DUI IN GWINNETT RECORDER’S COURT

After the accused has been arrested for a DUI, if one of the following occurred, the accused MUST send the 30-day appeal letter to attempt to save his/her driver’s license:

  1. After the accused has been arrested, an officer on scene read him/her the correct “Implied Consent” notice and he/she refused to comply with either a blood, breath, or urine test in order to determine his/her blood alcohol content, OR
  2. The accused consented to a blood, breath, or urine test and the results showed that the blood alcohol content of the accused was 0.08 grams or more.

If one of the following occurred, it is of vital importance to send the 30-day appeal of the license suspension letter prior to the deadline or risk the suspension of the accused person’s driver’s license. The suspension could last as long as 1 year.

After sending the 30-day letter, the accused must also be ready to defend his/her criminal allegations. The penalties for a DUI conviction are serious, thus, it is imperative to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands all the elements of the offense, the affirmative defenses to such a charge, and all possible options for the accused.

According to O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391, a person commits driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs when it renders them less safe to drive, the person’s alcohol concentration is 0.08 grams or more at any time within 3 hours after such driving occurred, or there is any amount of marijuana or other controlled substances present in the accused person’s blood, breath, or urine.

Once the Gwinnett County Police Department or the Georgia State Patrol, depending on the department that arrested the accused, transfers the criminal charge to the Gwinnett County Recorder’s Court, the criminal case will begin at a proceeding known as an arraignment. There are a few options when the case has landed on an arraignment calendar. Such options include:

  • The accused may plead guilty to DUI, which for a first DUI conviction usually will result in 12 months of probation, as well as completion of a Risk Reduction course, at least 40 hours of community service, and a substance abuse evaluation.
  • The accused may plead not guilty to DUI and seek a bench trial with the Gwinnett County Recorder’s Court judge;
  • The accused may plead not guilty to DUI and seek a jury trial. This will result in the case being bound over to the Gwinnett County State Court; OR
  • At arraignment, the accused has the option to speak to the Gwinnett County solicitor in a pretrial conference to discuss other possible options, such as a reduction from the original DUI charge.

Due to the complexity of a driving under the influence criminal case, as well as the related license suspension proceeding, it is of great importance to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who is skilled at defending such allegations. At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our attorneys are knowledgeable about all possible options for our clients and have vast experience defending such charges. Therefore, if you have been arrested for driving under the influence in Gwinnett County, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Georgia DUI: How many points in a DUI?

In Georgia, a driver’s license will be automatically suspended if engaged in serious traffic violations. Therefore, a DUI does not accumulate any points on your driving record, also called a Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) but carries immediate consequences. For a first DUI conviction (for drivers over the age of 21), your license will be suspended for 12 months by DDS (Georgia Department of Driver Services).

 

Ways a driver can reinstate their license after six months:

  • Your license has already been suspended for 120 days;
  • Completion of a state-approved Risk Reduction Program; and
  • Submit a $210 fine for license reinstatement fees.

Note that this reinstatement will depend on your driving history and will permit you to drive to and from work and school and other permissible places.

 

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.

Laying Drag

According to O.C.G.A. § 40-6-251, laying drag is defined as operating a vehicle “in such a manner as to create a danger to persons or property by intentionally and unnecessarily causing the vehicle to move in a zigzag or circular course or to gyrate or spin around.”

There are two exceptions to this law:

(1) If the driver lays drag as a necessary maneuver to avoid a collision, injury, or damage to their vehicle or person, they will not be prosecuted under this statute.

 

(2) If the driver is operating the vehicle in or on any raceway, drag strip, or similar place customarily and lawfully used for such purposes, it will not be construed as laying drag in accordance with O.C.G.A. § 40-6-251.

The State of Georgia has ample case law detailing how laying drag is made, and further, whether certain evidence of laying drag can constitute criminal conduct pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 40-6-251. For example, the following circumstances are not sufficient evidence to cite a driver for laying drag:

(1) It is not unlawful for a driver’s vehicle tires to cause smoke while he/she is making a turn, and it would not be sufficient evidence to prosecute a driver for laying drag.

