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Georgia DUI Law: Challenging the Stop, Speeding

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 speeding offense in Georgia.

The Offense

Speeding is one of the most common traffic offenses associated with DUI arrests in Georgia. This is likely because officers are equipped with speed detection devices and it is the type of offense that catches an officer’s eye.

In order to fully understand speeding laws in Georgia, you would have to refer to various parts of five different statutes: O.C.G.A. §§ 40-6-180, 40-6-181, 40-6-182, 40-6-183 and 40-6-188. The provisions of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-180 also cover the catch-all offense known as “driving too fast for conditions.”

Georgia has “absolute” speed limits, meaning a violation occurs even at one mile per hour over the posted speed limit. Unless otherwise posted, the absolute speed limits are as follows:

  • 20 miles per hour in school zones
  • 30 miles per hour in urban and residential districts
  • 35 miles per hour on unpaved country roads
  • 65 miles per hour on sections of physically divided highways without full access control on the state highway system
  • 70 miles per hour on interstate highways, and
  • 55 miles per hour on other roadways.

Absolute limits aside, Georgia’s basic speeding law prohibit driving at a speed greater than is “reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard for the actual and potential hazards then existing.” Therefore, a driver must always drive at a safe and reasonable speed. What is safe and reasonable depends on the circumstances. 40 miles per hour on a clear day with no traffic is more safe and reasonable than 40 miles per hour in a snow storm with heavy traffic.

Penalties

Under Georgia law, technically, speeding offenses 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, speeding cases generally do not result in jail time.

For a first time speeding offense, the maximum fines are as follows:

  • $0 for speeding by 5 miles per hour or less over the limit
  • $25 for speeding by more than 5 but less than 10 miles per hour over the limit
  • $100 for speeding by more than 10 but less than 14 miles per hour over the limit
  • $125 for speeding by more than 14 but less than 19 miles per hour over the limit
  • $150 for speeding by at least 19 but less than 24 miles per hour over the limit
  • $500 for speeding by at least 24 but less than 34 miles per hour over the limit

Speeding in “work zones” can be punished by fines ranging from $100 to $2,000 and/or jail up to twelve months as this is a “high and aggravated” misdemeanor. Also, anyone convicted of speeding at 85 miles per hour, or 75 miles per hour on a two lane highway, will be deemed a “super speeder,” causing an additional $200 fine to be added to the sentence. These fine amounts are base fines and do not include statutory surcharges which significantly increase the total fine amount. A sentencing judge can always add on defensive driving courses as a condition of your sentence. In addition to fines and course, a motorist can also expect points to be assessed on their license by DDS (2-6 points depending on the offense).

Challenging the Stop

A speeding charge may be challenged through a motion to suppress or a motion in limine which are designed to attack the stop, arrest, or any evidence gathered as a result of an unlawful stop and/or arrest.

The State has the burden of proving each and every law regarding speed detection devices.

First, the arresting officer will attempt to establish they visually estimated your speed. Visual estimation of speed is sufficient to convict in Georgia.

In order to establish a “visual estimation,” the officer must testify that: he/she is trained in the visual estimation of speed for vehicles, how long he/she has been trained, how he/she was trained, how many visual estimations he/she has made in their career, and that he/she is accurate to within +- 5 mph of their estimation.

The State must also prove:

