Georgia Criminal Law Blog – Top 5 Mistakes People Make in Municipal Court

Regardless of the severity, answering to criminal charges in court can be a intimidating. Imagine yourself in the courtroom. The judge calls your name, reads your charge(s) aloud to the entire room, and asks you how you plead. “Guilty, not guilty, or nolo?” the judge says. You might think to yourself, ‘I have no idea; are those my only options? What should I do?’

Far too often, I see people make snap judgements on their case without any idea of the true nature or consequences or their decision to the above question. This blog article will discuss the top five mistakes people make in the courtroom regarding their case and hopefully provide some insight on how to appropriately and intelligently handle your case.

Mistake #1 – Not Showing Up for Court

This may seem obvious to many, but you would be surprised at the number of individuals who fail to appear at their court date. While some people may think not appearing for their ticket in municipal court is no big deal, a “failure to appear” has serious consequences. First, in most jurisdictions, failing to appear at your court date will cause a “bench warrant” to be issued for the person’s arrest. This means you will be arrested, brought to jail, and kept there until the bench warrant is recalled or you resolve your case. Another consequence of failing to appear to court is a “bond forfeiture.” A bond is money or property used as collateral to guarantee your presence in court. If you don’t show up, your bond money is gone.

Mistake #2 – Blindly Pleading Guilty or Nolo Contendere

Mistakes happen, and sometimes pleading guilty or nolo contendere is the best way to resolve a case. But, all too frequently, I see people pleading guilty or nolo without really understanding the nature of the offense, the terms of their sentence, or the collateral consequences of entering a plea; all in order to just get the case over with.

Consider the following situation. A 20 year old person is charged with unlawfully passing a school bus. If convicted of this misdemeanor offense, punishment can include up to 12 months in jail or probation, $1000 in fines, community service, defensive driving school, and any other condition a sentencing judge finds necessary. This is also a six point offense on your license. The 20 year old enters a nolo plea on the first court date to get it over with.

What the 20 year old doesn’t know is that for a person under 21 years of age, there will be an automatic 6-month license suspension. Furthermore, a nolo plea (available once every five years) is useless in this situation as it will not prevent the offense from being reported to DDS.

Mistake #3 – Not Having a “Pre-Trial Conference”

Not having a “pre-trial conference” is one of the biggest and most common mistakes people make while in municipal court. By telling the judge you want a “pre-trial conference” you are signaling to the judge that you want to have a conversation with the prosecutor to negotiate the case in order to reach a resolution. You should always have a pre-trial conference.

Here is how to conduct a pre-trial conference:

  • Politely introduce yourself
  • Politely ask the prosecutor what their recommendation / offer is
  • If the offer is acceptable, thank the prosecutor for their discretion
  • If the offer is unacceptable, see if you can get a better offer
    • Without admitting guilt, try to get certain charges or conditions reduced or dismissed
    • Without admitting guilt, explain the situation or reason for the violation or present mitigating evidence if you feel you are losing the negotiation

It is important to understand: anything you say to the prosecutor about your case can be used against you later on.

Mistake #4 – Not Requesting a Jury Trial

Let’s use another example. A 30 year old male is wrongly arrested for DUI – Less Safe. After appearing in court and having a pretrial conference, the prosecutor will not dismiss or reduce the case. The judge then asks the man, “guilty or not guilty?” The man pleads “not guilty.” The judge then asks whether the man wants a bench trial or jury trial. What should the man do?

The answer is jury trial. A bench trial will be held in the municipal court where the judge, not a jury, will decide guilty or not guilty. A jury trial will remove the case from municipal court, and “bind the case over” to the State court in the county where the municipal court sits. A jury trial is preferred over a bench trial because: (1) the state needs to prove the case to six people rather than one; (2) there are opportunities to suppress evidence and otherwise litigate the case in State court where there may not be in municipal court; (3) jurors can better relate to DUI offenses than most judges; (4) the State court prosecutors may not “accuse” the case or may be willing to dismiss or reduce; and (5) the delay created by the bind over may benefit the case (witness memory or unavailability).

