Governor Kemp Signs Bill that will Enhance Penalties for Fleeing and Eluding in Gwinnett 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 Gwinnett 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 Gwinnett 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 Gwinnett 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 or attempting to elude in Gwinnett County, Georgia, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

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.

DUI Probation in Bartow County

If you are entering a plea to a DUI in Bartow County, under Georgia law, there are certain penalties which the Court must impose when you enter your guilty plea.

According to Georgia Law, O.C.G.A. 40-6-391, if you plead guilty to DUI, the Court must:

 

  • Assess a fine of not less than $300 (but not more than $1,000
  • Sentence you to 24 hours imprisonment
  • Sentence you to complete 40 hours of community service at a 501(c)(3) organization
  • Require completion of a DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program
  • Require completion of a clinical evaluation for substance abuse treatment
  • Require you to serve 1 year on probation.

While on probation, you will also be responsible for paying any supervision fees, you will be regularly drug and alcohol screened, and if you commit any other crimes, you may face even stiffer penalties if your probation is revoked.

These sentencing requirements sound very serious (and they are!) but they are also very discretionary. Bartow County judges have a lot of control over the sentence. For example, some judges will allow you to terminate your probation early if you complete any requirements of your sentence in a reasonable amount of time. Other judges will allow you to complete community service in lieu of paying a fine. Some judges will give you credit for any time served in jail at the time of your arrest, and other Bartow County judges will not make you serve any time if you complete your probation requirements.

Entering a guilty plea to DUI in Bartow County can be a tough pill to swallow. With the right attorney beside you, however, you will have your best chance of reducing the time and money spent on probation and incarcerated. Attorneys are able to present mitigating evidence for the Court’s consideration, and argue why the judge should withhold certain sentence requirements. If you are considering a guilty plea to DUI in Bartow County, call our office first. We may be able to help you make the best of a bad situation, and ensure that you are only being sentenced to the absolute minimums. Call us for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.

 

Written by Attorney Katherine Edmonds

Governor Kemp Signs Bill that will Enhance Penalties for Fleeing and Eluding in Cherokee 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 Cherokee 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 Cherokee 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 Cherokee 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 or attempting to elude in Cherokee County, Georgia, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

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.

Georgia Public Drunkenness Attorney

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

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

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

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

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

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.

DUI Probation in Henry County

If you are entering a plea to a DUI in Henry County, under Georgia law, there are certain penalties which the Court must impose when you enter your guilty plea.

According to Georgia Law, O.C.G.A. 40-6-391, if you plead guilty to DUI, the Court must:

 

  • Assess a fine of not less than $300 (but not more than $1,000
  • Sentence you to 24 hours imprisonment
  • Sentence you to complete 40 hours of community service at a 501(c)(3) organization
  • Require completion of a DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program
  • Require completion of a clinical evaluation for substance abuse treatment
  • Require you to serve 1 year on probation.

While on probation, you will also be responsible for paying any supervision fees, you will be regularly drug and alcohol screened, and if you commit any other crimes, you may face even stiffer penalties if your probation is revoked.

These sentencing requirements sound very serious (and they are!) but they are also very discretionary. Henry County judges have a lot of control over the sentence. For example, some judges will allow you to terminate your probation early if you complete any requirements of your sentence in a reasonable amount of time. Other judges will allow you to complete community service in lieu of paying a fine. Some judges will give you credit for any time served in jail at the time of your arrest, and other Henry County judges will not make you serve any time if you complete your probation requirements.

Entering a guilty plea to DUI in Henry County can be a tough pill to swallow. With the right attorney beside you, however, you will have your best chance of reducing the time and money spent on probation and incarcerated. Attorneys are able to present mitigating evidence for the Court’s consideration, and argue why the judge should withhold certain sentence requirements. If you are considering a guilty plea to DUI in Henry County, call our office first. We may be able to help you make the best of a bad situation, and ensure that you are only being sentenced to the absolute minimums. Call us for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.

 

Written by Attorney Katherine Edmonds

Cruelty to Children in Douglas County

By: Attorney Erin Dohnalek

In Georgia, the offense of cruelty to children is broken down into three different degrees, depending on the severity of the alleged abuse. Because of the consequences of such a serious crime, it is vitally important to understand the offense, as well as your individual rights when dealing with such allegations.

According to O.C.G.A. § 16-5-70, first-degree cruelty to children occurs when a parent, guardian, or other person supervising a child, under the age of eighteen, willfully deprives the child of necessaries to the extent that the child’s well-being is jeopardized. Additionally, conduct in which such person causes a minor child cruel or excessive physical or mental pain is considered first-degree child cruelty.

