HGN and Head Trauma

If you have been pulled over in Georgia on suspicion of DUI, the investigating officer will probably ask you to perform a battery of standardized field sobriety tests. This request may take the form of any number of questions, such as “can we just check to see if you are safe to drive?” or “we want to perform some tests before we let you on your way, is that alright?”. These tests are not required, and declining to perform these tests cannot be used against you in a prosecution of DUI. For this reason, it is better to decline to perform any tests, no matter how much reassurance the police officer gives you that they are “just to make sure you are safe on the roads.”

Still, many people opt to perform the tests, either because they don’t see the harm, they wish to be congenial with the officer, or because they don’t know that they can decline to perform the tests. If you choose to perform the tests, the officer may ask you if he can “take a look at your eyes.” This is an indication that he is about to perform the first of three standardized field sobriety tests, the horizontal gaze nystagmus.

This test is considered to be a “scientific” test, and because of this, it is important that the officer comply with his training as exactly as possible. The test must begin with a number of questions designed to medically qualify the participant. The officer is trained that he must ask you whether or not you have recently had any head, neck, or brain injuries, as these kinds of trauma can affect whether someone exhibits nystagmus, even if not under the influence of alcohol. It is common practice to ask whether or not the subject has “any eye problems” or vision issues, but this is not enough. The officer must also determine that it is appropriate to use this test. If the subject has been in a recent accident, suffering from whiplash, a concussion, vertigo, or some other balance and coordination related condition, the HGN test may not be accurate or reliable.

If you have been in an accident at the time of your DUI investigation, the officer may have overlooked potential head trauma before administering this test. As a result, the “clues” of the test may be unreliable, and could be subject to suppression before trial.

It is important to understand your rights and protections when you are charged with DUI. If you want an attorney that is knowledgeable about DUI police training and procedure, call our office for a free consultation at 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine A. Edmonds.

Reducing a Lifetime CDL Disqualification to 10 Years in Georgia

If you are convicted of two DUIs in Georgia, your commercial driver’s license (CDL) is disqualified for your lifetime. However, new rules provide a process to allow your CDL to be reinstated after only ten years. If you meet the following requirements, you are eligible to have your Lifetime CDL Disqualification reduced to 10 years:

  • At time of application, you must possess a valid Class C Georgia driver’s license. The term “valid” means that the license is not expired and is not cancelled, suspended, or revoked.
  • Any Lifetime CDL Disqualification you are applying to have reduced must have been in effect for a period of not less than ten (10) years.
  • Any Lifetime CDL Disqualification that is based on a conviction for homicide by vehicle in the first degree or serious injury by vehicle, you are not eligible to have your Lifetime CDL Disqualification reduced to ten (10) years.
  • Any Lifetime CDL Disqualification that is based on the use of a motor vehicle in the commission of a felony involving manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing a controlled substance; OR any Lifetime CDL Disqualification that is based on a conviction for Human Trafficking, is not eligible to be reduced to ten (10) years.
  • In addition to the $210.00 non-refundable CDL Restoration Fee, your application must include the following supporting documents:
    • A certified seven (7) year Georgia motor vehicle report (MVR) dated within 30 days of application. Your driving history must be free of any convictions for the five (5) year period preceding date of application.
    • If your Lifetime CDL Disqualification is based on a violation that was alcohol related, you must include a clinical evaluation dated within 90 days of the date of application reflecting no substance abuse treatment necessary.
    • If your Lifetime CDL Disqualification is not based on a violation that was alcohol related, you must include a certificate of completion from a DDS-certified driver improvement clinic dated within 90 days of the date of application.
    • A copy of your current, unexpired United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) medical certificate card.