Mistake #5 – Not Having a Lawyer

All four of the above mistakes can be avoided if the person accused obtains legal counsel. An experienced lawyer will ensure you appear to court when necessary, can effectively negotiate the case, will properly advise clients of all of their options and consequences in accepting or rejecting a plea, understand the strategical considerations of when to bind over a case, and can provide peace of mind to the arrested individual. The United States  and State of Georgia Constitution guarantee a person facing criminal charges the right to counsel, private or public. While certainly some cases can be effectively handled without an attorney, there is an enormous benefit in being represented for a criminal case, no matter how big or small.

Contact Us

If you or someone you know is facing criminal prosecution, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation. Our firm has specialized knowledge and experience in handling criminal cases in multiple jurisdictions across Georgia.

Georgia DUI Law – What a Georgia DUI Costs

In 2018, there were 21,784 DUI convictions in Georgia. A DUI arrest and conviction has serious consequences. Among those consequences, you can expect to pay a significant amount of money in defending the case. This article serves to provide a general idea of what it costs to be arrested and convicted of DUI.

  1. Bail/Bond: $150 – $2,500. Cost of bail in a DUI arrest depends on a variety of factors including but not limited to prior criminal history, case facts, and ties to the community.
  2. Towing: $50 – $200. The cost of towing and impounding a car can increase daily.
  3. Insurance Increase: $4,500 or more. Depending on your insurance carrier and driving history, your rates could double, triple or even quadruple over a period of three to five years.
  4. Legal Fees: $2,000- $25,000.
  5. Fines: $300 – $5000. These base fines vary depending on the nature of your offense and any prior DUI’s. These base fines do not include statutory court costs which can increase the base fine by 50% or more. 
  6. Alcohol Evaluation: $95 – $300. The law requires completion of an alcohol and drug evaluation and treatment if recommended by the evaluator.
  7. Classes: $500 – $4,000. As part of a DUI conviction you will be required to complete a Risk Reduction class (also referred to as “DUI School”). This class costs $350. You are also required to complete a Victim Impact Panel which costs roughly $100.
  8. License reinstatement fees: $210 – $410. License reinstatement generally costs $210. However, depending on your history, you could be required to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle in order to reinstate your license. You would have to pay for the installation of the device plus daily maintenance costs.

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.

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).

Your Case in Municipal Court of Atlanta

There’s no better firm out there for assistance with your upcoming case in the Municipal Court of Atlanta. Our team of highly trained attorneys has been practicing in the Municipal Court of Atlanta building relationships with the prosecutors and judges for as long as they’ve been at 150 Garnett Street.

What does MCOA handle?

The City Court of Atlanta handles almost every traffic citation occurring inside the city limits of Atlanta along with marijuana, shoplifting, and disorderly conduct charges. They also handle all city ordinance charges which involve business license issues, property issues, and some personal citations like disorderly conduct under the influence. There are eleven active courtrooms in the courthouse and most courtrooms have court twice a day.

A case in the Municipal Court of Atlanta has multiple ways it can be resolved. Unlike other municipal courts where your options are guilty or not guilty, the Municipal Court of Atlanta offers pre-trial diversion on a number of traffic and criminal charges, along with other alternative disposition methods if you qualify.

Did you miss court? There might be a warrant out for your arrest? Hiring an attorney may allow you to lift the warrant without appearing in court and risking potential arrest.

Do I need an attorney?

Skilled attorneys can appear in court on your behalf, speed up the process of resolving your charge(s), and negotiate resolutions that a non-attorney may not be able to obtain. It is important that before you resolve your case in the City of Atlanta you give our office a call to discuss potential outcomes and ways we can assist you. The consolation is free, and we are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help. Call us today at 404-581-0999.

by Ryan Walsh

Georgia Court Dates

Months ago, you had one of your worst days ever: you were arrested. The time it took to bond out seemed like an eternity. But you’re finally out of jail, and you swear you’ll never be back. Weeks pass, and it all seems like a bad dream. Until one day you check your mail and find a letter from a superior, state or municipal court. The letter is about your arrest. It says you have to be in court on specific days for arraignment, motions, and calendar call. The letter also says if you don’t appear as instructed, you may be issued a bench warrant. But what do these terms mean?