Second-degree cruelty to children occurs when a parent, guardian, or other person supervising a child, with criminal negligence, causes a child, under the age of eighteen, cruel or excessive physical or mental pain. Additionally, third-degree cruelty to children occurs when a parent, guardian, or other person supervising a minor child acts in one of the following ways:

  • Such person acts as the primary aggressor and intentionally allows a minor child to witness the commission of a forcible felony, battery, or family violence battery; or
  • Such person, who is acting as the primary aggressor, knows that the minor child is present or knows that the child can either hear or see the act, commits the act of forcible felony, battery, or family violence battery.

Penalties

The penalty for a conviction of first-degree cruelty to children in Douglas County, Georgia is a prison sentence between 5-20 years. For second-degree cruelty to children, the prison term is anywhere between 1-10 years. Alternatively, if a person is convicted of third-degree cruelty to children, he/she may be sentenced to a misdemeanor penalty, depending on his/her past criminal history. If the person has never been convicted of third-degree cruelty to children or has only been convicted once in the past, he/she may be sentenced to a misdemeanor penalty. However, if such person has been convicted in the past more than twice for the same offense then he/she will be sentenced to a felony prison term between 1-3 years and/or a fine of no less than $1,000, but no more than $5,000.

Defenses

Due to the severity of the punishment, as well as the collateral consequences for a charge of cruelty to children, it is vitally important to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend you against such allegations and who also understands all the possible defenses to such a charge. Some defenses to cruelty to children include, but are not limited to:

  • Accident, if it did not result from the person’s recklessness or criminal negligence;
  • Parent’s right to discipline, if reasonable; and
  • Actual innocence or false allegations.

At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our lawyers are trained to know all affirmative defenses for the offense of cruelty to children, as well as all possible options for an accused dealing with such a serious charge.  Therefore, if you or a loved one has been arrested for cruelty to children in Douglas County, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Cruelty to Children in Clayton County

By: Attorney Erin Dohnalek

In Georgia, the offense of cruelty to children is broken down into three different degrees, depending on the severity of the alleged abuse. Because of the consequences of such a serious crime, it is vitally important to understand the offense, as well as your individual rights when dealing with such allegations.

According to O.C.G.A. § 16-5-70, first-degree cruelty to children occurs when a parent, guardian, or other person supervising a child, under the age of eighteen, willfully deprives the child of necessaries to the extent that the child’s well-being is jeopardized. Additionally, conduct in which such person causes a minor child cruel or excessive physical or mental pain is considered first-degree child cruelty.

Second-degree cruelty to children occurs when a parent, guardian, or other person supervising a child, with criminal negligence, causes a child, under the age of eighteen, cruel or excessive physical or mental pain. Additionally, third-degree cruelty to children occurs when a parent, guardian, or other person supervising a minor child acts in one of the following ways:

  • Such person acts as the primary aggressor and intentionally allows a minor child to witness the commission of a forcible felony, battery, or family violence battery; or
  • Such person, who is acting as the primary aggressor, knows that the minor child is present or knows that the child can either hear or see the act, commits the act of forcible felony, battery, or family violence battery.

Penalties

The penalty for a conviction of first-degree cruelty to children in Clayton County, Georgia is a prison sentence between 5-20 years. For second-degree cruelty to children, the prison term is anywhere between 1-10 years. Alternatively, if a person is convicted of third-degree cruelty to children, he/she may be sentenced to a misdemeanor penalty, depending on his/her past criminal history. If the person has never been convicted of third-degree cruelty to children or has only been convicted once in the past, he/she may be sentenced to a misdemeanor penalty. However, if such person has been convicted in the past more than twice for the same offense then he/she will be sentenced to a felony prison term between 1-3 years and/or a fine of no less than $1,000, but no more than $5,000.

Defenses

Due to the severity of the punishment, as well as the collateral consequences for a charge of cruelty to children, it is vitally important to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend you against such allegations and who also understands all the possible defenses to such a charge. Some defenses to cruelty to children include, but are not limited to:

  • Accident, if it did not result from the person’s recklessness or criminal negligence;
  • Parent’s right to discipline, if reasonable; and
  • Actual innocence or false allegations.

At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our lawyers are trained to know all affirmative defenses for the offense of cruelty to children, as well as all possible options for an accused dealing with such a serious charge.  Therefore, if you or a loved one has been arrested for cruelty to children in Clayton County, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.