.”  Thus, a Georgia citizen who has a conviction of Family Violence Battery can no longer possess a firearm without the possibility of facing criminal charges in Federal court. This is a permanent forfeiture of your ability to carry a weapon.

In addition, while the maximum includes 12 months in custody and a $1,000 fine, many Judges throughout the State will require individuals convicted of Family Violence Battery to serve time on probation in lieu of jail time, with the conditions of completing a domestic violence program.  These programs go by several different names, but they generally include 24 weeks of classes, counseling, and program fees that are no included in the fine levied by the Judge.  In addition, Judges can add community service, counseling requirements, fines, and alcohol and drug evaluations.  It is important to know that all of these things can be negotiated by your attorney.

Keep in mind: an arrest is NOT a conviction. Just because you have been arrested for Family Violence in Clayton County or any county in the State, does NOT mean you will be ultimately convicted, and have to face the criminal history implications and criminal punishment. As in all criminal cases, there are numerous defenses and options to resolve cases short of a guilty plea!

Being charged with Family Violence Battery can be a stressful event in anyone’s life.  At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our lawyers are trained to explore the legal issues with every Family Violence Battery case.  We are aware of all the possible options available to avoid jail time and to protect your criminal history and ultimately your privacy.  If you or a loved one has been charged with Family Violence Battery, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Georgia Probation Bond Attorney

As the ever-changing circumstances of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to be reported, Chief Justice Harold Melton of the Supreme Court of Georgia declared a statewide judicial emergency due to the spread of the coronavirus throughout Georgia “and the potential infection of those who work in or are required to appear in our courts.”

The order says courts should prioritize matters such as cases “where an immediate liberty or safety concern is present requiring the attention of the court as soon as the court is available.”  We take this to mean bond hearings and first appearance hearings will go on and our firm will be present for these hearings. 

During times like this, probation violation hearings become complicated. Assuming you cannot hire a lawyer, the first thing you can do is call your probation officer and ask them to sign for a “consent to a probation bond”, which is typically rare, but we have been successful of late in Fulton, Cobb and Clayton counties in getting in touch with our client’s probation officers.  Then the challenge is to speak to a Judge and prosecutor to present a consent order. We have recently been successful in doing this and getting a signature bond for one of our clients in Fulton and Cobb counties. In one instance we were able to get a Cobb County Probation Officer to withdraw the warrants where we were able to show proof client paid his outstanding fees.  We can also file a motion for a probation bond. (See a sample of our motion for probation bond below).  Although therese are rare if the violation is not serious Judges are more likely to grant a probation bond than prior to the emergency we currently find ourselves in.

Although courts are closed for non-essential hearings, hearings on probation bond are still taking place. I can assure you that our firm remains dedicated to our founding principles of client service, respect, and integrity. We are still working hard to fight for your case and will continue to do so, despite these times. Know that you can count of the same level of quality delivered by the professionals you know and trust, as you always have.  Should you have a probation revocation warrant or a loved one in custody on a probation revocation in Fulton County, Cobb County, Dekalb County, Gwinnett County, Cherokee County, or Forsyth County please call us today at 404-581-0999.

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.

What do you do if you are arrested for possession with intent or trafficking in drugs in Georgia?

If you or a loved one is arrested for Possession with Intent to Distribute or Trafficking in Georgia, it is important that you act immediately to protect yourself. Do not wait until your court date to get an attorney and to preserve evidence.

The District Attorney has a dedicated division to prosecute cases involving Possession with Intent to Distribute or Trafficking. They will vigorously prosecute you if you are charged with a crime involving selling cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, marijuana or other illegal drugs.   

Do not think that just because you are innocent that the charges will be dismissed. Drug charges are aggressively prosecuted all over the State of Georgia.

Make sure your attorney has had felony jury trials and has won these cases. Do not let an attorney handle your case who does not specifically handle drug cases. Many drug cases are won at a motions hearing. It is imperative that you get body cams, dash cams, search warrants and take witness statements of anyone involved in the search and seizure of the drugs.  