Arraignments

Then and Now

Let’s start with arraignment. Arraignment is a word from British common law adapted into the U.S. Criminal Justice System. Literacy was at an all-time low during the olden days of England. Arraignment was created by their judicial system to tell illiterate defendants their pending charges. Prosecutors would do this by reading defendants’ charges to them in open court, since they couldn’t read the law themselves. Defendants would then be given the opportunity to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

Similarly, modern arraignment is the court date at which defendants enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Should you choose Peachstate Lawyer as your legal representation, we will file the appropriate paperwork to ensure you do not have to be in court for arraignment. That paperwork is called a “waiver” of formal arraignment. The waiver we file enables you to enter a plea of not guilty without having to go in front of a judge. The waiver also preserves your attorney’s right to file motions in your case and receive discovery (i.e. evidence) from the state about your case.

Motions

That brings us to the next most important court date in your case: motions. Depending on the county, you may or may not have to be in court for motions. But rest assured that Peachstate Lawyer will file appropriate motions in your case. Motions are important pre-trial steps to contest the state’s evidence against you. Sometimes motions can get a case thrown out all-together. So, it is very important that you have legal defense, like us, who know which motions to file, and ultimately argue, on your behalf.

Calendar Call

Finally, the last court date referenced in the judicial notice you received is for calendar call. My rule of thumb is to instruct all of my clients to be present at calendar call. Most counties in Georgia issue bench warrants for those who do not appear as instructed. And while that is something our firm can take care of, it is in your best interest to avoid having a bench warrant issued for you. (After all, you swore you’d never go back to jail after bonding out months ago.)

Calendar Call is the date at which your attorney tells the Judge how you plan to resolve your case. Even though you initially entered a plea of not guilty, you may decide to resolve you case by guilty plea if don’t want to have a jury trial & your attorney secured a plea offer that you want to accept. Alternatively, your attorney may also announce ready for trial and your case will be added to the Judge’s next trial calendar.

If you’ve received judicial notice in the mail and do not know what to do next, contact our office today for a free consultation.

by Sarah Armstrong

How Do I Get Out of the City of Atlanta Jail?

by Ryan Walsh

You’ve been arrested in the City of Atlanta. You’re in the back of the patrol car and being transported to Atlanta Pre-Trial Detention Center. What do you do?

First, do not make any statements to the police while you are being transported to the Atlanta Pre-Trial Detention Center.

Second, do not make any statements about the facts of your case to anyone at the Atlanta Pre-Trial Detention Center. This is not the time to plead your innocence. Your sole focus should be on getting out on bond.

You’ve been taken to the Atlanta Pre-Trial Detention Center because your case is going to be beginning in the City of Atlanta Municipal Court. The City of Atlanta Municipal Court has jurisdiction (or responsibility) in handling all traffic offenses, some state law misdemeanors including possession of marijuana, theft by shoplifting, and disorderly conduct; and all City of Atlanta ordinance violations.

You are entitled to a bond on all of these charges. Your bond will be set after first appearing in front of a Judge in most circumstances. City of Atlanta holds first appearance hearings Sunday through Friday. They do not hold first appearance hearings on Saturday, so if you’ve been arrested after first appearance on Friday, you may have to wait until Sunday to go in front of the Judge to get a bond.

The City of Atlanta Judge is required to consider four factors when setting a bond.

  1. Poses no significant risk of fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court or failing to appear in court when required;
  2. Poses no significant threat or danger to any person, to the community, or to any property in the community;
  3. Poses no significant risk of committing any felony pending trial;
  4. Poses no significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice.

There are several types of bonds available for your case.

  1. Cash Bond: The first option in the City of Atlanta is to pay a cash bond. This means that you pay the entire bond yourself. The benefit to this bond is that it is refundable to you once you resolve your case.
  2. Bail Bondsman: The second option is to call a bonding company. You will pay between 10% – 15% of the total bond to the bonding company. The bonding company will then post the entire bond and you will be released. This 10% – 15% is non-refundable. The City of Atlanta jail will provide you with a list of approved bonding companies.
  3. Signature Bond: In certain circumstances you will be released on Signature bond. A signature bond means you are signing your own bond, promising to appear in court on the next scheduled date.

If you or your loved one is arrested and taken to the Atlanta Pre-Trial Detention Center, please contact us any time and we can assist you in helping get a bond set.