  • The department issuing you the citation has a permit issued by the Department of Public Safety to operate speed detection devices. The prosecutor may either admit this document into evidence or just have the officer testify that such a permit exists. O.C.G.A. 40-14-2.
  • The prosecutor must prove that the location where you were speeding is on the Department of Public Safety’s list of approved locations for the use of speed detection devices. Many prosecutors think the officer’s testimony alone is enough to satisfy this requirement, but the prosecutor must admit this list into evidence. O.C.G.A. 40-14-3.
  • The prosecutor must prove that the agency issuing the citation has a permit from the Federal Communications Commission to operate the device, and that device was inspected by a technician before it was placed into service and that the device is serviced by the technician annually. This provision only applies to citations based on radar evidence. This provision does not apply to speeding tickets issued based on Lidar/laser, VASCAR, pacing, or other forms of speed detection. O.C.G.A. 40-14-4.
  • The prosecutor must prove that the officer tested his speed detection device for accuracy at the beginning and end of his shift and that he recorded the results in a logbook. This may be proven through oral testimony, or the prosecutor may admit the logbook into evidence. O.C.G.A. 40-14-5.
  • The prosecutor must prove that there are signs at least 24 by 30 inches when you enter the county, city, etc. warning that there are speed detection devices in use. O.C.G.A. 40-14-6.
  • The prosecutor must prove that the officer was not using the speed detection device within 500 feet of these signs. O.C.G.A. 40-14-6.
  • The prosecutor must prove that the officer was not using the speed detection device within 500 feet of a change in speed limit sign. O.C.G.A. 40-14-6.
  • The prosecutor must prove that the officer operating a stationary speed detection device was visible for at least 500 feet to traffic. O.C.G.A. 40-14-7.
  • The prosecutor must prove that your speed was more than 10 mph over the posted speed limit unless you are in a school zone, historic district, or residential zones all of which must be properly marked. An area with a speed limit of 35 mph is not automatically a residential zone. The area must be properly marked as a school, historic, or residential zone. O.C.G.A. 40-14-8.
  • The prosecutor must prove you were not within 300 feet of a change in speed limit sign (if inside a municipality) or within 600 feet of a change in speed limit sign (if outside a municipality). O.C.G.A. 40-14-9.
  • The prosecutor must prove that there was not a change in the speed limit in the 30 days prior to your being issued the ticket at the location where you were given the ticket. O.C.G.A. 40-14-9.
  • The prosecutor must prove the location where you received the ticket is no on a grade in excess of 7 percent. Just because a location is listed on the Department of Public Safety’s list of approved locations for the use of speed detection devices this does not mean the location has been measured for the grade. This is an excellent source for cross-examination. O.C.G.A. 40-14-9.
  • The prosecutor must prove the officer issuing you the ticket has a permit to operate speed detection devices. This may be proven by admitting the permit or having the officer testify that he is certified. O.C.G.A. 40-14-10.

In addition to these technical requirements, an experienced attorney can also raise challenges to errors committed by the operator of a speed detection device. Examples include, but are not limited to: lack of training, misidentifying your vehicle as the speeding vehicle, improper movement or aiming of the speed detection device, the officer’s visibility and/or reaction time, interference with the device (weather conditions, radio interference, air conditioning, reflective surfaces).

As we can see, there are many intricate requirements the prosecution must properly satisfy in order to prove speeding. Because of these various requirements, it is highly recommended you contact an experienced attorney who can raise these challenges in a pre-trial motion or at 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.

Smash and Grab Burglary in Georgia

A Smash and Grab Burglary is one where a person intentionally enters a retail establishment with the intent to commit a theft, and causes damage in excess of $500.00 damages to the establishment without the owner’s consent. The most common form of a Smash and Grab burglary is done in a jewelry store where the glass cases are broken. However, all retail establishments are included under Georgia law, including restaurants. If a glass door is broken during a burglary, or a lock is broken, and it results in more than $500 in damage, you can be charged under the Smash and Grab statute in Georgia. This is true even if nothing is ever taken or stolen.

Smash and Grab burglaries are treated more harshly in Georgia than a regular retail burglary (which is known as Burglary in the 2nd degree in Georgia). For example, on a first offense for Smash and Grab, it is a mandatory minimum 2 to 20 years to serve and/or a fine of up to $100,000.  On a second conviction for Smash and Grab, the sentence will range of a minimum of 5 years in prison and up to 20 years or a fine of up to $100,000.  On the other hand, a Burglary in the 2nd degree is a lesser included offense, and has a mandatory minimum sentence of a year (versus two years on a first offense Smash and Grab).

Under Georgia law, eyewitnesses are not required for a conviction for burglary, and this includes a Smash and Grab burglary. Fingerprints, DNA on cigarette left nearby, surveillance footage, and even cell phone records showing the person near the scene can all be sufficient for a conviction. A seasoned attorney who has handled these unique cases will do a full case evaluation and may attack the methods of the investigation, as well as any cell phone records, search warrants, and forensic testing done by law enforcement.

If you or a loved one has been charged with Burglary in Georgia, including a Smash and Grab, call the Law Office of W. Scott Smith today for a free case evaluation at 404-581-0999.

False Identification in Georgia

A couple times a month we receive a call from someone who receives a letter from the Department of Driver Services stating they are being investigated for providing fraudulent information, false identification, on their drivers license. That crime and others are covered in Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) 16-9-4; Manufacturing, Selling, or Distributing False Identification Documents.

What exactly does this mean?

