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.

Possession of Tools – DeKalb County Criminal Defense Attorney

Georgia law criminalizes the possession of tools for the commission of a crime. In fact, it is a felony offense. If you are arrested in DeKalbCounty for Possession of Tools, the First Appearance hearing will be the initial court appearance in front of a Judge. This occurs within 48 hours of an arrest without a warrant, or 72 hours if there was an arrest warrant. The DeKalb County Magistrate Judge will notify the person of the charges, as well as set bond at this stage.

 

If arrested in DeKalb County for Possession of Tools, the case will be prosecuted by the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office. The next court date will be the Arraignment and takes place at the DeKalb County Superior Court.

 

Not all tools in your possession will result in criminal charges. The law states it is unlawful to possession any tool, explosive, or device commonly used in burglary, theft, or another crime, with the intent to make use thereof in the commission of a crime.

 

Examples of tools that can result in criminal charges are crowbars and glass break devices. For example, you could be arrested if found looking inside someone’s car windows late at night with a glass break tool in your hand. The tools do not have to do with burglary to fall under this crime. For example, we routinely see pipes and scales charged as Possession of Tools, as these items are used to commit crimes of Possession of Drugs. In these instances, the rule of Lenity applies, which is discussed below under the Defenses section

 

What is the sentence for Possession of Tools in DeKalb County?

 

The sentence for Possession of Tools is a 1 to 5 year imprisonment sentence. Possession of tools is a felony offense, which is sentenced more harshly than misdemeanors. This is found at O.C.G.A. § 16-7-20.

 

What are Possible Defenses to Possession of Tools in DeKalb County?

 

First, the mere possession of a common instrument is not a crime. A screw driver can be used to commit crimes, but it can also be used for numerous other lawful purposes. The same goes with wire cutters, flashlights, and gloves. These items are commonly used for all sorts of lawful and legitimate activities. The State must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was intent to use the tool to commit a crime. It is an incredibly high standard, especially since tools are used for so many other purposes.

 

Additionally, any time contraband is found, a thorough investigation must be conducted by a criminal defense attorney very quickly after arrest, into whether or not a valid, lawful, and constitutional search had occurred. We all have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. An officer cannot search your car without probable cause of a crime occurring, and then later charge you after finding a tool common in burglaries. In this instance, the tools found could be suppressed, and the case subsequently dismissed.

 

Other defenses fall on whether or not the tool is one that is commonly used for the commission of the crime. The State must not only prove possession of a tool but it must be one that is commonly used to commit crimes. For example, Georgia law has held that body armor is not a tool commonly used in armed robbery, and thus there is insufficient evidence to show proof Possession of Tools. Georgia law has also held a two-by-four was not a tool for purposes of this statute in an Armed Robbery case because it is not commonly used in armed robberies.

 

The rule of lenity may also apply in felony Possession of Tools cases. For example, if the conduct alleged falls within both felony Possession of Tools and misdemeanor Possession of Drug Related Object, then the Lenity rule requires that person be subject to misdemeanor penalties.

 

If you or a loved one has been arrested for POSSESSION OF TOOLS in the DeKalb County or the Atlanta area, W. Scott Smith is here to offer a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999.

 

What Kind of Intent is Required for Assault?

According to O.C.G.A § 16-5-20, a simple assault includes any action that places another in reasonable apprehension of immediately receiving a violent injury. This statute includes an element of general intent, meaning that it doesn’t matter what the person performing the action intended to do- it only matters what the person observing the action apprehended.  In other words, there is no requirement that a person intended to create an apprehension of receiving violent injury. Technically, this means that something as simple as shaking your fist at someone (general intent because you intended to do the fist-shaking) could be charged as assault if the victim says that they apprehended a violent injury as a result- even if the accused never intended to actually harm the victim (meaning to cause the harm would be specific intent which is not an element of simple assault in Georgia).

O.C.G.A. § 16-5-21 defines aggravated assault as simple assault combined with one of three statutory aggravators: 1. intent to rob, rape or murder, 2. use of a deadly weapon or an offensive weapon likely to or actually resulting in serious bodily injury, or 3. shooting towards people from a vehicle without justification. There are many things that can be classified as deadly weapons if they are used in an offensive manner: automobiles, firearms, metal pipes, knives, etc. That means that any time a gun is involved and a victim is in apprehension of receiving an injury, regardless of the accused’s intent to harm anyone, aggravated assault charges could result.  It is important to note that aggravated assault still does not require specific intent. Basically, it doesn’t matter what the accused intended, only what the other party perceived.

