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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: One Leg Stand Test

Both the Walk and Turn (W&T) and One Leg Stand (OLS) tests are considered, “divided attention” tests. The officer is determining how well a subject can multitask (mentally focus on multiple tasks or ideas at once). We will see there are two stages: an instruction stage and a performance stage. For the purposes of today’s article, we will just discuss the OLS test.

One Leg Stand (OLS)

Test Conditions

The OLS Test requires a reasonably dry, hard, level, and non slippery surface in relatively safe conditions. Standardizing this test for every type of road condition is unrealistic. Therefore, if road conditions are not ideal, officers are trained to:

  1.  Ask subject to perform the test elsewhere; or
  2.  Only administer HGN

The original research studies of this test suggest that individuals over 65 years of age; people with back, leg or inner ear problems; or people who are overweight by 50 or more pounds may have difficulty performing this test. In addition, the original studies suggest that individuals wearing heels more than 2 inches high should be given the opportunity to remove their shoes.

Test Procedures

The test is initiated by the officer giving the following instructions, accompanied by demonstrations:

  1. “Please stand with your feet together and arms down at the sides, like this.” Officer demonstrates placement of feet and arms.
  2. “Do not start to perform the test until I tell you to do so.”
  3. “Do you understand the instructions so far?” Officer trained to receive some affirmative response before continuing.
  4. “When I tell you to start, raise either leg with the foot approximately six inches off the ground, keeping your foot parallel to the ground.” Officer demonstrates the position.
  5. “Keep both legs straight and your arms at your side.”
  6. “While holding that position, count out loud in the following manner: ‘one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three,’ and so on until told to stop.” Officer demonstrates counting while maintaining position.
  7. “Keep your arms at your sides at all times and keep watching your raised foot, do you understand?” Officer trained to ensure subject indicates understanding and answer any of subject’s questions regarding the test.
  8. “Go ahead and perform the test.”

The officer is trained to always time the thirty seconds in which they evaluate the test. The test should be discontinued after 30 seconds. If the subject places his or her foot down, the officer is trained to instruct the subject to pick foot up again and continue counting from where the subject’s foot touched the ground.

Test Interpretation

There are a maximum number of four clues on this test. Officers are trained that if the subject shows two or more clues or fails to complete the test, there is a probability of impairment.

Subject sways while balancing. This clue refers to side to side or back and forth motion while the subject maintains the One Leg Stand position. Swaying means a distinct, noticeable side to side or front to back movement of the elevated foot or of the subject’s body. Slight tremors of the foot or body should not be interpreted as swaying.

Uses arms to balance. This clue is recorded if the subject moves his/her arms 6 or more inches from the side of the body in order to keep balance.

Hopping. This clue is recorded if the subject is able to keep foot off the ground, but resorts to hopping to maintain balance.

Puts foot down. This clue refers to when the subject is unable to maintain the OLS position by placing the raised foot down one or more times during the thirty second count.

It is possible for the officer to observe two clues simultaneously. If a subject is unable to perform the test, the officer is trained to record observed clues and document the reason for not completing the test.  

Call Us Today

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: License Suspension

How can my license to drive be suspended administratively and again if I am convicted of DUI? 

This is a good question.  Georgia law thinks of driving as a privilege and not a right.  On the administrative end, the law provides the Department of Driver Services (hereafter “DDS”) may take your license (viewed as a privilege) if there is a showing that you were more likely than not driving under the influence.  This standard of proof is much lower than in a criminal case where the standard is beyond a reasonable doubt.  

Where does license suspension begin?

The administrative license suspension (ALS) process begins when the arresting officer takes your driver’s license and issues you a “1205 Form” which acts as a 45 day driving permit upon a DUI arrest. DDS must receive a copy of the 1205 Form from law enforcement before a hearing can be scheduled or a limited driving permit can be issued.

Despite the arrest, the driver’s license is still valid until DDS receives the 1205 Form and 45 days have passed since the 1205 Form was served. The suspension is “pending” once DDS receives the 1205 form until the outcome of the administrative hearing.  Once DDS receives the 1205 Form this 45 day driving permit will take effect and your driver’s license status will remain “pending.” This 45 day permit can be extended if the OSAH hearing is not held within 45 days. There are no limited driving restrictions with respect to this 45 day permit.

What are my options?

There are two approaches to dealing with an administrative license suspension: (1) request a hearing to appeal the suspension; or (2) elect to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle. 