Under O.C.G.A. 16-9-4 it is unlawful for any person to knowingly possess, display, or use any false, fictitious, fraudulent, or altered identification document. It is also unlawful to make, alter, sell, distribute or deliver the identification document with intent to provide them for others. An identification document has to be issued by a government agency or by authority of the government and it must contain a name, and a description or photograph. Common identification documents include passports, VISAs, military IDs, driver’s licenses, or state issued ID cards. This also includes employer issues ID badges, if the badges contain a trademark or trade name and access cards that are unique to specific individuals.

What will happen?

Anyone found guilty of possessing an identification document for their own use would be guilty of a misdemeanor. If you’ve made, altered or sold identification documents for others, they you would be guilty of a felony. Also, if you’re found to use property to help you in violating this code section, you can be subject to civil forfeiture of the property used to aid in possessing, making, altering, or selling these identification documents.

 

If you’ve been charged or are worried you are going to be charged with an identification document violation in Georgia, call us today for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.

 

by Ryan Walsh

Pre-Trial Diversion in Georgia

Being arrested for the first time can be one of the most stressful experiences in one’s life. An arrest has the potential to change everything – where you work, go to school, your car insurance, where you live, and how others see you. If this is the first time you have found yourself in the position, do not walk into court and plea Guilty or Nolo Contendere, because there may be another option for you. A Georgia criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate something different – something that doesn’t require you to plead guilty. If you enter a plea of Guilty or Nolo, the arrests and convictions do not age off your record; they remain on there forever. There are only a few ways that an arrest is restricted off your record from the public seeing it. Participating in a pretrial diversion program is one of those ways and might be an option to explore for your criminal case. Several counties and cities across Georgia have pretrial diversion programs designed to give you a second chance, and serve as an alternative to jail and convictions.

Pretrial diversion is an alternative to the traditional court process. It allows some first offenders, and even still others who have a history, to complete requirements prior to a court date in exchange for their case being completely dismissed. Requirements may include community service, theft class, or anger management. Pretrial diversion may be available for you if you were arrested in Georgia for Possession of Marijuana, Possession of drugs, Shoplifting, Battery, Assault, Minor in Possession, and the list goes on. A criminal defense attorney who is knowledgeable with the court can negotiate that the prosecutors potentially divert you from prosecution altogether, resulting in your case being dismissed.

Once you successfully complete a pretrial diversion program in Georgia as a first offender, the arrest itself disappears off your criminal record from the public’s view, and you can truthfully state with pride that you have never been convicted of a crime before. Your case will be dismissed in its entirety and you can breathe a sigh of relief.

If you are interested in resolving your case through pretrial diversion in Georgia, call us today for a free consultation at 404-581-0999. W. Scott Smith and his team have years and years of experience negotiating clients into pretrial diversion programs with the most favorable terms, even if the clients were ineligible under the State’s traditional guidelines.

 

by Mary Agramonte

Rape Shield

 

If you are charged with Rape in Georgia, it is imperative that you retain a sex crimes defense attorney immediately. There are rules in Georgia that protect the alleged victim from having her character attacked.

O.C.G.A. 24-4-412 prohibits certain evidence from being introduced at trial. This is known as the Rape Shield Statute. The evidence that is excluded from trial include, but not limited to, evidence of the alleged victim’s marital history, mode of dress, and general reputation for promiscuity, nonchastity, or sexual mores contrary to the community standards.

The Rape Shield Statute contains an exception to its exclusionary rule. The past sexual behavior of the complaining witness is not admissible unless the trial court found that the past sexual behavior directly involved the participation of the defendant and found that the evidence expected to be introduced supported an inference that the defendant could have reasonably believed that the complaining witness consented to the conduct complained in the prosecution.

Do not think that if you are charged with Rape in Georgia that you can attack the alleged victim for her past sexual behavior or think that just because she was dressed a certain way that you can argue that to the jury. The laws in Georgia protect rape victims from a character assassination in Georgia.

If you want to bring in evidence that fits the exception to the Rape Shield Statute, then the defendant shall notify the court of such intent, whereupon the court shall conduct an in camera hearing to examine the accused’s evidence. At the conclusion of this hearing, if the court finds that any of the evidence introduced at the hearing is admissible or is so highly material that it will substantially support a conclusion that the accused reasonably believed that the complaining witness consented to the conduct complained of and that justice mandates the admission of such evidence, the court shall by order state what evidence may be introduced by the defense at the trial of the case and in what manner the evidence may be introduced.

So, if you are accused of Rape, it is important to write out a log of every interaction you have had with the alleged victim, exactly what you remember talking about with the alleged victim and any evidence or witnesses that may help you establish that you believe consent was given.

