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!

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.

The Crucial Role of Hiring a Lawyer If You’ve Been Arrested in Atlanta

Facing arrest can be a harrowing experience, particularly in a bustling city like Atlanta, where legal procedures can be complex and consequences severe. In such situations, hiring a criminal defense lawyer is not just advisable; it’s imperative. Here’s why:


  1. **Legal Expertise**: Attorneys specializing in criminal defense possess extensive knowledge of the law, including local ordinances and courtroom procedures specific to Atlanta. They understand the nuances of the legal system, enabling them to build a robust defense strategy tailored to your case.


  1. **Protection of Rights**: When arrested, individuals are entitled to certain rights, such as the right to remain silent and the right to legal representation. A skilled lawyer ensures that your rights are upheld throughout the legal process, safeguarding you from potential abuses of power or procedural errors.


  1. **Strategic Counsel**: Lawyers analyze the details of your case, identifying strengths, weaknesses, and potential legal options. They provide strategic counsel on how to navigate the complexities of the legal system, including whether to plead guilty, negotiate a plea bargain, or proceed to trial.


  1. **Mitigation of Penalties**: In the event of conviction, attorneys work tirelessly to mitigate penalties and minimize the long-term consequences of criminal charges. This may involve negotiating reduced charges, advocating for alternative sentencing options, or pursuing avenues for rehabilitation and community service.


  1. **Evidence Examination**: Lawyers have the expertise to scrutinize evidence presented by the prosecution, identifying inconsistencies, inaccuracies, or violations of due process. They may uncover mitigating factors or exculpatory evidence that could strengthen your defense or lead to the dismissal of charges.


  1. **Emotional Support**: Being arrested can be emotionally taxing, causing stress, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future. A compassionate lawyer not only provides legal guidance but also offers emotional support, reassuring you and your loved ones during this challenging time.


  1. **Familiarity with Court System**: Local attorneys in Atlanta have established relationships with judges, prosecutors, and court personnel. This familiarity with the local court system can be advantageous, as it facilitates smoother communication, negotiation, and advocacy on behalf of their clients.


  1. **Preservation of Reputation**: A criminal record can have far-reaching implications, affecting employment opportunities, housing options, and personal relationships. By vigorously defending your case, lawyers strive to protect your reputation and minimize the stigma associated with criminal charges.


  1. **Cost-Effective in the Long Run**: While hiring a lawyer may incur upfront costs, the investment can save you money in the long run. Skilled legal representation increases the likelihood of a favorable outcome, potentially avoiding costly fines, lengthy imprisonment, or other financial repercussions associated with criminal convictions.


  1. **Peace of Mind**: Ultimately, hiring a lawyer provides peace of mind knowing that you have a knowledgeable advocate fighting for your rights and best interests. Whether navigating pre-trial negotiations, challenging evidence in court, or representing you at trial, a competent attorney can significantly impact the outcome of your case.


In conclusion, if you find yourself facing arrest in Atlanta, don’t underestimate the importance of hiring a qualified lawyer.  I have over 24 years of criminal experience. In our firm we have over 100 years of legal experience.  From protecting your rights to providing strategic counsel and emotional support, legal representation is indispensable in navigating the complexities of the criminal justice system and securing a brighter future.


Call our office for a free consultation today.

Recidivist Statute

A felony conviction has serious consequences. Punishment for a felony offense typically includes prison time, probation, fines, loss of constitutional rights and privileges, and a lifelong blemish on the person’s criminal record. Not only does a felony conviction impact the person’s ability to obtain employment and housing, but, under O.C.G.A. § 17-10-7, a prior felony conviction can be used to enhance a sentence on a new felony conviction. This article serves to explore the “Repeat Offenders” statute dealing with recidivist sentencing and Georgia’s ‘three strikes’ rule.