If you are approved to have your Lifetime CDL Disqualification reduced to 10 years:

  • You will be eligible to obtain a Georgia Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP), which must be held for a minimum period of 14 days before becoming eligible to upgrade to a Georgia Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
  • You must complete and successfully pass all applicable knowledge and/or skills tests to obtain a Georgia CLP/CDL. You must also pay $35.00 for the CDL Application Fee, $10.00 for each CDL Knowledge Exam, and $50 for each CDL Road Skills Test attempt.
  • Any Georgia CDL you are issued will be restricted for first two (2) years to intrastate driving only.
  • You will not be eligible for a Passenger (P) endorsement on any Georgia CDL for the first two (2) years following issuance.
  • Restrictions may be removed after two (2) years if your driving history is free of any convictions.
  • No person whose Lifetime CDL Disqualification is reduced to ten (10) years shall ever possess a School Bus (S) or a HAZMAT (H) endorsement.
  • If you are convicted of a major traffic violation at any time after your Lifetime CDL Disqualification has been reduced to ten (10) years, you will be subject to a permanent lifetime disqualification.

 

If your CDL has been the subject of a lifetime ban, we can help you have the ban reduced.  This is a complicated process and having an experienced layer by your side is important. Please call our office at 404-581-0999 and let us help you have your driving privileges restored.

Should I perform Field Sobriety Tests?

If you have been pulled over for DUI, the police officer may ask you if you would consent to field sobriety evaluations. Field Sobriety Evaluations are a series of tests which are, in theory, designed to aid officers draw accurate conclusions about a suspect’s blood alcohol consumption. Despite that these tests are only around 75% accurate when administered correctly, they are still thought of as legitimate tests of a person’s intoxication level by most judges and jurors. For this reason, allegedly “poor” performance on field sobriety tests can sway jurors to convict someone for DUI, even if they are not.

So is it in your best interests to perform field sobriety tests? This is a complicated question which will vary depending on the circumstances, but generally, it is better to refuse to participate in the field sobriety evaluations, as it provides the officer with less potentially incriminating evidence. It is important to bear in mind, however, that refusal to submit to field sobriety evaluations is admissible in trial as circumstantial evidence of intoxication. Taken together with other evidence of possible intoxication (slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, admission of drinking, etc.) may support an inference that the suspect was an impaired driver.

That being said, it is easier to make an argument that the officer got it wrong when they arrested you for DUI if the only evidence they have is the smell of alcohol on your breath and bloodshot eyes than if they have evidence of poor performance on field tests. Additionally, even if you refuse field sobriety tests, the officer still has the authority to arrest you. Georgia case law has held that an officer’s observation of bloodshot, watery eyes and odor of alcohol is sufficient to support an arrest for suspected DUI. If you are pulled over for DUI, even if you refuse field sobriety tests, do not be surprised if you are arrested anyway. Instead, stay calm, make no incriminating statements, and as soon as you are able, call an experienced DUI defense lawyer.

We offer free consultations to anyone who has been charged with driving under the influence. Call us today at 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine Edmonds.

What to expect during a DUI stop in Marietta, GA

By: Attorney Alex Henson

If you are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol in Marietta, GA you might be pulled over and investigated by police. What can you expect during a DUI stop?

First, the officer might ask you if you’ve had anything to drink. You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer the question, but always be polite and respectful. Any statements you make could be used against you later in court.

Next, the officer might ask you to perform certain exercises to see if you are safe to drive. These exercises are called Standardized Field Sobriety Tests and your performance could be used against you in court later. The most common of these tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the one leg stand, and the walk and turn. It is voluntary to participate in field sobriety tests. Refusing to participate cannot be used against you in court later.

The officer may decide that you are under the influence and less safe to drive. If the officer decides to arrest you, he or she may read you Georgia’s implied consent statement and request chemical testing of your breath or blood. These tests are voluntary, but refusal can result in your license being suspended.

If you are arrested for DUI in Marietta, GA for DUI, your case will be sent to Marietta Municipal Court. In the Marietta Municipal Court, you will have the opportunity to resolve your case. However, if you decide you want a jury trial, your case will be transferred to the State Court of Cobb County.

If you have been arrested for DUI in Marietta, GA and would like a free consultation, call us at (404) 581-0999.