In a Rape case, your life is literally hanging in the balance. Do not think that just because you believe you had consent and just because you know it did not happen, that the case will just go away or the judge and jury will just understand your side. Once you are accused of Rape, you need to go on offense in your preparation and show that either 1) you were misidentified as the person accused of rape or 2) you had consent of the alleged victim.

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.

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. 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.

by Mike Jacobs

 

Child Abuse Registry in Georgia

If you are charged with a crime involving child abuse or sexual abuse of a child then you will likely be receiving notice of your inclusion on the Child Protective Services Information System (Child Abuse Registry).

It is important that you contact an attorney immediately upon receiving this notice. You only have 10 days to challenge your name being on the Child Abuse Registry. If you respond within 10 days by requesting a hearing challenging your name being on the Child Abuse Registry then you will receive a court date. This written request must contain your current address and telephone number so that you may be notified of the date of your hearing.

This court date is in front of an Administrative Law Judge. At this hearing, you may present evidence as to why you do not think your name should be included on the Child Abuse Registry.When a DFACS office receives a report that you are alleged to have committed child abuse or sexual abuse of a child, then your name will be entered on the Child Abuse Registry.

Child Abuse means:

Physical injury or death inflicted upon a child by a parent or caretaker thereof by ot

her than accidental means, and this shall be deemed to be physical abuse for purposes of the classification required by paragraph (4) of subsection (b) of Code Section 49-5-183; provided, however, physical forms of discipline may be used as long as there is no physical injury to the child; Neglect or exploitation of a child by a parent or caretaker thereof if said neglect or exploitation consists of a lack of supervision, abandonment, or intentional or unintentional disregard by a parent or caretaker of a child’s basic needs for food, shelter, medical care, or education as evidenced by repeated incidents or a single incident which places the child at substantial risk of harm, and this shall be deemed to be child neglect for purposes of the classification required by paragraph (4) of subsection (b) of Code Section 49-5-183

 

Sexual Abuse of a Child means:

Sexual abuse” means a person’s employing, using, persuading, inducing, enticing, or coercing any minor who is not that person’s spouse to engage in any act which involves:

(A) Sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex;

(B) Bestiality;

(C) Masturbation;

(D) Lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person;

(E) Flagellation or torture by or upon a person who is nude;

(F) Condition of being fettered, bound, or otherwise physically restrained on the part of a person who is nude;

(G) Physical contact in an act of apparent sexual stimulation or gratification with any person’s clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, or buttocks or with a female’s clothed or unclothed breasts;

(H) Defecation or urination for the purpose of sexual stimulation;

(I) Penetration of the vagina or rectum by any object except when done as part of a recognized medical procedure; or

This law was established on July 1, 2016 and is listed under O.C.G.A. 49-5-182.

If you face charges of either sexual abuse or child abuse, then it is imperative that you speak to a qualified attorney immediately. Do not speak to anyone about the allegations except with your attorney. You are facing criminal charges in Superior Court and a hearing on your inclusion with the Child Protective Services Information System (Child Abuse Registry) in front of the Office of State Administrative Hearings.

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.

 

by Mike Jacobs

 

Marijuana Possession in Georgia

by Mary Agramonte

Even as the nationwide trend moves to legalization and decriminalization, possession of marijuana remains illegal in the State of Georgia. In most jurisdictions across the state, a possession of marijuana charge in Georgia will land you in jail, forcing you to dish out hundreds or thousands of dollars in bond money to be released. If you later plead or are found guilty, you can expect high fines, at least 12 months of probation, community service, drug evaluations, costly classes, and depending on your record, even more jail time.  An experienced criminal defense attorney has the ability to alleviate this by evaluating your defenses and advocating on your behalf.

If you have been arrested or cited for possession of marijuana less than an ounce, call the leading defense firm W. Scott Smith to protect your rights, your wallet, and your criminal history. A nolo contendere charge will not keep the charge off your record, and will not eliminate punishment. There are defenses beginning with the reason the officer stopped you, how the search was conducted, even down to the testing of the marijuana found. Being convicted of any crime can be detrimental to your future. Call us today for a free case evaluation at 404-581-0999.

 

 

Forgery Laws in Georgia

by Ryan Walsh

There are four degrees to the offense of Forgery in the State of Georgia.

Forgery in the first and second degree involves the making, possession or alteration of a writing other than a check in a fake name or in a manner that alleges the document was made by another person at another time without the authority of that other person. It is forgery in the first degree if that writing is used, presented , or delivered; and forgery in the second degree if it is never used, presented or delivered.