DDS must receive the request for a hearing within 30 actual days (not business days) of the service of the 1205 Form. The hearing request must contain a $150 filing fee, the correct date of the arrest or incident, and the correct name of the driver, date of birth, and driver’s license number. Incorrect information could delay the hearing or cause a delayed suspension. Once the hearing request letter is received, your driver’s license will not go into suspension until you are afforded the ALS hearing before the Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH).

What happens at the hearing?

If you requested a hearing, the DDS will send you and your attorney a notice of a hearing date, time and location.  The officer who stopped you is required to testify in front of an administrative law judge. The scope of the hearing is limited to the following:      

  • (A) Whether the law enforcement officer had reasonable grounds to believe the person was driving or in actual physical control of a moving motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance and was lawfully placed under arrest for violating Code Section 40-6-391; or
  •   (B) Whether the person was involved in a motor vehicle accident or collision resulting in serious injury or fatality; and
  •       (C) Whether at the time of the request for the test or tests the officer informed the person of the person’s implied consent rights and the consequence of submitting or refusing to submit to such test; and
  •       (D) Whether the person refused the test; or
  •       (E) Whether a test or tests were administered and the results indicated an alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams or more or, for a person under the age of 21, an alcohol concentration of 0.02 grams or more or, for a person operating or having actual physical control of a commercial motor vehicle, an alcohol concentration of 0.04 grams or more; and
  •    
      (F) Whether the test or tests were properly administered by an individual possessing a valid permit issued by the Division of Forensic Sciences of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on an instrument approved by the Division of Forensic Sciences or a test conducted by the Division of Forensic Sciences, including whether the machine at the time of the test was operated with all its electronic and operating components prescribed by its manufacturer properly attached and in good working order, which shall be required. A copy of the operator’s permit showing that the operator has been trained on the particular type of instrument used and one of the original copies of the test results or, where the test is performed by the Division of Forensic Sciences, a copy of the crime lab report shall satisfy the requirements of this subparagraph.

If the judge believes the officer legally satisfied the aforementioned requirements, your license shall be suspended.

What if I lose the ALS hearing?

If you took the requested test, your breath/blood results were over .08, and you lose the ALS hearing:

Your license/privilege to drive will be suspended for 1 year; however, after 30 days from the effective date of suspension, you may apply for reinstatement of your license, provided you do the following:

  1. 1. Submit an original certificate of completion of an approved DUI Alcohol/Drug Use Risk Reduction Program;
  2. 2. Remit a $210.00 restoration fee (or $200.00 if reinstatement is processed for by mail).

This suspension will not age off, but will remain active until you have completed the requirements listed above.[1]

If this is your first DUI in the last five years, you may be eligible for a Non-Ignition Interlock limited driving permit.[2] Your license must be under suspension (lose ALS hearing or no request for hearing is made). These types of limited permits are issued at DDS locations and are renewable in 30 day increments. They’re also referred to as “ALS Permits.”

What if I refused to take the requested test and lose the ALS hearing?

If you refused to take the State’s breath test, your license/privilege to drive in Georgia shall be suspended for one year.  You will not be eligible for a temporary/limited driving permit.  The suspension ages off at the end of 1 year.

What if you request a hearing but the officer never submits the 1205 Form to DDS?

Georgia law requires the officer to submit the 1205 Form to DDS within 10 days of serving you with notice.[3] If the 1205 Form is not received, OSAH will send you a 91 day letter stating they have not received the 1205 Form. You will be entitled to a refund of your $150 filing fee. You must request the refund through the DDS form.[4] In addition, the 1205 Temporary Driving Permit Extension is no longer valid. As a result, you can obtain a new driver’s license from DDS so long as you indicate on your application for new license that your previous license was taken by an officer.

The Ignition Interlock Device Permit Approach[5]

The issuance of an “Ignition Interlock Device Limited Permit”, is conditioned upon you waiving your right to an administrative hearing and having an ignition interlock device installed your vehicle.  The current ALS process, including the right to an administrative hearing, will remain in place as an option if you do not qualify for or do not wish to obtain this type of permit.     