Georgia DUI Law: Challenging the Stop, Defective Equipment

Georgia DUI investigations usually begin with a routine traffic stop. At a minimum, in order to stop you and your vehicle, the stopping officer needs to have “reasonable and articulable suspicion” to believe a crime has, or is about to be committed. An officer normally satisfies this requirement by observing a traffic or equipment violation. However, if it is determined the officer did NOT have reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop your vehicle; this could result in the suppression of evidence and the ultimate dismissal of a DUI charge.

Therefore, it is crucial to examine the most common types of traffic violations that result in a DUI investigation. This article serves to inform you of the nature, methods of proof, penalties, and challenges to a defective equipment offense in Georgia.

The Offense

O.C.G.A. §§ 40-8-7(a) and (b) state:

(a) No person shall drive or move on any highway any motor vehicle, trailer, semi trailer, or pole trailer, or any combination thereof, unless the equipment upon any and every such vehicle is in good working order and adjustment as required in this chapter and the vehicle is in such safe mechanical condition as not to endanger the driver or other occupant or any person upon the highway.

(b) It is a misdemeanor for any person to drive or move, or for the owner to cause or knowingly permit to be driven or moved, on any street or highway any vehicle or combination of vehicles:

(1) Which is in such unsafe condition as to endanger any person;

(2) Which does not contain those parts or is not at all times equipped with such lights and other equipment in proper condition and adjustment as required in this chapter; or

(3) Which is equipped in any manner in violation of this chapter.

Even if you are driving perfectly, a police officer may still stop your vehicle if any of its equipment is non-operational. Examples include, but are not limited to, missing taillight, broken tag light, or a low hanging bumper. Although the spirit of this law is to protect other motorists from defective vehicles on the road, this traffic offense is often used as a “pre-textual stop,” meaning the officer stops you for this offense in hopes of discovering another criminal offense, particularly DUI. Although the law used to criticize these types of stops, a line of United States Supreme Court cases has weakened these types of challenges.[1]   

Penalties

Under Georgia law, technically, these equipment violations are misdemeanors and are therefore punishable with up to a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to one year in jail. Although these are the maximum punishments, equipment violations generally do not result in jail time. Normally, if you get the defective equipment fixed, and provide proof of such to the prosecuting attorney, your case will likely be dismissed.

Challenging the Stop

If an officer pulls you over for an equipment violation and ultimately arrests you for DUI, you may lodge a challenge to the stop of your vehicle through a motion to suppress or a motion in limine. These challenges are designed to attack the stop, arrest, or any evidence gathered as a result of an unlawful stop and/or arrest.

If you are facing a DUI-Less Safe case, the State will have to prove “less safe driving.” If you have only been cited for defective equipment, the State will have great difficulty in proving alcohol caused you to be a less safe driver because there is no “less safe” driving act (ie. speeding, failure to maintain lane, improper turn, etc.). This is a major issue a defense attorney should raise during trial.

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. You can also find out more detailed information about Atlanta laws here.


[1] See, Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318, 121 S. Ct. 1536 (2001); Whren v. U.S., 517 U.S. 806, 116 S. Ct. 1769  (1996); Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U.S. 33, 117 S. Ct. 417 (1996); and Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408, 117 S. Ct. 882 (1997).

Georgia DUI Law: Challenging the Stop, Improper Turn

Georgia DUI investigations usually begin with a routine traffic stop. At a minimum, in order to stop you and your vehicle, the stopping officer needs to have “reasonable and articulable suspicion” to believe a crime has, or is about to be committed. An officer normally satisfies this requirement by observing a traffic or equipment violation. However, if it is determined the officer did NOT have reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop your vehicle; this could result in the suppression of evidence and the ultimate dismissal of a DUI charge.

Therefore, it is crucial to examine the most common types of traffic violations that result in a DUI investigation. This article serves to inform you of what type of things police officers are looking for when stopping for improper turn.