The law may say you are presumed innocent but in drug cases, you have to prove your innocence.

Here is what you should do if arrested for Possession with Intent to Distribute or Trafficking.

  1. Hire an attorney – Make sure that attorney actually handles and tries drug cases. Most criminal defense attorneys do not handle these cases. Make sure the attorney you talk to does regularly handles drug cases in Georgia
  2. Avoid making any statements – Do not walk into the police department and profess your innocence. The police will not believe you. Do not think you can show up at your first court date and tell the prosecutor and judge that you are innocent and expect the charges to be dropped. If you are arrested for possession with intent to distribute or trafficking, you have to start preparing for your jury trial. Do not make any statements to anyone except your lawyer.
  3. Start gathering important evidence
    1. Gather and preserve any physical evidence in your possession.
    1. Gather and preserve any documents that might relate to this accusation including emails, texts, social media, phone records, GPS records, computer records or any other document that might show where you were when this incident allegedly occurred.
    1. Witnesses – Immediately make a list of any person who you think might have information about this accusation. Do not discuss the case with this person but pass this list of potential witnesses to your attorney and let your attorney contact them.

Here is what you should never do if arrested for possession with intent to distribute or trafficking in Georgia.

  1. Never talk to law enforcement or the prosecutor without an attorney.

If you are arrested for possession with intent to distribute or trafficking in cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine or any other illegal drug, please call our office 24/7 at 404-581-0999 or send us an email at mike@peachstatelawyer.com. We will sit down with you and fully discuss your case and what to expect in court. There is no charge for the initial consultation. You will only retain us if you feel we are the best law firm to represent you. It is your case and your life so you need to hire the lawyer that you feel gives you the best chance to win.

Fulton County Rice Street Jail Bond – What You Need to Know

If you have been arrested in Fulton County by one of the county’s municipalities you may be transported to the Fulton County jail for a bond hearing.  These municipalities include the following: Alpharetta, Atlanta, Chattahoochee Hills, College Park, East point, Fairburn, Hapeville, Johns Creek, Milton, Mountain Park, Palmetto, Roswell, Sandy Springs, South Fulton, and Union City. This is a brief informational to explain what to expect.

First Thing to Know

To be on the calendar for bond consideration the day after your arrest you must finished being booked into the Fulton County Jail no later than 2 a.m.  So, for clients turning themselves in we recommend you turn yourself in directly to the jail no later than 6 pm in order to make the calendar the following day.  The court runs six days a week; no court on Sunday.

If you are charged with a misdemeanor you will have court at 9:00 a.m.

If you are charged with a felony you will have court at 11:00 a.m.

Visitor Rules

The Court does allow for visitors.  However, there are certain rules to abide by.  You are not allowed to bring electronics into the jail, including cell phones.  No smart watches are allowed either.  The Fulton County jail does not permit you to wear open toed shoes or bring in a purse or handbag, so leave it in your car.  You must bring with you a valid Georgia ID, and note that the jail will sometimes run your criminal record for warrants while going to first appearance.  If you are a victim in the criminal case the judge will acknowledge your presence.

Will I get a bond?

Factors the judge will consider in whether to grant a bond include:  

(1) Poses no significant risk of fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court or failing to appear in court when required;

(2) Poses no significant threat or danger to any person, to the community, or to any property in the community;

(3) Poses no significant risk of committing any felony pending trial; and

(4) Poses no significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice.

The trial court must explain its reasons for denying bond to assist appellate review. The granting or denial of bail will not be set aside unless there is a manifest and flagrant abuse of discretion.

How Much Will It Cost?

When fixing the amount of bail, the judge is to consider chiefly the probability that the accused, if freed, will appear at trial; other factors to be considered include the accused’s ability to pay, the seriousness of the offense, and the accused’s character and reputation.

If a lawyer is at your bond hearing, your chances of getting a bond are significantly increased. That’s why, when you or a loved one is in custody at Fulton county jail, contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Don’t miss your chance at bonding out.

Call us at (404) 581-0999 to speak with our experienced defense lawyers and get a lawyer at a bond hearing as early as today.