In addition to waiving your right to an administrative hearing and having an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle, you must also meet the following conditions:

  • Application for the permit must be made with DDS within 30 days of the person being served notice of the ALS by the arresting officer through the DS-1205 form, or—in the event of a DS-1205S form—within 30 days of receiving such notice of the ALS from DDS;
  • The ALS cannot stem from a motor vehicle accident involving fatalities or serious injuries;
  • You must be licensed in Georgia and not have any other suspensions, cancellations, or revocations against his or her Georgia driver’s license;
  • If you hold a Georgia commercial driver’s license (CDL), you must downgrade to a non-commercial Georgia driver’s license in order to obtain and maintain the permit;
  • You cannot have any prior convictions for DUI in the 5-year period preceding application for the permit;
  • You must surrender his or her Georgia driver’s license, either to the arresting officer at time of arrest or to DDS prior to issuance of the permit; and,
  • You must pay a $25.00 permit fee.

The period of time in which you must successfully maintain the ignition interlock device on their vehicle depends on whether you consented to or refusedS the state-administered chemical test requested by the arresting officer.

Consent v. Refusal

A person who consents to the state-administered chemical test and opts for the new permit will be required to successfully maintain the ignition interlock device on their vehicle for a period of 4 months.  If you are subsequently acquitted of the underlying DUI charge, or the underlying DUI charge is dismissed or reduced, the ignition interlock restriction may be removed at no cost and the driver’s license may be replaced.  The decision as to whether a fee is charged for removal of the ignition interlock device from your vehicle under such circumstances will be at the discretion of the device provider. A person who refused the state-administered chemical test and opted for the Ignition Interlock permit will be required to successfully maintain the ignition interlock device on their vehicle for a period of 12 months, regardless of the outcome of the underlying DUI charge.   

Successful maintenance of the ignition interlock device must be evidenced by the permit holder to DDS through the production of satisfactory monthly monitoring reports prior to DDS removing the ignition interlock restriction from the permit.  A permit may be renewed for a fee of $5.00 if additional time is needed for the permit holder to comply with the terms of the ignition interlock device, but it may only be renewed one time once the permit holder becomes eligible to reinstate his or her driver’s license. Following the designated term of successful compliance, the ignition interlock device restriction may be removed from the limited driving permit in person at a DDS customer service center for a fee of $100.00 (or $90.00 if removal of the restriction is requested by mail or other approved alternate means).  The removal fee is in addition to any reinstatement fee that may be required.

Driver’s License Suspension Under Criminal Law

O.C.G.A. § 40-5-63 provides for the terms and conditions governing the driver’s license suspension for any person convicted of DUI. Upon the first conviction, the suspension period is for 12 months. Like we saw before, after 120 days, you may apply to DDS for a reinstatement of your driver’s license (upon proof of Risk Reduction and restoration fee, discussed above).

Upon a second DUI conviction in the last five years (measured from the date of arrest), the suspension period is three years. You can still apply for reinstatement but would not be eligible for reinstatement until after ten months (as opposed to 120 days).

Upon a third conviction within the last five years, you will be considered a habitual violator and your driver’s license shall be revoked.

Periods of suspension under this code section begin on the date you are convicted of the offense. It is important to note that suspension time pursuant to an Administrative License Suspension under to O.C.G.A. § 40-5-67.1 shall be counted toward fulfillment of any period of suspension subsequently imposed as a result of a conviction of violating O.C.G.A. §40-6-391 which arises out of the same violation for which the Administrative License Suspension was imposed. O.C.G.A. § 40-5-67.2(b). For example, if your license was suspended for 6 months after an adverse ALS hearing and you are ultimately convicted of DUI, then you will receive credit for those six months towards time your license is to be suspended as a result of the conviction.

Call Us Today

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] Suspension time pursuant to an Administrative License Suspension pursuant to O.C.G.A. §40-5-67.1 shall be counted toward fulfillment of any period of suspension subsequently imposed as a result of a conviction of violating O.C.G.A. §40-6-391 which arises out of the same violation for which the Administrative License Suspension was imposed. O.C.G.A. Code Section 40-5-67.2(b).

[2] O.C.G.A. § 40-5-64

[3] O.C.G.A. § 40-5-67.1

[4] https://dds.georgia.gov/documents/refund-request-form

[5] The information contained in this section is taken from DDS’ website: https://dds.georgia.gov/press-releases/2017-06-27/new-ignition-interlock-device-limited-permit-available-july-1st-updated

Field Sobriety: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

What is Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus?