Our office is located in downtown Atlanta at 100 Peachtree Street, Suite 2060, Atlanta, Georgia 30303. Feel free to call us at 404-581-0999 anytime day or night. Also, please go to our website at www.peachstatelawyer.com

 

 

First Offender Sentencing in Georgia

First offender treatment is available in Georgia for anyone who has not been previously convicted of a felony and is not charged with a serious violent felony. Serious violent felonies are murder, felony murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery. Anyone charged with one of those offenses is automatically ineligible for first offender unless the charge is reduced to a lesser offense.

If a defendant receives first offender treatment, it can be both a blessing and a curse. If there are no issues during the period of probation, then no official conviction will ever be reported and the record itself will seal from public view. However, if the defendant commits a new offense while on probation or has any issues at all, then the judge has discretion to revoke the first offender status and re-sentence the defendant up the maximum sentence allowed by law.

While serving the sentence which will undoubtedly involve a period of probation, the defendant is not technically convicted of a crime but still cannot possess a firearm. After successful completion, all gun rights are restored.

Finally, first offender status can be granted retroactively if the defendant was eligible for first offender treatment at the time of the original plea but was not informed of his or her eligibility. Still, there is discretion, and the judge must find by a preponderance of the evidence that the ends of justice and the welfare of society are served by granting retroactive first offender status.

If you are charged with a crime in Georgia, then you should always consult with an attorney as to whether you are a candidate for first offender treatment. If you have already pled guilty, then you should still reach out to discuss whether you can receive retroactive first offender treatment. Give us a call today at 404-581-0999.

Atlanta Hit and Run Attorneys

by Mary Agramonte

Whenever you are in a car accident involving either property damage or personal injury, Georgia law provides that a driver is required to do the following things:

  • Give your name, address, and registration of the vehicle
  • Upon request, provide a driver’s license
  • Render reasonable aid to injured parties – such as transporting or making arrangements to transport a person to medical treatment if its apparent medical treatment is needed
  • Where person is unconscious, appears deceased, or is otherwise unable to communicate, you must make reasonable effort to ensure emergency medical service and police are contacted.

Under Georgia law, a driver involved in an accident must remain on scene until all four requirements are met. If a driver neglects one or more of the requirements, they can later be arrested and charged with the crime of Hit and Run.

Hit and Run under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-270 is one of the most serious traffic crimes to face. The Department of Driver Services classifies it as a “Major” violation which is in the same category of DUI, Vehicular Homicide, and Fleeing. Hit and Run can not only land you with probation and high fines, it will suspend your license, and can result in you facing jail time.

There are defenses to Hit and Run and ways to negotiate the case to significantly less serious offenses that will not result in jail or a suspended license. With experienced Georgia Hit and Run attorneys on your side, you can fight the case and keep your freedom and driving privileges. If you or someone you know has been involved in a Hit and Run, it is important to retain Hit and Run attorneys quickly. In some cases, an accomplished Hit and Run attorney can be proactive in negotiating lesser charges even before a surrender process. Call us today at 404-581-0999 for a FREE CONSULTATION with one of our knowledgeable Georgia Hit and Run attorneys.

Right to Bind Over from Municipal or Traffic Court in Georgia Criminal Cases

In Georgia, everyone charged with a crime against the laws of this state has a constitutional right to a trial by jury. The key word here is the laws of the State. Some municipalities have their own subset of rules that usually overlap with state laws. These rules are called local ordinances and they can only be prosecuted in the local municipal or probate court. However, since the local ordinances typically have a state law equivalent, you have the right to have the charge upgraded to a state law offense and have a trial by jury in the state court located within the same County. There are pros and cons to this course of action since a local ordinance will not appear on your criminal history unless you were arrested which would create a record via your fingerprint. Once upgraded to a state law offense, the charge will appear on your criminal history and won’t be removed unless you beat all charges at trial. The effect on your criminal history is the only downside of exercising your constitutional right to a trial. Sometimes, the offer will be better in state court or you will in fact proceed to a jury trial and be found not guilty. If you are charged with a state law offense originally, then there is absolutely no downside to exercising your constitutional right to a trial. You can and should bind your case over to state court if the municipal or probate court is not making a suitable offer.

If you find yourself in municipal or probate court and the judge or prosecutor makes it seem like you have no other choice than to plead guilty or have the judge decide your fate, call us at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.