Aggravated assault carries huge penalties in Georgia and could result in up to 20 years in prison. It is important that your attorney understands the elements of the charged crime and holds the State to their burden. If you have been charged with simple assault or aggravated assault in Fulton, Dekalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, or Clayton counties, you need a lawyer. Call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

 

 

Georgia Supreme Court Clarifies Rules About Hearsay

In Georgia, the rules of evidence only allow hearsay evidence (a statement being made outside the current trial and being offered for its truth) if the hearsay meets certain exceptions. Each of the exceptions are based on the fact that if the statement meets one of the exceptions, it has a high level of reliability. Just a few of these exceptions include:

  • Present sense impression- This happens when a person is describing something as it is happening. This type of hearsay is though to be reliable because there is no time for the person making the statement to create a lie.
  • Excited utterance- This happens when a person makes a statement while they are under the stress or excitement of a situation. This type of hearsay is thought to be reliable because the person making the statement is still excited about the event they just witnessed or endured so they are truthfully saying something spontaneous.
  • Statements made for medical treatment- This happens when a person tells a person something so that they may be medically treated. This type of hearsay is though to be reliable because a person tells the truth if they need medical care.

In a Georgia criminal defense case, prosecutors will often try to have hearsay evidence admitted under what is called the Residual Exception Rule. The Residual Exception Rule says that statements that have guarantees of trustworthiness may be admitted after a judge (the “gatekeeper” in a trial) examines the totality of the circumstances under which the statement was made and any evidence corroborating the statement. Prosecutors will often try to use this catch-all rule to bring in the most damning evidence, even if it doesn’t fit into one of the many hearsay exceptions.

A new Georgia Supreme Court case, The State v. Kenney, tightens the reigns on the use of the Residual Exception Rule. In Kenny, the State attempted to have a hearsay statement admitted under the Residual Exception Rule. After the Court had examined the statement and found that it lacked exceptional guarantees of trustworthiness and thus was inadmissible, the State attempted to have the statement admitted under the present sense exception or excited utterance exception. The Supreme Court ruled that once the State attempts to have a hearsay statement admitted under the Residual Exception Rule, they have waived the right to try to have the statement admitted under any of the other hearsay exceptions.  The Supreme Court guides that things such as the closeness of the relationship between the witness testifying in trial and the person making the statement and the level of intoxication of the person making the statement should be considered when determining if a hearsay statement has an exceptional guarantee of trustworthiness.

As you can see, the rules of evidence in a Georgia criminal defense case, particularly the ones surrounding hearsay evidence, are complex. But, even if incriminating statements have been made about you, there are ways to prevent the jury from hearing about them. It is important to hire an attorney who is comfortable with these rules and will fight to keep unfair evidence out of your trial. The attorneys at W. Scott Smith are educated in the hearsay rules and will work with you to make sure your case is as strong as possible when it is presented to a jury. If you are charged with a crime and would like to be represented by seasoned trial attorneys, call our office today at 404-581-0999.

 

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.

DeKalb County Serious Injury by Vehicle

DUI and Reckless Driving charges are considered misdemeanors in Georgia. However, if you were arrested for DUI or Reckless Driving and there was an accident with serious injuries involved, it is likely you will be arrested for the felony offense of Serious Injury by Vehicle under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-394.

 

A Serious Injury by Vehicle case in DeKalb County will be prosecuted by the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office.  It is a felony charge, and the DeKalb County District Attorney has four years from the date of arrest to bring formal charges against you. Once your case is indicted or accused within the statute of limitations, your first court date will be your Arraignment date. This takes place at the DeKalb County Superior Court located at 556 N McDonough St, Decatur, GA 30030.

At your arraignment date, you will have the opportunity to enter a Not Guilty plea and make a demand to see the evidence. It is imperative to have an attorney at this phase in the case because certain Constitutional motions must be filed within 10 days of this court date, or the issues are waived. This means that an attorney must file motions challenging the constitutionality of the stop and the arrest, within 10 days of the Arraignment date, or you will lose the ability to fight the case on these issues later on.

What’s the Difference Between a Misdemeanor DUI and a Serious Injury by Vehicle?

The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is the punishment and the other collateral consequences. DUI and Reckless Driving are misdemeanor crimes, and thus carry a maximum punishment of 12 months in jail. On the other hand, Serious Injury by Vehicle is a felony charges which could result in much lengthier punishment as society views felonies, generally, more harshly. Specifically, for the felony charge of Serious Injury by Vehicle, the minimum punishment is 1 year in prison, while the maximum is 15 years. Certain factors like the blood alcohol content, or whether there was any prior convictions can elevate punishment significantly. Compare that to a Driving Under the Influence charge where the minimum punishment is just 24 hours along with conditions like community service and DUI school.