The HGN test evaluates abnormal eye movement caused by the influence of an intoxicant such as alcohol or drugs. Nystagmus is an involuntary jerking movement of the eye.[1] There are several forms of nystagmus or jerking of the eyes. Of the forty-plus types of medically recognized nystagmus, officers are trained on only three categories; vestibular, neural, and pathological disorders and diseases. Furthermore gaze nystagmus is only one of three types of neural nystagmus. Because there are so many types of nystagmus, it is easy for an officer to confuse the nystagmus they believe is caused by alcohol with another type of nystagmus not caused by alcohol but some other condition. Such other conditions include, but are not limited to: mental disorders, vertigo, inner ear fluid imbalance, head trauma, stroke, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and stroke. Therefore, it is incredibly important the test be properly administered as to rule out other types of nystagmus not caused by an intoxicant which may mimic the nystagmus caused by intoxicants.

Measurements

Measurement of nystagmus is accomplished through three different methods. (These are known as the “six clues” recognized by NHTSA as valid indicators of HGN; that is, three clues for each eye). The first measuring technique is to look for lack of “smooth pursuit,” i.e., rather than following a moving object smoothly, the eye jumps or tugs. This technique is not a description of nystagmus. It is a condition that can result from many factors, such as the flashing blue lights of the officer’s vehicle or the passing lights of other motorists (optokinetic nystagmus).

           
The second method of measurement is to determine whether the nystagmus becomes more “distinct” when the eye is moved to the lateral extreme (so no white is apparent between pupil and outer edge of eye). Again, many people can have nystagmus or nystagmoid-like eye movement at this point of extreme lateral gaze and not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

           
The third method is to measure the angle of onset of nystagmus. By measuring the angle at which the eyes begin jerking. Nystagmus as a result of an intoxicant should begin at or before the 45 degree angle from the straight ahead gaze. There should be a fast component in the direction of gaze, with a slow recovery phase back towards center.

Pre-Test Checks

HGN testing should be preceded by a series of questions designed to ensure the subject is not medically disqualified from taking the test. “Officers are reminded to ask questions about the subject’s eye and general health conditions prior to administering the HGN test.”[1] Additionally, “if there are any abnormal findings on the pre‐test checks, the officer may choose not to continue with the testing. If HGN testing is continued, officers are reminded this does not follow the standardized protocol and should acknowledge such in any report.”[2] After asking these preliminary medical clearance questions, the officer is ready to proceed with administering the test.

Test Procedures

To properly administer the HGN test, the officer must:

  1. have the suspect remove his eye glasses;
  2. properly instruct the suspect that the officer is going to check his eyes and that his is to hold his head still and follow the stimulus with his eyes only and to keep following it until he is told to stop;
  3. hold the stimulus 12-15 inches in front of the subject’s face;
  4. check to determine if both eyes track the movement together (equal tracking), check for resting nystagmus (caused by certain medical conditions unrelated to alcohol consumption) and to ensure the pupils are of the same size (this step rules out other potential causes of nystagmus unrelated to alcohol consumption);
  5. keep the tip of the stimulus slightly above the subject’s eyes;
  6. always move the stimulus smoothly across the subject’s entire field of vision;
  7. always check for all 3 clues in both eyes, starting with the left eye;
  8. check the clues in this sequence: lack of smooth pursuit; distinct and sustained nystagmus at maximum deviation; onset of nystagmus prior to 45 degrees;
  9. always check for each clue at least twice in each eye;
  10. the typical time for each pass is two seconds out and two seconds back;
  11. when checking for distinct nystagmus at maximum deviation, the officer is to hold the subject’s eyes in the extreme position for at least four seconds;
  12. when checking for the onset of nystagmus prior to 45 degrees, it should take the officer 4 seconds to move the stimulus from the suspect’s nose to the angle—once jerking of the eye is first observed the officer is to stop moving the stimulus to ensure the jerking continues (validate nystagmus);
  13. total the clues (need to observe at least four out of six clues to indicate impairment); and
  14. check for vertical gaze nystagmus (separate test to determine if subject has taken a high dose for that particular subject).

Is HGN Accurate?


 In September, 2007, NHTSA conducted another study, “The Robustness of the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test.” This study examined HGN in depth and, amongst other experiments, tested the false positive rates associated with improper administration of HGN. A false positive indicates a subject whose BAC was below 0.08 but the examiner nonetheless observed four out of six clues. The results were surprising. Evenwhen properly administered, 36.1% of test subjects falsely exhibited a positive result. Subjects whose stimulus was held too low (at eye level) exhibited a false positive rate of 52.7%.Subjects whose stimulus was held too high (four inches above eye level) exhibited a false positive rate of 61.1%. This is just one example of how one small error in administering the HGN test can produce a false result.