 

(2) There also will not be enough evidence to prosecute a driver for laying drag if the only evidence of laying drag is the sound of an engine coupled with screeching tires. There must be additional evidence in order to prosecute a driver for laying drag.

Penalties

The offense of laying drag will be characterized as a misdemeanor The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor in the State of Georgia is 12 months in custody, and a $1,000 fine.

In Georgia, laying drag also includes assessing three points on an accused person’s driver’s license. If he/she has assessed 15 or more points in any 24-month period, he/she will be at risk of a suspension of his/her driving privileges.

However, if the accused person is under the age of 18 these general rules are different. Drivers under the age of 18 will have their driver’s license suspended if they have accessed four or more points in any 12-month period. Thus, laying drag for a driver under the age of 18 can have much more serious consequences than drivers older than the age of 18.

Contact Us

Due to the severity of the penalties for laying drag, it is of vital importance to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who is knowledgeable of all possible options for an accused dealing with such serious allegations. At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, we are skilled at defending such charges. Therefore, if you or a loved one has been cited or arrested for laying drag, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Georgia Criminal Law – Justification as a Defense

As an affirmative defense, the fact that a person’s conduct is justified under the law is a defense to prosecution for any crime based on that conduct. The defense of justification can be claimed:

(1) When the person’s conduct is justified under Code Section 16-3-21, 16-3-23, 16-3-24, 16-3-25, or 16-3-26;

(2) When the person’s conduct is in reasonable fulfillment of his duties as a government officer or employee;

(3) When the person’s conduct is the reasonable discipline of a minor by his parent or a person in loco parentis;

(4) When the person’s conduct is reasonable and is performed in the course of making a lawful arrest;

(5) When the person’s conduct is justified for any other reason under the laws of this state, including as provided in Code Section 51-1-29; or

(6) In all other instances which stand upon the same footing of reason and justice as those enumerated in this article.

Raising an Affirmative Defense

With respect to any affirmative defense authorized under Georgia law, unless the state’s evidence raises the issue invoking the alleged defense, the defendant, to raise the issue, must present evidence of an affirmative defense. See O.C.G.A. § 16-1-3(1).

In order to raise an affirmative defense, a criminal defendant need not “admit” anything, in the sense of acknowledging that any facts alleged in the indictment or accusation are true. Rather, in asserting an affirmative defense, a defendant may accept certain facts as true for the sake of argument, and the defendant may do so for the limited purpose of raising the specific affirmative defense at issue. A defendant is entitled to a requested jury instruction regarding an affirmative defense when at least slight evidence supports the theory of the charge, whether in the state’s evidence or evidence presented by the defendant, and regardless of whether the theory of the affirmative defense conflicts with any other theory being advanced by the defendant.

Deadly Force by Law Enforcement Officers

Georgia’s statute on the use of deadly force provides that law enforcement agents may use deadly force to apprehend a suspected felon only (1) when the officer reasonably believes that the suspect possesses a deadly weapon or any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury; (2) when the officer reasonably believes that the suspect poses an immediate threat of physical violence to the officer or others; or (3) when there is probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm. This statute does not prevent sheriffs or peace officers from using reasonable nondeadly force as may be necessary to apprehend and arrest a suspected felon or misdemeanant.

Good Samaritan Defense

In 2014, there were numerous incidents where children, who were left inside hot, locked motor vehicles, were injured or died. In order to encourage the rescue of children in these situations, the General Assembly made it clear with the amendment of O.C.G.A. § 16-3-20(5) in 2015 that individuals who damaged and entered such motor vehicles in order to rescue children from injury or death would be justified in doing so and would have a defense to criminal prosecution.

Rape Charges in DeKalb County, Georgia

Rape is a serious crime in Dekalb County. O.C.G.A. § 16-6-1 defines rape as follows:

  1. A person commits the offense of rape when he has carnal knowledge of:
    1. A female forcibly and against her will or:
    2. A female who is less than ten years of age.

Carnal knowledge in rape occurs when there is any penetration of the female sex organ by the male sex organ.  Any penetration, however slight, is sufficient and can be proven by direct or circumstantial evidence. The fact that the person allegedly raped is the wife of the defendant shall not be a defense to a charge of rape.