O.C.G.A. § 17-10-7 (a) – Recidivist Provision

If someone has one prior felony conviction and they are convicted of a felony a second time, the judge must to sentence the offender to the maximum term of imprisonment as set out in the statute they’ve been convicted of. However, the judge does have the discretion to probate or suspend that maximum sentence. Furthermore, in order to obtain a recidivist sentence under 17-10-7, the State must give the defendant clear notice before trial of its intention to seek such a sentence; the State must also prove that the prior conviction was for a crime which, if committed within Georgia, would be a felony.  Wheeler v. State, 270 Ga.App. 363 (2004).

O.C.G.A. § 17-10-7 (c) – Three Strikes Rule  

Any person who has been convicted of three felonies and commits a felony within Georgia shall, upon conviction for such fourth offense or for subsequent offenses, serve the maximum time provided for the sentence. The judge will not be able to reduce the sentence, the offender will not be eligible for parole until the maximum sentence has been served, and early release is unavailable. A person sentenced under the Three Strikes Rule will have to serve every day of the imposed sentence.


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.

Conditional Discharge or Drug First Offender

Conditional Discharge or Drug First Offender is a once in a lifetime opportunity that allows someone who has been charged for the first time with possessing drugs or a non-violent property crime related to drug or alcohol addiction to resolve their case without a felony conviction. The resolution will typically involve probation and some sort of rehabilitation and treatment. Once the terms of the sentence are completed successfully the case will be dismissed and will not be considered a conviction. Conditional discharge may still be available even if you have previously used first offender. Drug offenses can have significant collateral consequences. If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug offense, it is very important you speak with an experience attorney. Please give us a call at 404-581-0998 for a free case consultation.

First Offender in Fulton County

If you have been charged with a felony offense (with some exceptions) and have never pleaded guilty to or been convicted of a felony, you may be eligible for First Offender treatment under OCGA § 42-8-60. Charges that are considered serious violent felonies, e.g. murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, etc. and sexual offenses are not eligible for First Offender treatment.

First Offender allows you to enter a plea to the offense, but it is not considered a conviction. If you successfully complete all the terms of the sentence, the case will be discharged and you will be exonerated as a matter of law. This means that you can honestly say that you have not been convicted of a felony and all of your civil rights are restored.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and if you or a loved one has been charged with a felony offense and you think you might be eligible for First Offender, please give us a call at 404-581-0999.

License Consequences for DUI Convictions in Georgia

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 the 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 the 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 the 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 is .08 grams or more, or at any time within three hours after such driving, or being in actual physical control of the vehicle, ended.
  • If he/she was in actual physical control of a moving vehicle while there is 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 DUI, 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 4 months.
    • During the 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 suspension, the accused will be eligible to get their permanent license back if he/she 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 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 suspension, which will mandate no driving, 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 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, and are worried about the license consequences associated with a DUI conviction, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

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

How the Fourth Amendment Could Protect You in Drug Cases

The Fourth Amendment provides safeguards for individuals during their interactions with law enforcement. If evidence is discovered during an interaction that violates an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights, that evidence cannot be used against the individual in court.

This issue commonly arises in cases where an individual is pulled over for a traffic violation and is subsequently charged with possessing drugs. For example, if an officer pulls you over for crossing the solid line, they are not allowed to search your car for drugs if you do not consent to the search. While there are certain exceptions in place to ensure officer safety and to prevent the destruction of evidence (such as patting down an individual on the outside of their clothing to search for weapons, for example), the officer cannot freely look through your pockets or inside your vehicle.

Understanding Fourth Amendment protections is complex, and it is important that you hire an experienced attorney if you are charged with a serious offense like possession of drugs, possession of drugs with intent to distribute, or trafficking drugs. The lawyers at W. Scott Smith, PC will work diligently to discover any Fourth Amendment violations in your case and to keep the harmful evidence out of court. If you are charged with one of these serious offenses in Clayton, Cobb, Dekalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, or Fayette Counties, call our office at 404-581-0999 today for a free consultation.