Summary

Attorneys need to be familiar with the instructor and participant NHTSA manuals, new case law, and the facts of their case to ensure the HGN test is properly administered and interpreted. As we saw, even the slightest deviation can compromise the validity of the test. For non-lawyers, it is important to know the HGN test, along with the other FSTs (discussed in Part III and IV), are entirely voluntary. Therefore, you should never consent to the participation of FSTs.           

  If you have 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.

by Casey Cleaver


[1] Session 8, page 29 of 95.

[2] Session 8, page 29 of 95.


[1] The NHTSA manual defines Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) as, “involuntary jerking of the eyes, occurring as the eyes gaze side to side. In addition to being voluntary, [the] person is usually unaware it is happening [and] the person is powerless to stop it or control it.” The Manual also states that, “alcohol and certain other drugs cause HGN.” Session 8, page 18 of 95.

Field Sobriety Tests Introduction

What are Field Sobriety Tests?

            In virtually every situation where a person has been pulled over for an alleged traffic violation and the officer “detects an odor of alcohol,” the officer will routinely ask the driver to perform Field Sobriety Tests (“FSTs”). These FSTs are used by the officer as tools used to assist them in determining whether probable cause exists to arrest a driver for the offense of DUI.

A Little About the Tests

            After many years of research and in an attempt to standardize Field Sobriety Testing, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) adopted three field sobriety evaluations for use by police officers nationwide: the One Leg Stand, the Walk & Turn, and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. NHTSA has issued strict standards by which the evaluations must be administered in order to ensure the tests’ results are consistently reliable and valid. These standards are published in a manual given to every NHTSA trained officer. The manual provides the precise procedures police officers are to use when administering the NHTSA-approved FSTs to DUI suspects.

FSTs to our Advantage

As a result, lawyers are able to question officers about their administration and interpretation of these FSTs under the NHTSA standards. In Georgia, every police officer is required to be trained under the standards provided by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (P.O.S.T.). As of October 1, 1995, P.O.S.T. adopted the three NHTSA-approved FSTs.

            This FST blog series will explore each of the three NHTSA FSTs in detail. We will discuss the tests themselves, how these tests are administered, how officers score the tests, and common mistakes officers make in giving these tests.  

by Casey Cleaver

DUI- Vehicles

Can I get a DUI on a bike?

It may be surprising to hear that the answer is yes, and that we have had these before, but it is true. Under Georgia law, you can get a DUI behind the wheel of many vehicles.

What’s the Law?

Georgia law makes it a crime to drive or be in actual physical control of any moving vehicle while under the influence of alcohol to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive; or the person’s alcohol concentration is 0.08 grams or more.[1]OCGA § 40-6-391 (a).

What constitutes a vehicle?

            A “vehicle” is defined in OCGA §40-1-1 (75) to mean “every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting devices used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.” This is a very broad definition as opposed to the more restrictive definition of, “motor vehicle,” found elsewhere in the Georgia statute.

            “Motor Vehicle” is defined as, “every vehicle which is self-propelled other than an electric personal assistive mobility device.” Therefore, both “vehicle” and “motor vehicle” cover the following devices: 

  • Lawn Mowers
  • Golf Carts
  • Motorized Scooters (electric or gas)
  • ATV/ Four Wheeler
  • Tractors

            But, as we saw earlier, the Georgia DUI statute applies to any moving vehicle and does not restrict itself to motor vehicle. As a result, we are left with a very broad definition which coulden compass a wide variety of devices one would not ordinarily associate with the offense of DUI. Take for example the following devices:

  • Bicycles and Rollerblades
  • Hoverboards
  • Skateboards
  • Horse-drawn Carriage
  • Construction Equipment

            In summary, if you decide to have a drink or two, please consider the wide variety of devices that fall under the term, “vehicle,” so as to avoid an arrest for DUI. If you do find yourself arrested for DUI, call our office at 404-581-0999 and let experienced attorneys guide you through this process. 

by Casey Cleaver


[1] See Georgia Statute for full description

Georgia DUI Blood Cases

Can The Government Take My Blood for DUI?