To be found guilty of forgery in the first or second degree you have to have knowledge that the writing is forged and that you have made, possessed or altered the document with the intent to defraud another party.

Forgery in the third and fourth degrees involve the same elements of forgery discussed above but the writing involved is a check.  If the check is for $1,500 or more or you have ten or more checks in your possession then you will be charged with forgery in the third degree. If the check is for less than $1,500 or you have less than ten checks in your possession then you will be charged with forgery in the fourth degree.

Forgery in the first through third degrees is a felony offense in the State of Georgia. Forgery in the fourth degree is a misdemeanor offense.

If you’ve been contacted by a law enforcement official about a potential issue at a bank it is important that you exercise your right to remain silent and call a lawyer immediately to discuss your case, your options, and potential outcomes.

Being convicted of a forgery charge can impact your ability to gain future employment or obtain professional certifications in the State of Georgia.

Our office of Georgia criminal defense attorneys have experience in defending forgery and fraud crimes. Call us today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Georgia’s First Offender Act

by Casey Cleaver

What is it?

Under Georgia Code § 42-8-60, the First Offender Act is a sentencing option which allows a person with no prior felony convictions to dispose of their criminal case without a conviction. The law can be paraphrased as follows:

Where a defendant has not been previously convicted of a felony, the court may, upon a verdict or plea of guilty or nolo contendere, and before adjudication of guilt, without entering a judgment of guilty and with the consent of the defendant, defer future proceedings and place the defendant on probation or sentence the defendant to a term of confinement.

O.C.G.A. § 42-8-60(a). Essentially, this means that if a guilty verdict or plea of guilty or nolo contendere is entered against a first-time offender, the State will delay entering a judgment and place the first-time offender on probation or in confinement (or a hybrid of both). The First Offender Act is not a substitute for punishment, but rather an alternative to a conviction.

Although the first-time offender is “sentenced” to probation or confinement, if the person successfully completes their sentence (along with any accompanying terms, fines, and/or programs) then the case is discharged by the court without a conviction and disappears from their criminal history for most employment purposes.

However, if a person fails to complete all the applicable terms of their sentence or commits a new crime, the judge can revoke that person’s First Offender status, and they will be automatically convicted because of the previously entered guilty verdict or plea.  Additionally, the judge could re-sentence you.[1]

Retroactive Application

Initially, a first-time offender could only receive First Offender treatment at the time of sentencing. This limitation ignored a large population of individuals who were eligible for First Offender treatment in the past, but, for various reasons, were not sentenced under the Act; the Act also did not originally include those who were not represented by an attorney and who were not informed of the First Offender sentencing option by the court at their sentencing.

In 2015, the Georgia legislature passed reform allowing for the retroactive application of First Offender sentencing. The law was further clarified in 2017 to make the retroactive provisions applicable to any case sentenced on or after March 18, 1968. The law governing retroactive application of the First Offender Act can be paraphrased as follows:

An individual who qualified for sentencing pursuant to this article but who was not informed of his or her eligibility for first offender treatment or an individual who was sentenced between March 18, 1968, and October 31, 1982, to a period of incarceration not exceeding one year but who would otherwise have qualified for sentencing pursuant to this article may, with the consent of the prosecuting attorney, petition the court in which he or she was convicted for exoneration of guilt and discharge pursuant to this article.

O.C.G.A. § 42-8-66(a) (emphasis added). The process for retroactively applying First Offender status is relatively simple and can be broken down into three steps. The first step is to determine whether the individual is eligible to receive First Offender status retroactively. To be eligible, the person must have been able to receive First Offender treatment at the time he was originally sentenced. There are some offenses under Georgia that disqualify First Offender treatment (such as certain violent felony offenses and sex offenses listed in O.C.G.A. § 17-10-6.1). Most offenses, however, qualify for First Offender treatment so long as the person does not have a prior felony conviction and has not previously been sentenced under the First Offender Act.

If the individual was sentenced between March 18, 1968, and October 31, 1982, to a period of incarceration not exceeding one year then the individual is not required to have been unaware they qualified before they were sentenced. Conversely, to obtain retroactive First Offender treatment for sentences imposed after October, 31 1982, the person must have been unaware that he qualified before he was sentenced. For instance, if an individual requested First Offender at the time of sentencing but was denied First Offender treatment by the judge, he would most likely not be eligible to receive First Offender treatment retroactively.