The Offense

O.C.G.A. § 40-6-120 requires the driver of a vehicle intending to turn at an intersection to do the following:

(1) RIGHT TURN. Both the approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway;

(2) LEFT TURN.

(A) As used in this paragraph, the term “extreme left-hand lane” means the lane furthest to the left that is lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction as the turning vehicle. In the event of multiple lanes, the second extreme left-hand lane shall be the lane to the right of the extreme left-hand lane that is lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction as the turning vehicle. The third extreme left-hand lane shall be the lane to the right of the second extreme left-hand lane and so forth.

(B) The driver of a vehicle intending to turn left shall approach the turn in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of the turning vehicle. Whenever practicable, the left turn shall be made to the left of the center of the intersection and so as to exit the intersection or other location in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction as the turning vehicle on the roadway being entered.

(C) In the event of multiple turn lanes, the driver of a vehicle turning left shall exit the intersection in the same relative travel lane as the vehicle entered the intersection. If the vehicle is in the second extreme left-hand lane entering the intersection the vehicle shall exit the intersection in the second extreme left-hand lane. Where there are multiple lanes of travel in the same direction safe for travel, a vehicle shall not be permitted to make a lane change once the intersection has been entered.

The most common way to violate this law is when you make a “wide turn.” A wide turn is when you start your turn in one lane and drift over into another lane while executing or finishing your turn. This is a common maneuver you will see on the road and a close look at the language of the law prohibits this conduct.

Interestingly, in State v. Morgan, 260 Ga. App. 263, 581 S.E.2d 296 (2003), the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s suppression of the traffic stop. Morgan was stopped for making a right hand turn into the left lane of two eastbound lanes of Hwy 278, then immediately got into a left turn lane to turn onto Hazelbrand Rd. approximately 100 yards from where he entered Hwy 278; the turn was reasonable and the reasonable suspicion for the stop was unreasonable. Because the spirit of our traffic laws is to ensure safe and reasonable driving among motorists, the Court decided, given the facts of Morgan and the reasonableness of his driving, there was no reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop his vehicle even though Morgan made a wide turn.

Challenging the Stop

Like any traffic stop,  is important to challenge the officer’s observations to determine whether the stopping officer has reasonable and articulable suspicion necessary to stop your car. The most successful way to accomplish this is to challenge the officer’s perception. Key issues include, but are not limited to:

  • Distance between the officer and your vehicle
  • Angles of officer’s observation
  • Traffic conditions (no traffic makes an improper turn more reasonable and safe)
  • Lighting
  • The mechanics of the turn

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. You can also find out more detailed information about Atlanta laws here.

DUI: Drugs

DUI drugs charges can be a source of confusion for defendants and lawyers alike. This article will explore these laws and explain their meaning, what must be proven, how they are proven, and how to defend against them.

There are three ways to charge DUI Drugs cases: (1) DUI Drugs – Less Safe; (2) DUI Drugs – Per Se; and (3) DUI Drugs – Combined Effect.

DUI Drugs – Less Safe

Georgia law prohibits a person from driving a vehicle while under the influence of any drug to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive. O.C.G.A. 40-6-391(a)(2). This “less safe” statute requires proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) that the quantity or amount of the prescribed, illicit, or even over-the-counter drug in the person’s system caused impairment or rendered the person to be a “less safe driver.” Therefore, a person can be prosecuted even though the drugs were legally prescribed or were provided over-the-counter, so long as consuming those drugs caused you to be a less safe driver.

