Georgia’s Weed Laws: What’s Legal and What’s Not

 

In the recent past, marijuana laws have begun to enter a grey area in regards to legality. While it is still illegal Federally, many states have either relaxed or completely legalized marijuana use. Here is where Georgia stands:

  1. Medical Marijuana: Georgia’s stance on medical marijuana use is limited. Qualified patients with specific conditions like those suffering from severe seizures, certain forms of cancer, and terminal illness may possess cannabis oil with no more than 5% THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) if they have a valid registration card.
  2. Recreational Use: Recreational marijuana is still illegal in the state of Georgia.
  3. Cultivation and Distribution: cultivation, sale, and distribution of marijuana is all illegal for not only recreational purposes but also for medical purposes.
  4. CBD Products: CBD derived from hemp is actually legal at the federal level, and CBD products with very low THC content (less than 0.3%) are legal.
  5. Delta 8, etc: Delta-8 and Delta-9 are popular cannabinoids that do not contain THC, although many users report quasi-high effects similar to marijuana. As of now, these cannabinoids and their derivatives are legal under Georgia law.
  6. Penalties: Penalties for possession of marijuana vary based on the amount in possession as well as whether it is a first offense. Marijuana more than an ounce is considered a felony, whereas anything less than an ounce is a misdemeanor. Because of the variance, penalties can range from a simple citation to jail time and hefty fines.

If you’ve been arrested or cited for possession of marijuana, give our office a call TODAY.

Georgia’s New Law on Bail Bonds

Governor Brian Kemp recently passed a new law that will go into effect on July 1, 2024 radically changing how Georgia courts grant bonds.

What are the types of bonds in Georgia?

  • Unsecured Judicial Release (formerly known as “signature bonds”)
    • Bonds that require no money in order to be released
  • Cash bonds
    • Bonds requiring that cash must be paid in full to be released without use of a bonding company
  • Surety Bonds
    • Bonds posted by bonding companies who then charge the defendant a percentage of the bail amount set by the Judge
  • Property bonds
    • Use of real estate as collateral instead of paying the bond in cash

Unsecured Judicial Release (UJR Bonds) are routinely used in minor offenses in Georgia.  However, under Georgia’s new law, there are 30 new crimes, including 18 that are typically misdemeanors, that can no longer be granted Unsecured Judicial Release. Instead, the new additions to what are considered “bail restricted offenses” shall only be eligible for release through cash, surety or property bonds. To be put simply, you will now need cash to get out on bond for the below charges.

Georgia’s 30 New Crimes Now Considered “Bail-Restricted Offenses”

  1. Reckless stunt driving, 2nd or subsequent offense
  2. Promoting or organizing an exhibition of drag races or laying drags.
  3. Laying drags.
  4. Reckless driving, 2nd or subsequent offense
  5. Fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer.
  6. Obstruction of a law enforcement officer.
  7. Criminal trespass, 2nd or subsequent offense
  8. Theft by taking, 2ndor subsequent offense
  9. Theft by deception.
  10. Theft by extortion.
  11. Destruction, removal, concealment, encumbrance, or transfer of property subject to security interest.
  12. Purchase, possession, manufacture, distribution, or sale of controlled substances or marijuana.
  13. Exploitation and intimidation of disabled adults, elder persons, and residents or obstruction of an investigation.
  14. Voluntary manslaughter.
  15. Cruelty to animals.
  16. Violation of oath by a public officer.
  17. Financial transaction card fraud.
  18. Financial transaction card theft.
  19. Identity fraud.
  20. Racketeering and conspiracy.
  21. Trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude.
  22. Failure to appear, 2nd or subsequent offense.
  23. Domestic terrorism.
  24. Inciting to riot.
  25. Unlawful assembly.
  26. Possession of tools for commission of a crime.

These new crimes added to the list of “bail-restricted bonds” can no longer be granted an UJR bond and will require cash through a surety or a property bond in order to be released.

The new law will also require that no repeat offender, defined as someone who has been previously arrested for any felony within seven years, be granted an Unsecured Judicial Release, on any crime including very  minor offenses.

It also criminalize charities, nonprofits, and individuals who post more than three bonds a year. The law will require that these entities must submit to the same legal requirements of any professional bonding company.

This new law will take place July 1, 2024. Please call the Law Office of W. Scott Smith PC at 404-581-0999 if your loved one has been arrested and you have questions about obtaining a bond in Georgia.

I Violated Probation. What Now?