How do you define “force” in a rape case in Georgia? Force means acts of physical force, threats of death or physical bodily harm, or mental coercion, such as intimidation. Lack of resistance, induced by fear, is force.

The elements of Rape in Georgia are 1) penetration, 2) force, and 3) against her will. If the person is underage, then force is implied. If the person is above the age of consent, but due to mental incompetence or severe intoxication, then finding of constructive force based on penetration.

The law on Rape in Georgia does not require physical injury or semen.

A person convicted of Rape can be punished by death, by imprisonment for life without parole, by imprisonment for life with the possibility of parole or by a split sentence that is a term of imprisonment for not less than 25 years and not exceeding life imprisonment to be followed by probation for life. Any person convicted of rape is subject to the sentencing provisions of O.C.G.A. §§ 17-10-6.1 and 17-10-7.

In addition, the person could be on the Sex Offender Registry for life.

A person convicted of rape can also be held to account for civil liability. Furthermore, if the rape was committed by the defendant while he was acting in his scope of his employment, his employer may also be held liable.

If you face charges in Georgia for Rape, it is imperative that you do not make any statements to law enforcement or to anyone else and immediately seek help from an experienced attorney handling Rape cases in Georgia. You must protect your rights and take this matter very seriously.

The statute of limitation for a prosecution of rape is 15 years.

If you are charged with Rape in Dekalb County, you will be brought over before a Magistrate Judge within the first 72 hours of your arrest. This judge will not set a bond on Rape. You will need to have a bond motion filed before a Dekalb County Superior Court judge.

I would be happy to meet with you any time for a free consultation to discuss your case, your rights and your defenses to these allegations.

Call me at 404-581-0999 and let’s schedule a time to meet and discuss your case.

It is your life, your criminal record and you deserve the best representation possible.

Initial (First) Appearance in Georgia Criminal Cases

An “initial appearance” is an accused’s first face-to-face encounter with a judge after arrest. The purpose of an initial appearance is to inform the accused of the nature of the charges and advise him/her of their basic rights.

The initial appearance may also serve as a probable cause hearing if the person was arrested without a warrant and no arrest warrant is secured prior to the initial appearance. However, getting an arrest warrant within 48 hours after a warrantless arrest satisfies this probable cause requirement.

Police making an arrest without a warrant shall bring the arrested person in front of a judge within 48 hours after the arrest. O.C.G.A. § 17-4-62.

Police making an arrest with a warrant shall bring the arrested person in front of a judge within 72 hours after the arrest. O.C.G.A. § 17-4-26. These time limitations include weekends and holidays.

Failure to meet these time requirements may result in the release of the arrested person through a writ of habeus corpus under O.C.G.A. § 17-4-62. The failure to provide a timely first appearance, however, will not prevent the State from prosecuting the case.

At the initial appearance the judge shall:

  • Inform the accused of the charges
  • Inform the accused of their Miranda rights
  • Determine whether the accused wants a court appointed attorney and how to obtain one
  • Inform the accused of their right to a committal (probable cause) hearing, unless waived by getting bond
  • In the case of a warrantless arrest, make a probable cause determination
  • Inform accused of right to grand jury indictment or accusation
  • Inform accused of when grand jury will next convene
  • Inform accused of right to jury trial
  • Inform accused of right to waive rights and plead guilty
  • Set bail unless offense is only bailable by superior court judge

Importantly, a defendant’s volunteered statements at the initial appearance may be admissible against the accused at trial. The accused person is NOT entitled to an attorney at the initial appearance because the initial appearance is not considered a “critical stage” in the criminal justice process. Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103 (1975).

Contact Us

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

 

 

Serious Violent Felonies under Georgia Law

Georgia law provides for the most serious violent offenses known as the “Seven Deadly Sins.” These are the most heinous crimes in our society and, as such, have specialized punishment including mandatory minimum punishment and limited eligibility for parole. This article will list the serious violent felonies as proscribed by law and detail the punishment surrounding them.