The “less safe” provision is the most common way DUI drugs charges are prosecuted. The State is not required to prove the accused had a particular level of drugs in their system. As a result, the State may prosecute even though no chemical test exists. The arresting officer will look for the following indications of impairment:

  • Admitting to using drugs
  • Bloodshot or watery eyes
  • Slurred or slow speech
  • Presence of drugs in vehicle or on person
  • Bad driving
  • Poor performance on Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

The key to defending these “less safe” drugs cases is raising doubt as to whether the drugs taken were the actual cause of the bad driving complained of. This causation element is something the State is required to prove. There are many reasons for bad driving unrelated to the consumption of drugs. In addition, defense counsel should raise challenges to the arresting officer’s training and experience in detecting and investigating DUI Drugs cases. In many instances, the arresting officer does not have the degree of training required to properly investigate these cases such as an officer who is qualified as a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). Furthermore, defense counsel should raise a Harper challenge to the scientific validity of the Romberg Field Sobriety test if that test was performed by the accused. [1]

DUI Drugs – Per Se

Georgia law makes it illegal for a person to operate a vehicle while there is any amount of marijuana or a controlled substance, as defined in O.C.G.A. § 16-13-21, present in the person’s blood or urine, or both, including the metabolites and derivatives of each or both without regard to whether any alcohol is present in the person’s breath or blood. O.C.G.A. 40-6-391(a)(6).

Given the language of the law, the mere presence of a drug (prescribed or not) will constitute a violation of this code section. The question becomes how an arresting officer would know whether the accused had a valid prescription or not? Without an admission, this would be difficult for a prosecutor to prove.

Issues of proof aside, Love v. State, 271 Ga. 398 (1999), has essentially wiped out the “DUI Drugs – Per Se” law entirely. The Love case held that O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391(a)(6), was too broadly drawn, as it incriminates both legal and non-legal users of marijuana, constituting a violation of the Equal Protection clause of both the Georgia and United States Constitutions. This is the primary reason most DUI Drugs cases are prosecuted as “Less Safe” cases.

What remains of the DUI Drugs – Per Se statute is to punish those cases where someone is driving with drugs in their system which offer no lawful use (cocaine, heroin, etc.).

DUI Drugs – Combined Influence

Under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391(a)(4), a person is prohibited from driving a vehicle while under the influence of any two or more of the substances provided in the DUI code section (alcohol, drugs, or toxic vapors) to the extent it is less safe for the person to drive.

Again, we see the State being required to prove the accused was a less safe driver because of the combined effects of two or more intoxicants (alcohol and drugs – prescribed or not). Although these cases present greater challenges, a skilled attorney can raise doubt as to whether the combined effect of intoxicants actually caused less safe driving.  

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. You can also find out more detailed information about Atlanta laws here.


[1] The Romberg test consists of the subject tilting their head back, closing their eyes, and counting in their head until the subject believes thirty seconds has elapsed and then telling the officer when they believe those thirty seconds had elapsed.

Is DUI a Felony?

In most instances, the crime of DUI is considered a misdemeanor in Georgia. A misdemeanor is defined as a crime that has a maximum punishment of 12 months in jail. If this is your first time being charged with a DUI and no one was hurt, you will be facing a misdemeanor DUI.  Additionally, even if this is your second or third DUI in a short period of time, your DUI will still be charged as a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanor Punishments

Even if you are facing a misdemeanor-level DUI, the State can stack punishment, and request a longer sentence by adding additional jail time to an underlying charge. For example, if you are charged with DUI and Failure to Maintain Lane, the Judge can sentence you up to 12 months on each charge, for a total of 24 months in custody. Additionally, misdemeanor DUIs do still appear on criminal histories and can require jail, probation, and a license suspension if you are convicted. The goal after a DUI arrest is to avoid a criminal conviction so you can avoid the harsh punishments associated with a conviction for DUI. 

When DUI is a Felony

There are situations where you will be facing a felony after a DUI arrest. A felony is defined as a crime that is punishable more than a year in jail. The first instance is when you are being charged with a fourth DUI within a 10 year period, measured from the dates of previous arrests. A fourth DUI within 10 years is a felony in Georgia, with considerable mandatory minimum jail time if convicted.