In Georgia, when someone violates probation for a misdemeanor offense, the consequences will vary depending on the circumstances of the alleged violation and the specific terms and conditions of the probation. The most common offenses for probation involve missing scheduled appointments with probation officers and testing positive for a substance that the probationer is to cease using per the original probation conditions (usually illegal drugs and alcohol). There are two main outcomes: 1) you can agree to the terms that probation recommends in the sentencing or 2) hold a hearing in front of a judge. Generally speaking, probation recommends revoking a certain amount of time on probation meaning if probation is recommending to revoke 30 days, then the probationer would spend 30 days in custody. The second option is to hold a hearing. During this hearing, the attorney generally argues for a less harsh sentence, minimizing additional jail time and other extra conditions that may be imposed. It’s important that if you violate probation, you contact our office IMMEDIATELY to handle your case.

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!

Failure to Maintain Lane: A Cop’s Most Used Weapon in DUI’s

In the State of Georgia, police officers can use the offense of “failure to maintain lane” as a tool to initiate a traffic stop and potentially investigate a driver for suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI). This offense occurs when a driver fails to stay within their lane while driving on the road.

When a police officer observes a vehicle crossing lane lines, or exhibiting other signs of erratic driving that may indicate impairment, they can use this as reasonable suspicion to pull the driver over. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-48 states that “a vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane.” It prohibits drivers from leaving their lane until they have determined that a lane change can be made safely. NOTE: weaving within your lane is NOT a failure to maintain lane- the vehicle must cross or touch lane lines. Once the vehicle is stopped, the officer may then proceed with further investigation, which could include administering field sobriety tests or breathalyzer tests to determine if the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

It’s important to note that while failure to maintain lane can be a legitimate reason for a traffic stop, officers must still follow proper procedures and have reasonable suspicion of DUI to detain and arrest a driver. This means they must observe additional signs of impairment beyond just the lane deviation. It is usually accompanied by “bloodshot eyes”, or “odor of alcohol.” If you get pulled over for a DUI, call us immediately.

 

What Does It Mean If I Have Been Charged With “DUI Less Safe”?

It is commonly known that driving with a BAC above 0.08 is considered driving under the influence in Georgia. But, the police may still charge you with DUI if your BAC is below 0.08 if they feel that you are less safe to drive than you would have been if you had not consumed alcohol.

O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391 (a)(1) states that “a person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any moving vehicle while under the influence of alcohol to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive”. This simply means that you may still be charged, and convicted of, DUI even if your BAC registers at a level below 0.08.

If you have been charged with DUI less safe, it is important that you hire an experienced DUI attorney to fight to protect your driver’s license and to prevent the long-term consequences that come with a DUI conviction. The lawyers at W. Scott Smith are experienced with the nuances associated with a DUI case and will work to protect you and resolve your case with the best possible outcome. Call our office at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Pre-trial Diversion: What Is It?

Pre-trial diversion programs aim to provide individuals with an opportunity to address underlying issues that may have contributed to their involvement in a certain crime. It’s essentially an alternative pathway that allows for charges to be dismissed upon the completion of the program.

 

  • Eligibility: Not everyone is eligible. Pre-trial diversion programs are reserved for people in more minor offense crimes without an extensive criminal history.
  • Participation: If accepted, clients agree to participate in activities that include community service, drug and/or alcohol counseling, and educational programs like anger management classes or victim impact panels.
  • Supervision: Generally, participants are supervised by a case manager. If you are enrolled in a pre-trial diversion program, it is important to keep your case manager updated on any classes you’ve completed, or community service hours completed.
  • Consequences of failure: failure to comply with the program or committing another offense can result in reinstatement of the criminal charge and further prosecution.
  • Benefits: the main benefit of pre-trial diversion is to avoid criminal conviction. If you complete the program, your case and all the charges associated with the case are generally dismissed by the court. The program also provides an opportunity to rehabilitate behavior that could lead to further criminal convictions related to the original, underlying crime.

 

In general, pre-trial diversion programs offer a viable and attractive option for individuals who do not want a case to go to trial but want the charges dismissed by the court.

License Consequences for DUI Convictions in the Municipal Court of Atlanta

By: Attorney Erin Dohnalek

In Georgia, an individual may be charged with DUI under the following circumstances:

  • If he/she was in actual physical control of a moving vehicle while he/she was under the influence of alcohol to an extent that it was less safe for them to drive.
  • If he/she was in actual physical control of a moving vehicle while he/she was under the influence of any drug to an extent that it was less safe for them to drive.
  • If he/she was in actual physical control of a moving vehicle while he/she was under the influence of a combination of any two or more controlled substances, which does include alcohol, to an extent that it was less safe for them to drive.
  • If he/she was in actual physical control of a moving vehicle while his/her alcohol concentration was .08 grams or more, or at any time within three hours after such driving ended.
  • If he/she was in actual physical control of a moving vehicle while there was any amount of marijuana or a controlled substance, as defined by O.C.G.A § 16-13-21, present in his/her blood or urine.