This section addresses the question of how law enforcement can legally obtain an individual’s blood in the context of a DUI arrest. Generally speaking, a law enforcement agent may obtain a person’s blood in three ways:

  • Pursuant to a lawful search warrant;
  • The presence of an emergency circumstance; and
  • Through that person’s consent
  • Search Warrant

“A suspect’s right under the Fourth Amendment to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures applies to the compelled withdrawal of blood, and the extraction of blood is a search within the meaning of the Georgia Constitution.” Williams v. State, 296 Ga. 817, 819 (2015). There are generally two types of searches, those with a search warrant and those without. Warrantless searches are per se unreasonable, “subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.” Id.

Therefore, if a police officer can obtain a valid search warrant for your blood, then they are entitled to draw your blood for purposes of investigating a DUI. It is important to note that even though your blood may have been drawn legally; there are still viable defenses to blood analysis (discussed in section below).  

Emergency Circumstances

One of the “specifically established and well-delineated exceptions” to the search warrant requirement is the presence of exigent [emergency] circumstances. But what constitutes an emergency circumstance? The answer is . . . it depends.

Georgia case law used to say that because intoxicants naturally dissipate in the body over time, this fact alone provided the exigency (emergency). Essentially, this meant that because the evidence of intoxication would disappear over time, the police would be prevented from obtaining that evidence if there was not enough time to get a search warrant. The Supreme Court of Georgia later adopted the United States Supreme Court’s decision rejecting this line of thought. The law now states that just because you have alcohol or another intoxicant in your system, that fact by itself does not create an exigency (emergency) justifying the drawing of a person’s blood. Instead, the court held, “whether a warrantless blood test of a drunk-driving suspect is reasonable [is to] be determined case by case based on the totality of the circumstances.”[1]

The resulting rule is that rather than automatically being entitled to drawing blood just because intoxicants naturally dissipate over time, courts will review police conduct on a case by case basis to determine whether an emergency situation exists sufficient to justify a blood draw.[2]

Defending Blood Test Cases

Analysis of a DUI suspect’s blood for intoxicants (alcohol or drugs) is considered to be the most reliable method of obtaining an accurate reading of a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC). This scientific procedure is designed to determine the amount of alcohol present in a person’s blood at a given time.

The BAC results from a blood analysis can be inaccurate, however, for a number of reasons:

  • Human error in performing the blood testing;
  • Flawed preservation and handling techniques of the blood sample;
  • Improperly maintained or malfunctioning machines which measure results;
  • Testing of blood plasma rather than whole blood can produce higher BAC readings;
  • Trauma or other incidents suffered by hospitalized suspect may affect BAC readings

Peach State Lawyers have been trained to attack the following aspects of blood test cases:

  • Qualifications of the person who drew the blood;
  • Qualifications of the analyst;
  • Whether the analyst followed laboratory procedures;
  • Whether the machine measuring results was working properly;
  • Whether the blood sample itself flowed through the proper chain of custody; and
  • Whether the analyst is required to testify

If you or someone you know has been arrested for DUI, do not hesitate to contact our office. Our highly skilled and experienced attorneys will work tirelessly to resolve your case. Feel free to call us 24 hours a day at 404.581.0999.

[1]  Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U. S. ___ (133 S.Ct. 1552, 1563, 185 LE2d 696) (2013)

[2] An potential example of such an emergency case is where there is a car accident and a DUI suspect is not located for several hours and after the suspect is found the police believe they do not have time to obtain a warrant; but they know if they do not get a blood sample soon, the possible evidence of intoxication will be lost.

 

by Casey Cleaver

Georgia DUI- What to Do

Remain calm. Getting pulled over by the police is a stressful experience. By keeping cool and following these tips you will greatly decrease the likelihood of a DUI arrest and/or conviction.

Pull Over!

At this point the police officer will be documenting everything you do. You should slow down, signal, and pull over to the nearest and safest place possible. Even if you believe the officer is going to stop someone else, state law requires drivers to yield to emergency vehicles with activated lights.

Put your car in park, engage the parking brake, and turn off the engine. Roll down both driver and passenger front windows as the officer may approach from either side. You don’t have to roll the windows all the way down, just enough as to where the officer can clearly see and hear you. However, if the officer asks you to roll them all the way down, do so.