Another situation where a DUI is considered a felony in Georgia is if you were arrested for the crime of Serious Injury by Vehicle. This occurs when someone causes an accident resulting in bodily harm while Driving under the Influence. This felony is punished by imprisonment between 1 and 15 years. Bodily harm under Georgia law is defined as an injury to another person which deprives them of a member of their body, or renders part of the body useless, or seriously disfigures, or causes brain damage. There are certainly defenses to this serious crime including the causal connection as well as what constitutes a serious injury.

The final situation where a DUI is prosecuted as a felony offense is Homicide by Vehicle in the first degree, meaning you are arrested for DUI and someone actually dies in the accident. You can be charged with Homicide by Vehicle if it is your passenger who dies.  If convicted, the crime is punishable from 3-15 years. The law requires the State to prove a causal connection between the violation of the DUI statute and the victim’s death. However, under Georgia law, the person does not actually have to commit an unsafe act before facing this type of charge.

Call us today!

DUIs in Georgia require knowledgeable and skillful representation as the stakes are high. If you are facing a felony DUI, it is imperative to find a law firm with a track record of success, who are well-informed on the ever-changing aspects of DUI law in Georgia. If you or a loved one is facing a DUI, whether it be a misdemeanor or felony DUI, call us today for a free consultation at 404-581-0999. 

Driver’s License & New DUI Law

In May of 2019 the Georgia legislature approved a new implied consent warning for persons who have been arrested for DUI in Georgia. The implied consent warning informs drivers that Georgia law requires them to submit to a blood, breath, or urine test after they have been arrested for DUI; and submitting a sample that’s over the legal limit of .08 or refusing to submit to the requested test after arrest can result in a suspension of your drivers license.

What’s New?

This new implied consent notice removes a part of the old language that states “Your refusal to submit to breath testing can be used against you at trial.” This occurred after a Georgia Supreme Court opinion which stated that your refusal to submit to breath test evidence cannot be used against you at trial. However, this ruling is only related to the breath test option. Refusing to submit to blood and urine testing can still be introduced against you at trial.

What we have found after evaluating this new implied consent warning is that most well-trained officers are now just asking for a blood test instead of a breath test. Your refusal to submit to a blood test can be used to suspend your license as well as it can be used against you at trial.

Call us TODAY!

The law in relation to DUI cases in Georgia is constantly evolving. Having a well-trained lawyer on your side is the best way to maintain your ability to drive and keep a DUI conviction off your record. Our staff of attorneys is trained by the sane trainers who are teaching law enforcement officers to investigate DUI cases. Call our office today for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.

DUI: Blood Alcohol Concentration

This blog article serves to discuss how Georgia law handles varying Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) levels, from 0.00% to 0.08% and beyond.

BAC of 0.05% or Less

If a chemical test of your blood or breath falls within this range, then the law[1]provides the defense with a presumption of non-impairment. This means the trier of fact (judge or jury) is entitled to infer that the defendant is not impaired based on this low alcohol concentration. This presumption of non-impairment, may however, be rebutted by the prosecution. Typically, this is done through presenting evidence of “bad driving” (accident, traffic violation, etc.), or through other manifestations associated with alcohol impairment. If your blood alcohol comes back in an amount this low, a skilled DUI lawyer should be able to get the charge dismissed or reduced.

BAC Greater than 0.05%  but Less than 0.08%

In this situation, the law provides no inference the person was or was not under the influence of alcohol. This BAC range is treated as neutral territory, it doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t help either. Again, this evidence is to be taken into consideration with other competent evidence determining impairment.

BAC Greater 0.08% or More

A BAC of 0.08 grams or greater amounts to a per se violation of the DUI statute. This means the law automatically deems you impaired, regardless of alcohol tolerance. For this reason, it is imperative defense counsel do anything possible to eliminate this BAC number from being introduced at trial. And if the BAC is admitted at trial, the defense lawyer is tasked with casting doubt on the validity of the BAC result. This can be accomplished through effective cross-examination, employment of an expert witness, and a thorough investigation of the case.

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. You can also find out more detailed information about Atlanta laws here.


[1] O.C.G.A. § 40-6-392(b)(1)