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.

Decriminalized weed does not mean legal weed

Some cities in Georgia, including Atlanta, have decriminalized the possession of less than an ounce of weed. However, it is still very much illegal in the state of Georgia. So, what does that mean? It means that police officers and prosecutors have a choice; they can charge you with a city ordinance violation OR a violation of state law. The difference is the penalty. In Atlanta, the city ordinance violation for possession of weed less than one ounce is a $75 fine. The state law violation is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 12 months to serve and a $1,000 fine.

Any drug charge can have serious consequences, even simple weed charge. For example, it can affect your job, housing, or driving privileges. If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug offense it is important to have a knowledgeable advocate on your side. Call for a free consultation today.

Teen and Young Adult Traffic Tickets in Georgia

By: Mary Agramonte, W. Scott Smith PC

If you are a high school or college aged student with a traffic ticket pending in Georgia, it is important to note that young drivers have much different penalties in traffic court than adult drivers. There are several traffic citations in Georgia that can have harsh consequences to those convicted if under the age of 21.

The following offenses will suspend a driver’s license if the driver is under the age of 21 at the time of the conviction:

  • Speeding 24-mph or more over the limit
  • Hit and Run
  • Racing
  • Fleeing or Attempting to Elude
  • Reckless Driving
  • Improper Passing on a Hill or a Curve
  • Unlawful Passing of a School Bus
  • Driving under the Influence
  • Aggressive Driving

In addition to the offenses listed above, if the driver is under the age of 18, accumulating 4 or more points in any 12-month period will also suspend driving privileges. This can occur by being cited in two separate incidents. For example, if a driver is first convicted of Following too Closely at one point, and within the year, a minor speeding ticket, this would put the teen driver over four points, thereby suspending his or her license.

Simply paying the ticket and not attending court is considered a conviction and will count towards the points accumulation.

In the above scenarios, there is no limited permit available for driving privileges. The State will issue a minimum 6-month license suspension. There is one exception to that rule: if the driver is convicted of driving 24-mph over the speeding ticket, and they are between the ages of 18 and 21, the sentencing judge may issue a limited permit in their discretion.

In addition to the license suspension, penalties for under 21 teen and young adult drivers may include probation, driving classes, community service, and fines (and jail, in some scenarios like hit and run, fleeing and attempting to elude, reckless driving, DUI, and more).

Due to the consequences of traffic tickets on teen and young adult drivers, it is highly beneficial to consult with an experienced traffic defense lawyer. A skilled criminal defense lawyer knows the repercussions of traffic tickets on under 21 drivers, and can potentially negotiate amended charges and reduced penalties. This will not only protect young drivers from license suspensions, but can also avoid points being assessed and reported to insurance companies, thereby avoiding rate increases.

If you are a driver under the age of 21 years old, or the parent of one, reach out to the lawyers at W. Scott Smith for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999

Georgia’s Move Over Law

Georgia law requires drivers to move over or slow down for certain emergency or towing vehicles. This is commonly referred to as the “Move Over Law” or “Spencer Pass Law”. O.C.G.A. 40-6-16 states that:

 

The operator of a motor vehicle approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle that is displaying flashing yellow, amber, white, red, or blue lights shall approach the authorized emergency vehicle with due caution and shall, absent any other direction by a peace officer, proceed as follows:

Make a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the authorized emergency vehicle if possible in the existing safety and traffic conditions; or

If a lane change under paragraph (1) of this subsection would be impossible, prohibited by law, or unsafe, reduce the speed of the motor vehicle to a reasonable and proper speed for the existing road and traffic conditions, which speed shall be less than the posted speed limit, and be prepared to stop.

The operator of a motor vehicle approaching a stationary towing or recovery vehicle, a stationary highway maintenance vehicle, or a stationary utility service vehicle that is utilizing traffic cones or displaying flashing yellow, amber, white, or red lights shall approach the vehicle with due caution and shall, absent any other direction by a peace officer, proceed as follows:

Make a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the towing, recovery, highway maintenance, or utility service vehicle if possible in the existing safety and traffic conditions; or

If a lane change under paragraph (1) of this subsection would be impossible, prohibited by law, or unsafe, reduce the speed of the motor vehicle to a reasonable and proper speed for the existing road and traffic conditions, which speed shall be less than the posted speed limit, and be prepared to stop.

 

What this means is that drivers must use caution when passing emergency vehicles, and should move over for police officers, ambulances, tow trucks, and utility vehicles when practicable. Of course, many of us live in Atlanta, where traffic is 24/7. The law instructs drivers to move to another lane not adjacent to the emergency vehicle, unless it is unsafe to do so. In such instances, drivers are instructed to slow down to below the posted speed limit and be prepared to stop.

If you have bee charged with a move-over violation, where and when you were stopped may be important. Were you stopped for failing to move over during 5:00 rush-hour traffic in downtown Atlanta? If so, there is an argument to be made that it was unsafe for you to move over. These are questions an attorney can help you with. Call our office for a free consultation. 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine Edmonds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why do I have Multiple DUI charges??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Win for DUI Defense and What it Means for You

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

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

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

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

Georgia Public Drunkenness Attorney

As holiday parties and events are in full swing, you may wonder the best way to stay clear of police encounters after a night out of drinking. The most obvious way to avoid trouble after a night out is to use a rideshare or designated driver, so as not to drive while intoxicated. But what about simply being drunk in public? Could that land you in jail for the night too?

Drinking to the point of being intoxicated is not always against the law. However, when your condition is made manifest by “boisterousness, by indecent conditions or act, or by vulgar, profaine, loud, or unbecoming language,” you can be arrested for the charge of Public Drunkenness.

Under O.C.G.A § 16-11-41 it is a misdemeanor offense to be intoxicated in a public place, or in the outskirts of a private residence other than your own, or one you are invited to be on. But it is only against the law if your intoxication  is manifested by boisterous, vulgar, loud, profane, or unbecoming language, or by indecent condition. Simply being drunk without an outward manifestation is not against the law in Georgia as mere drunkenness in a public place is not enough to be convicted.

As you can see there is a defense to the charge of Public Drunkenness in Georgia. If convicted, however, it is a misdemeanor crime that can remain on your criminal history forever. The maximum penalty in a Public Drunkenness case in Georgia is 12 months to serve in custody, and a $1,000 fine, or both.

If you have been arrested or cited for Public Drunkenness in Georgia, call W. Scott Smith for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999. A night out on the town should not have lasting consequences and our lawyers are on call to assist you.