What about my License?

The Department of Driver Services also treats this crime harshly, and if you plea or are found guilty of Serious Injury by Vehicle in DeKalb County or anywhere in the State, you are facing a driver’s license suspension for a period of three years in addition to the other requirements imposed by the Court.

The State does not have to prove you committed an unsafe act like speeding, cutting someone off, or hitting someone’s vehicle from the back. They can proceed only on the fact you were DUI and caused an injury under the statute, even if you were not the cause of the accident.

In order for the State to prove Serious Injury by Vehicle, they must prove the injuries were serious enough to fall under the statute. Courts have held broken bones, being unable to walk well for a period of time, and certainly brain damage, all to be sufficient for the state to proceed on felony charge.

Take the next step

If you or someone you know have been arrested for Serious Injury by Vehicle in DeKalb County or the Decatur and Atlanta area, it is imperative to meet with a law firm who has a high-level skill in DUI defense as well as in Serious Injury by Vehicle cases. Your future and your freedom depend on it. Call us today for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.

The Statute of Limitations in Georgia

The statute of limitations means how long the State has to bring charges against an individual after a crime has been committed (not how long the state has to actually try the case). In Georgia, there are several categories of crimes that determine the length of the statute of limitations:

  • Murder- none
  • Other felonies punishable by death or life imprisonment- 7 years
  • Forcible rape- 15 years
  • Offenses of armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery when DNA evidence is used to establish the ID of the accused – none
  • Trafficking a person for sexual servitude, cruelty to children in the first degree, rape, aggravated sodomy, child molestation or aggravated child molestation, enticing a child for indecent purposes, or incest against children less than 16 years old committed on and after July 1, 2012- none
  • Other felonies- 4 years
  • Felonies committed against victims less than 18 years old- 7 years
  • Misdemeanors- 2 years

The statute of limitations is “tolled” (or suspended) until the crime becomes known. This means that the clock does not start running until the crime is known. The state often argues that the crime becomes “known” when the state becomes aware of the charges (i.e. a victim reports the crime to authorities). However, a recent Georgia Supreme Court decision, State v. Jones (case cite: S22A0425), clarifies this issue. The Georgia Supreme Court held in Jones held that a crime becomes known, and thus the statute of limitations begins running, when the crime is known to the victim. This means that if a victim waits until the statute of limitations has run out, charges may not be brought. The Court cites their earlier decision in Harper v. State saying that ““the actual knowledge of a crime victim about the crime is imputed to the State for purposes of applying the tolling provision”, and that “the correct date to apply in analyzing the statute of limitation is the date that the crime became known to the victim of the crime.”  Another decision, Womack v. State clearly says that “it seems to be well settled that . . . the knowledge of the victim is the knowledge of the State . . . .”

If you believe that you have been charged with a crime outside of the statute of limitations in Fulton, Dekalb, Gwinnett, Cobb or Clayton Counties, it is important that you work with an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the nuances of the law. At the Law Office of W. Scott Smith, our attorneys will leave no stone unturned to ensure that charges brought against our clients are legal. If you need representation for any criminal offense, call our offices at 404-581-0999.

Have you been charged with Possession of a firearm, Tools, or Knife during the Commission of a Felony in DeKalb County?

While Georgia laws are more lenient when one is “carrying” a firearm, there is less leniency when one is in possession of a firearm when committing a crime. In Georgia, if you bring a weapon to commit an offense it is assumed that you are intending  and/or willing to hurt or kill another person. The State of Georgia considers it a separate crime to possess a weapon when one is committing illegal acts. Which means that you can be charged with two separate crimes for the same offense.

What does the law say?

OCGA 16-11-106 states that it is a felony for any person to have within arm’s reach of their person a firearm or a knife having a blade of three or more inches in length during the commission of, or the attempt to commit any of the following offenses:

  1. Any crime against another person
  2. The unlawful entry into a building or vehicle
  3. The theft from a building or vehicle
  4. Any crime involving possession, manufacture, delivery, distribution dispensing, administering, selling, or possession with intent to distribute ANY controlled substance or
  5. Any crime involving trafficking drugs (methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, etc.)

Under this statute “within arm’s reach” means to have immediate access to.

What is the punishment for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony?

A first conviction is punishable by five (5) years in prison CONSECUTIVELY.

A second or subsequent conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon is punishable by a sentence of ten (10) years in prison consecutively (cannot be suspended or probated).