The second step in the process is to file a petition in the court where the person was convicted. A petition will request that the court hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether First Offender treatment should be retroactively granted. In order to file a petition, the prosecuting attorney that handled the original case must consent to the filing of the petition.

Lastly, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether to grant the petition. At the hearing, the judge will consider evidence introduced by the petitioner, evidence introduced by the prosecutor, and other relevant evidence. After all the evidence has been presented:

[t]he court may issue an order retroactively granting first offender treatment and discharge the defendant pursuant to this article if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence[2] that the defendant was eligible for sentencing under the terms of this article at the time he or she was originally sentenced or that he or she qualifies for sentencing under paragraph (2) of subsection (a) of this Code section and the ends of justice and the welfare of society are served by granting such petition.

O.C.G.A. § 42-8-66(d) (emphasis added). Typically, petitioners have character witnesses testify at the hearing to demonstrate to the judge the petitioner is an upstanding member of society. The judge also considers whether the individual has been arrested or convicted of any offenses since the time of their first conviction. Subsequent arrests or convictions are disfavored by the judge and are likely to decrease the probability the petition will be granted.

If the petition is granted, “[t]he court shall send a copy of any order issued pursuant to this Code section to the petitioner, the prosecuting attorney, the Georgia Crime Information Center, and the Department of Driver Services. The Georgia Crime Information Center and the Department of Driver Services shall modify their records accordingly.” Once granted, this procedure allows for the prior conviction to be retroactively discharged without an adjudication of guilt and sealed from a person’s criminal history for most employment purposes.[3]

Every case is different. If you or someone you know may benefit from this type of sentencing modification, contact our office today. We have extensive experience in this process and have successfully handled cases of this nature. We will be able to assist you in investigating your eligibility, navigating the complicated legal process, and fighting for the Georgia First Offender Act to be retroactively applied to your conviction.

 

[1] For example, if you were sentenced to serve three years on probation under the First Offender Act, and you successfully completed two years and 364 days of probation but committed a new crime on the last day of your probation, the judge could re-sentence you to three years probation.

[2] Preponderance of the evidence simply means, ‘more likely than not.’ (Mathematically similar to 51%)

[3] Keep in mind lawyers, law enforcement, judges, police, and certain third party vendors and employers will be able to see the charge. Furthermore, although the law clearly prohibits employers from using a discharge under the First Offenders Act to disqualify a person for employment (under O.C.G.A. § 42-8-63.1), Georgia is an employment-at-will state, so employers may choose not to hire or appoint any person at any time for any reason, or no reason at all, subject, of course, to constitutional requirements.  O.C.G.A. § 42-8-63.

Search Warrants and Social Media in Georgia Criminal Cases

by Mary Agramonte

Social media has become, for many of us, a central part of our lives. We use Facebook to share and view photos of friends and family, and even to catch up on daily news. We use Snapchat to send live photos or short clips and videos to those in our circle. Instagram exists to view photos of friends and strangers, and even to gain inspiration for food, travel, and lifestyle.

These social networking sites are used and enjoyed by people in all walks of life. Consequently, as the use by the general population increases, so does use for those engaged in drug dealing, gang activity, and other criminal acts. For this reason, social media and apps once thought to be private are becoming the key pieces of evidence as law enforcement is obtaining this information through search warrants. Search warrant allow police to conduct searches of people and their belongings for evidence of a crime and they are now being used to gain entry into your Facebook, Snapchat, and other sites.

Snapchat has recently come out to say that 350 million Snaps are sent every single day. Before these fleeting photos are opened, they exist on Snapchat’s server awaiting for the person on the other end to open it.  Some unopened Snaps, they’ve admitted, have been handed over to law enforcement through search warrants.

Facebook is no different and law enforcement is using the site regularly to investigate crimes. While a law enforcement agency is free to look at your public site, they are even able to obtain a search warrant even for the private aspects of your account. A recent case in the 11th Circuit, United States v. Blake, involved search warrants for email and Facebook accounts.  Law enforcement in Blake sought essentially every piece of data on the person’s Facebook account. The court stated that the search warrants were overly broad and stated they must still be specific and limited in scope. The data was still fair evidence despite this, as the officers relied on the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule, and the State was allowed to use the evidence from their Facebook account against them.

There tends to be a false sense of privacy for those engaged in sending Snaps, Facebooking, or Instagramming. These ‘private’ sites and photos can and do become to subject of search warrants in law enforcement investigations, and the biggest piece of evidence in a case might just end up being something you posted  or sent with the belief it would remain private.