If an accused is convicted of a DUI in the Municipal Court of Atlanta, pursuant to O.C.G.A § 40-6-391, his/her license will be suspended. This is a mandatory suspension required by the Department of Driver’s Services. The length of the suspension is decided by how many prior DUI convictions he/she has had in the last five years. Those suspensions are as follows:

  • If the accused has not had a prior DUI conviction in the last five years:
    • The suspension will be for a period of 120 days.
    • During that suspension, the accused will be eligible for a limited permit to drive if he/she is a resident of Georgia, and he/she has not had a prior DUI conviction in the last five years.
    • After the 120-day license suspension, the accused will be eligible to get their permanent license back if he/she has completed a Risk Reduction Course, otherwise known as DUI school, and paid a $210 reinstatement fee.
  • If this is the second DUI conviction in the last five years for the accused:
    • The suspension will be for a period of 18 months.
    • For the first 4 months of the suspension, there will be a hard suspension with no eligibility for a limited permit. This means for the first 4 months, he/she will not be able to drive.
    • After the first 4 months, he/she may be issued a limited permit if he/she installs an ignition interlock in their vehicle.
    • After the full 18 months, the accused will be able to reinstate their permanent license if he/she has completed a substance abuse evaluation, and recommended treatment, and has shown proof of that completion to the Department of Driver’s Services.
  • The most serious license suspension happens to drivers who have been convicted of a third DUI in the last five years.
    • If that occurs, the driver will be considered a Habitual Violator.
    • This will require a 5-year license suspension, and there is no eligibility for a limited permit.
    • Only after two years can an accused be eligible for a probationary license to drive.
    • It is very important that the accused not drive if he/she is a Habitual Violator, as he/she could be arrested for a felony, if caught driving, that carries at least one year in jail.

Contact Us

Due to the severity of the license suspension consequences of a DUI conviction, it is of vital importance to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney about your case. At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our lawyers are trained to know every aspect of defending a DUI, we understand the defenses to the charge, we take pride in advocating for our clients’ constitutional rights, and we detail all options for our clients when defending their case. If you or a loved one has been charged with DUI in Atlanta, and you are worried about the license consequences associated with a conviction, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Georgia DUI

When you are pulled over for suspicion of a DUI, the officer will conduct a test called “horizontal gaze nystagmus” or HGN for short. This is the test where an officer will ask you to follow either their finger or a pen to see if the eyes involuntarily jerk or twitch as your eyes move laterally.

The test must be done correctly. The officer must place the stimulus (usually a pen or their finger) 12 to 15 inches away from your nose and slightly above eye level. Then the officer must move the stimulus in a stage consisting of 14 passes. The first stage of passes has the officer moving the stimulus from left to right to center for at least two seconds to check or equal tracking of the pupils.

The second stage has the officer place the stimulus from the center position to your left and back to the center. They will repeat this for the right eye. The stimulus should be moved at a speed that takes at least two seconds from the center position to the side position.

The third stage of passes is designed to determine whether the person has distinct nystagmus at the point in which your eye is fully moved to one side and cannot move any further. The stimulus moves from center to the side taking at least two seconds, holding at the side for at least four seconds, and then moved back to the center in at least two seconds.

The final stage is a set of four passes designed to determine if the onset nystagmus occurs before your eye moves to a 45-degree deviation. It must take at least four seconds to move the stimulus from your center to a spot around your shoulder. The stimulus must be held long enough to confirm the onset nystagmus. Each of the passes in this phase must take at least eight seconds, with a three second count out, a two second count hold, and a three second count back.

 

It is vital to note that the entirety of the HGN test must take AT LEAST 82 seconds- usually around 90 seconds. If the officer is well under that time, then they employed the test incorrectly and the HGN test can be excluded from any evidence that could indicate potential impairment. The stimulus must also remain in the 12 to 15 inch range from your nose and its path cannot loop or curve. If it does, then the officer did not administer the test properly. If you’re pulled over for a DUI, make sure you know the process for HGN evaluation and call our office today.

I take prescription medication. Can I drive?

The short answer is “it depends.” Most people correlate DUI conviction with alcohol. However, you can still be convicted of a DUI without having any alcohol in your system. Generally speaking, any sort of prescription medication that impairs and affects your driving could be the reason of a police officer stopping you. Typical prescription drugs that could lead to a DUI arrest are Xanax, certain antihistamines, sleep aids, and antidepressants. However, it is the burden of the State and the prosecutor to show that someone who takes prescription medicine is incapable of driving without being impaired.  If you are prescribed prescription medicine, consult with your doctor to determine if it would impair your driving and never take more than the prescribed dose.