Under the law the sentence for this charge will run consecutive to the underlying crime. This means that the sentence cannot run concurrently (at the same time) as the underlying felony. For example, if you commit a burglary and are sentenced to 5 years in prison and receive a sentence of 5 years for carrying a firearm, your total sentence is 10 years in prison.

If you or someone you know needs help with weapon charges in DeKalb County, having a lawyer help you through the process can ensure your rights are protected. Contact the Law Office of Scott Smith today for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.

Child Hearsay in Georgia

If you are charged with child molestation, cruelty to children, or any crime, in Georgia, where a child is the alleged victim, the State will fie a Motion to Admit Child Hearsay testimony.

This is pursuant to O.C.G.A. 24-8-820. This status is the Georgia Child Hearsay Statute.

O.C.G.A. 24-8-820 reads as follows:

(a) A statement made by a child younger than 16 years of age describing any act of sexual contact or physical abuse performed with or on such child by another or with or on another in the presence of such child shall be admissible in evidence by the testimony of the person to whom made if the proponent of such statement provides notice to the adverse party prior to trial of the intention to use such out-of-court statement and such child testifies at trial, unless the adverse party forfeits or waives such child’s testimony as provide in this title, and, at the time of the testimony regarding the out-of-court statements, the person to whom the child made such statement is subject to cross-examination regarding the out-of-court statements.

All that is required is:

  1. Notice to the defendant of the State’s intention to use such statements.
  2. The child testifying at trial, unless the defendant waives it.
  3. The person to whom the statements were made is subject to cross-examination.

You will need to be prepared to challenge the credibility and the underlying facts of any witness who takes the stand against you and claims that the child made statements to them about the sexual contact or physical abuse. Do not waive the child’s presence at trial. Make the child testify.

In cases of child molestation, there is rarely physical evidence. The entire case comes down to credibility. It is the defendant’s credibility vs. the child’s and the child’s witness’s credibility. Do not forfeit the right to a thorough cross-examination of the child and their witnesses.

These child hearsay witnesses can include testimony of physicians, investigators, parents, other family members, forensic interviewers and any other person who spoke to the child about the allegations.

You must be prepared to challenge each of these statements.

Child Molestation and Cruelty to Children carry severe penalties in Georgia. Do not make statements to the police about the allegations. You must hire a qualified attorney and be prepared to vigorously fight your case at trial.

Please call us at 404-581-0999 if you are charged with any crime involving a child in Georgia.

Governor Kemp Signs Bill that will Enhance Penalties for Fleeing and Eluding in Dekalb County, Georgia

By: Attorney Erin Dohnalek

On April 25th, 2022, Governor Kemp signed legislation to further public safety efforts in the State of Georgia. One of the bills that he signed, which was passed in the House, as well as the Senate, will enhance or increase penalties and sentencing for individuals charged with fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer in Dekalb County. This bill went into effect on July 1st, 2022.

This bill states that:

  • It is unlawful for a driver to fail to stop his/her vehicle or attempt to flee or elude a police officer when he/she is given a visual or audible signal to stop.
  • Any person convicted of a first, second, or third violation of this law will be guilty of a high and aggravated misdemeanor.
  • Any person convicted of a fourth or subsequent violation of this law will be guilty of a felony.

Sentencing:

  • The penalties for a first conviction will be a fine of at least $1,000 and 30 days in jail.
  • The penalties for a second conviction within a 10-year period will be a fine of at least $2,500 and 90 days in jail.
  • The penalties for a third conviction within a 10-year period will be a fine of at least $4,000 and 180 days in jail.
  • The penalties for a fourth conviction, and any subsequent conviction, within a 10-year period will be a fine of at least $5,000 and 12 months in custody.

This bill will dramatically change the penalties for fleeing and eluding in Dekalb County. A high and aggravated misdemeanor generally means that the accused will have to serve the entire jail-sentence in custody without the possibility of receiving 2 for 1 credit. The fourth conviction of this crime in a 10-year period will constitute a felony offense. Furthermore, a nolo contendere plea will not avoid mandatory jail time, or a conviction.

Any arrests that occur prior to July 1st, 2022, in Dekalb County, for fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer will still be pursuant to the prior statute that allows for lower penalties and sentencing. However, if an accused is arrested for fleeing and eluding on, or after, July 1st, 2022, the sentencing will be enhanced pursuant to this new law.

Contact Us

Due to the severity of the punishment for fleeing and eluding based on this new legislation, 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 this new law, 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 fleeing and eluding in Dekalb County, Georgia, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.