Place both hands on the steering wheel so the officer can clearly see them. Do not move your hands out of sight or in a fast motion. Doing so could unnecessarily escalate the situation. Also, address the officer as: officer, sir, or ma’am. Respect goes a long way with law enforcement, especially if they suspect you of DUI.

Have Your Documents Ready

Be sure to always keep your updated proof of insurance, driver’s license, and vehicle registration in a place that is easily accessible. If you are fumbling around or have difficulty in producing these items, the officer will perceive this as evidence of impairment and include it in their report. By keeping these documents together and accessible, you can save yourself a lot of trouble.

What to Say

Say as little as possible. Remember, everything you say and do is being documented in the officer’s mind and may also be recorded on a body or dash camera or microphone. Your answers to questions, and any inconsistencies in those answers, will be used in court against you if you are arrested for DUI. In addition, the less you say the less likely an officer can reasonably testify to you having “slurred speech” or “odor of alcohol” coming from your breath. These phrases appear frequently in Georgia DUI cases.  

The officer will likely begin the encounter by asking something like, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” This question is designed to get you in trouble. The best way to answer this question is by simply saying, “no.” By saying, “yes” you invite having to explain yourself. If you admit to breaking a traffic law, you not only establish probable cause to arrest for the traffic violation, but you also bolster the officer’s decision to stop your vehicle.

Next, the officer will likely ask you questions like:

  • Have you been drinking tonight?
  • How much have you drank tonight?
  • What did you drink tonight?
  • Where are you coming from?
  • Where are you going?

DO NOT ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS. Instead, politely say something to the effect of, “I do not wish to answer these questions.” If the officer tries to force the issue, politely ask if you need to get a lawyer.

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you ever, ever, admit to drinking or describe how many drinks you’ve had. By doing so you are practically begging for the officer to arrest you, or at least thoroughly investigate you for DUI.

Decline to Perform Field Sobriety Tests

If an officer asks you to step out of the vehicle, do it. But DO NOT agree to perform any field sobriety tests (eye tests, alphabet tests, numerical counting tests, walking tests, balancing tests, etc.) DO NOT agree to a roadside breath test (portable breath test). Although the BAC number of a portable breath test is inadmissible (as opposed to the much larger Intoxilyzer breath machine at the police station or jail) , a positive result is a green light for the officer to arrest for DUI. A simple, “no thank you” or “I respectfully refuse” should be sufficient.

These tests are voluntary and are designed elicit failure. The officer who is deciding whether to arrest you will be the sole judge of your performance. Even if stone sober, you should decline to perform field sobriety tests.

If You Are Arrested…

Do not argue with the officer, you will not win. Do not ask for sympathy or try to explain why you cannot be arrested (work, children, etc.); you will only hurt your case. Remain silent. Again, everything you say can and will be used against you. ASK TO SPEAK WITH AN ATTORNEY even if the officer does not advise you of your right to an attorney.

When You Get to the Police Station

ASK FOR AN ATTORNEY. Renew your earlier request to speak with an attorney. This will prevent the officer from asking you additional questions until you have spoken with an attorney. Call us at 404.581.0999 and we will be glad to assist you. If you have the opportunity to meet with an attorney, be sure to ask the officer for privacy.

DO NOT ANSWER QUESTIONS. If arrested, the officer is supposed to advise you of your 5th Amendment Rights before questioning you. DO NOT WAIVE YOUR RIGHTS by voluntarily speaking with police. REMAIN SILENT. If you do not understand your rights, tell the officer you do not understand your rights. The officer cannot offer legal advice but does have to clarify confusion about the consequences of taking or refusing a test.

Exercise Caution in Agreeing to a Chemical Test  

Be extremely careful in deciding whether to submit to a chemical test of your breath, blood, or urine. Chemical tests are a double-edged sword. Refusing a chemical test benefits you by depriving the officer of potentially incriminating evidence produced by the test. But, if you refuse you suffer a “hard suspension” of your driving privileges for one year. If you have consumed a significant amount of alcohol, you should refuse the State chemical testing.

If you do submit to a chemical test ASK FOR AN ADDITIONAL INDEPENDENT TEST. You have the right to independent testing and the officer must reasonably assist you in obtaining the test.

Talk to a DUI Lawyer

If you or someone you know has been arrested for DUI, do not hesitate to call us. The offense of DUI is a vast and complex collection of laws that continue to puzzle lawyers and judges alike. Our office will assist in defending your case and getting the best resolution possible.

 

by Casey Cleaver