Seven Deadly Sins

O.C.G.A. § 17-10-6.1(a) lists the “Serious Violent Felonies” in Georgia criminal law:

  • Murder, Felony Murder
  • Armed Robbery
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape
  • Aggravated Child Molestation
  • Aggravated Sodomy
  • Aggravated Sexual Battery

If convicted of any of these offenses, the sentencing court is required to impose no less than the statutory minimum sentences of imprisonment. O.C.G.A. § 17-10-6.1(b).

Mandatory Minimum Sentences of Imprisonment

10 years imprisonment

  • Armed Robbery
  • Kidnapping (victim 14 years or older)

25 years (followed by probation for life)

  • Kidnapping (victim under 14)
  • Rape
  • Aggravated Child Molestation
  • Aggravated Sodomy
  • Aggravated Sexual Battery

Life

  • Murder, Felony Murder

 

Eligible for Parole?

  • Defendants sentenced to 10 years confinement must serve all 10 years and is not eligible for parole
  • Defendants sentenced to 25 years confinement must serve all 25 years without possibility of parole
  • Defendants sentenced to Life is parole eligible after 30 years
  • Defendants sentenced to death whose sentences is commuted to life is parole eligible after 30 years
  • Defendants sentenced to life without parole will never receive parole

O.C.G.A. § 17-10-6.1(c)(1) – (4).

First Offender Treatment is not available to any of the Serious Violent Felonies.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Family Violence Battery in Cobb County, Georgia

A conviction for Family Violence Battery in Georgia can have consequences that go far beyond a conviction for other misdemeanors.   For some clients, this is their first interaction with law enforcement and their concerns include: jail time, a permanent mark on their criminal history , and the possibility of trial.   All of these concerns are very real when facing Family Violence Battery charges. This is especially true when charged with Family Violence Battery in Cobb County. This jurisdiction has specifically allocated money and resources in aggressively prosecuting domestic violence charges.  This article aims to explain the nature of the offense, punishments, and how these cases are handled within Cobb County.

 

The Offense

 

Georgia Criminal Code § 16-5-23.1 defines domestic violence (named “battery – family violence”) as whenever a battery, an intentional physical harm or visible bodily harm, is committed against “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.”

 

Therefore, in order to be charged with Family Violence Battery, the alleged victim must be within a certain relationship of the defendant:

 

  • A spouse
  • Persons who are parents of the same child
  • Children
  • Step-Children
  • Foster Children
  • Other persons living in the same household (roommates)

 

Punishment

 

A first conviction for Family Violence Battery is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in custody and a $1,000 fine.  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.  O.C.G.A. § 16-5-23.1

 

While a first lifetime conviction of Family Violence Battery appears to be just a misdemeanor, there are several collateral consequences unknown to most people.  For example, because Georgia’s classification of Family Violence Battery falls within the Federal definition of “domestic violence,” a Georgia citizen who is convicted of Family Violence Battery is prohibited from possessing a firearm under Federal Law.

 

Furthermore, while the maximum penalty includes 12 months in custody and a $1,000 fine, many judges throughout the State will also require individuals convicted of Family Violence Battery to serve time on probation (in lieu of jail time), but with the conditions of completing a domestic violence program.  These programs go by several different names (usually Domestic Violence Intervention Program – DVIP), but they generally include 24 weeks of classes, counseling, and program fees that are not included in the fine ordered by the judge.  In addition, judges can add community service, counseling requirements, fines, and alcohol and drug evaluations.  It is important to know that your attorney can negotiate all of these things.

 

How it Works in Cobb

 

The first step after arrest is getting a bond. If charged with misdemeanor Family Violence Battery, the law provides you shall be given a bond (in all misdemeanor cases).  But, in addition to having to pay bail money to bond out, the judge will also typically impose a No Contact provision as a condition of your pre-trial release. For example, in a case where a husband is accused of battering his wife, and the couple have minor children who live with them, a judge will usually order the defendant to have No Contact with the wife (alleged victim), the children, and be prevented from returning to the shared home. This No Contact provision places a great burden and strain on the accused as a violation of this bond condition (any form of contact, direct or indirect) can land the accused person in custody until the case is resolved. Therefore, the accused has to find alternative living arrangements and be estranged from their family.

 

As a result, our office routinely files a Motion to Modify Bond Conditions to change the No Contact provision to No Violent or Harassing Contact. This will allow the accused to return home and have contact with the alleged victim and anyone else protected under the bond order; allowing the accused to return to some semblance of a normal lifestyle.

 

After arrest, a case file is created with the Cobb County Solicitor General’s Office. They are responsible for prosecuting misdemeanor cases within Cobb County. At first, the case will be “unaccused.” This simply means that no accusation has yet been filed on the case. An accusation is the official charging document for misdemeanors in Georgia. It is intended to provide notice to the accused of the charges, the dates of the offense, and information sufficient to place the defendant on notice of how to defend the case. An experienced attorney should periodically check to see whether the case has been accused prior to arraignment.

 

It is possible to resolve a Family Violence Battery charge prior to the filing of an accusation. Attorneys should contact the Solicitor General’s Office to see if they are eligible to be admitted into the Cobb County Domestic Violence Pre-Trial Intervention Program. If the accused successfully completes the DVPTI program, their charges will be dismissed with their records restricted.

 

Once a prosecutor reviews the file and believes there is at least probable cause to proceed upon, the accusation is filed and the case is formally “accused.” If accused and not eligible for DVPTI, the accused must begin preparing their case for a possible trial, subject to reaching a plea negotiation with the prosecutor. This includes investigating the case and gathering evidence. In our experience, Cobb County prosecutors are largely unwilling to outright dismiss Family Violence Battery charges. Therefore, defendants are typically confronted with deciding whether to take a no jail time plea deal to Family Violence Battery or proceed to trial.

 

Cobb County State Court prosecutors will often include multiple counts of Battery, Simple Battery, and Family Violence Battery within the accusation.  Unfortunately, many people go to court on their first court date, without exploring the consequences of a Family Violence Battery conviction, and enter a plea.  Whether the person committed the acts alleged or they simply just want to put this chapter of their life behind them, even though they’re innocent, it’s vital to consult with an attorney.  At the very least, an attorney can discuss the implications of being convicted of Family Violence Battery.

 

Contact Us

 

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.

 

 

 

Understanding Computer Trespass Crimes in Georgia

By Mary Agramonte

 

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, O.C.G.A. §16-9-90 et. seq. The Act establishes four criminal offenses, all felonies, for violations of the Act: Computer Theft, Computer Trespass, Computer Invasion of Privacy, and Computer Forgery.

 

Computer Trespass is defined at O.C.G.A. § 16-9-93 as when any person who uses a computer or network with knowledge that such use is without authority and with the intention of (1) deleting or removing any program or data; (2) obstructing or interfering with the use of a computer program or data; or (3) altering, damaging, or causing the malfunction of a computer, computer network, or program.

 

The State of Georgia can still prosecute the felony case even if the removing of data is temporary, or if the damage to the computer is minimal or eventually restored. However, Georgia Courts have required that data must actually be hindered or interfered with. For example, in Kinslow v. State, an employee altered a network to get his supervisor’s e-mail rerouted to his own personal e-mail. The supervisor continued receiving his e-mails normally. The Supreme Court of Georgia in June of 2021 held that this was insufficient evidence of Criminal Trespass as the action never blocked or hindered the flow of data. Instead, the e-mails were going to the correct supervisor e-mail as well as being copying to the suspect’s private e-mail and thus he could not be found guilty of the felony crime of Criminal Trespass.

 

The State of Georgia will continue to vigorously prosecute computer crimes. If someone is found guilty of Computer Trespass, the maximum penalty is a $50,000 fine or 15 years in prison, or both. In some situations, if someone is charged with Computer Trespass, there may be enough facts to also charge them with the other computer crimes like computer theft and computer forgery, which can increase the sentencing if convicted. There is also a civil component to the Act, which allows for monetary damages for those who claim they have been victim to a computer crime in Georgia.

 

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 Trespass cases, and can protect you through the criminal justice system.