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DUI Less Safe

by Casey Cleaver

O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391 prohibits a person from driving or being in actual physical control of a moving vehicle when alcohol or a drug makes it “less safe” for that person to drive. The wording of the statute begs two major questions: (1) What does “less safe” mean? (2) How can the State prove alcohol or drugs made someone a less safe driver? This article serves to answer these questions.

In Jones v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the DUI statute does not require a finding that the driver was unsafe; it only requires a finding that the person was a less safe driver than they would have been were they not under the influence of alcohol [or drugs].[1] Therefore, there is no requirement that the person actually commit an unsafe act.[2]

In State v. Kachwalla the Supreme Court of Georgia held that “less safe to drive” under paragraph (a)(2) of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391 and “rendered incapable of driving safely” under paragraph (a)(6) of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391 set the same standard of impairment necessary to establish that a driver was driving under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substance.[3]

Case law indicates that circumstantial evidence, opinion testimony, and/or expert witness testimony can be sufficient to prove that drinking alcohol or doing drugs made a defendant a less safe driver.[4] These cases, however, seem to avoid the issue of how, if a witness does not know a defendant’s usual driving habits (e.g. he/she usually speeds, weaves, fails to use turn signals, etc.) that witness can determine whether in a particular situation, consumption of alcohol rendered the driver less safe. It seems necessary that in order to prove alcohol or drugs made someone a less safe driver, the State would also have to provide evidence of the defendant’s normal driving habits and then compare those normal habits against the driving observed by law enforcement.[5]

If you or someone you know has been charged with DUI under the “less safe” provision contact our office today for a free consultation.

[1] Jones v. State, 207 Ga. App. 469 (1993)

[2] Moss v. State, 194 Ga. App. 181 (1990)

[3] State v. Kachwalla, 274 Ga. 886, 887-888 (2002) (stating, “less safe to drive” and “rendered incapable of driving safely” are equivalent standards, legally, historically, and semantically)

[4] Dudley v. State, 204 Ga. App. 327 (1992) (holding expert witness testimony that the amount of cocaine found in defendant’s system would render him a “less safe” driver was sufficient to support the jury’s finding of guilt); Geoffrion v. State, 224 Ga. App. 775, 779 (1997) (holding testimony that the defendant weaved and crossed the centerline was sufficient evidence to sustain a verdict that defendant was a less safe driver); Duggan v. State, 225 Ga. App. 291, 293 (1997) (holding that when there is evidence that the defendant has been drinking, evidence of the manner of driving, including excessive speed, may be taken into consideration to determine whether the intoxicant affected him to the extent that he drove less safely); Hamilton v. State, 228 Ga. App. 285 (1997) (holding officer testimony regarding his observations of defendant and defendant’s performance on Field Sobriety Tests was sufficient to establish the defendant was intoxicated to the point that he was less safe to drive).

[5] See Peck v. State, 245 Ga. App. 599 (2000)

Atlanta DUI Lawyer

by Mary Agramonte

If you or a loved one has been charged with an Atlanta DUI, picking the right criminal defense attorney can be challenging. You need to look to the credentials, success rate, and reputation of the attorney in the field. Even if you believe you are guilty of the DUI, it is still important to contact an attorney experienced in complex area of DUI law as having a knowledgeable DUI attorney can be the difference in saving and losing your driver’s license. There are some DUIs that if you plead guilty, your license is suspended without a limited permit. The license repercussions of a DUI conviction are one of many reasons to contact a DUI attorney.

Call our firm to speak with experienced DUI attorneys on how to best defend your case. Experienced Atlanta lawyers in our firm are available any time, including nights and weekends, to provide you with the best possible outcome and advice. We can be contacted 24/7 at 404-581-0999 and provide free consultations.

Our firm consists of six highly trained Atlanta and Fulton County attorneys. We have an office near the Municipal Court of Atlanta – and have successfully defended against hundreds of Atlanta DUIs. W. Scott Smith has 18 years of DUI under his belt. He is active The National College of DUI Defense, Georgia Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers, The Lawyer Club of Atlanta, the Cobb County Bar Association and the Sandy Springs Bar Association.

The address of the Atlanta Municipal Court is 150 Garnett Street. This court handles all cases where defendants are charged with traffic misdemeanors and local ordinances within the City of Atlanta in Fulton County. Atlanta has its own police department, and so if you are arrested for a DUI in Fulton County by an Atlanta Police Officer, your case will begin in the Atlanta Municipal Court. Additionally, if you are pulled over and arrested by a Trooper with the Georgia State Patrol within the City of Atlanta, your case will also begin in the Atlanta Municipal Court. DUI Court is currently held by Judge Bey at 1pm and 3pm daily. If you’ve been arrested and are in custody, Atlanta Muncipal Court Judges hold bond hearings Sunday through Friday, daily. The Atlanta Municipal Court does not always hold bond hearings Saturdays, so if you were arrested late Friday night or early Saturday morning you may not see a Judge until Sunday.

If you have been arrested with a DUI in Atlanta or in Fulton County, our lawyers are ready to fight to avoid a DUI conviction. We are a group of knowledgeable attorneys prepared to defend against your Atlanta DUI in order to best protect your freedom and your license. If you have been charged with Driving under the Influence and your case is in the Atlanta Municipal Court, call a law firm with the experience necessary to achieve the most favorable result for you.  We are available 24/7 to speak with you about your Atlanta DUI at 404-581-0999.

 

Marietta Driving under the Influence (DUI) Lawyer

by Mary Agramonte

If you or a loved one has been charged with a Marietta DUI, contact our firm to speak with experienced DUI attorneys on how to best defend your case. Experienced Marietta lawyers in our firm are available any time, including nights and weekends, to provide you with the best possible outcome and advice. We can be contacted 24/7 at 404-581-0999 and provide free consultations.

Our firm consists of six highly trained Marietta and Cobb County attorneys. We have an office near the Marietta Square and Cobb Courthouse – with the Peach State Lawyer Hummer parked out front. W. Scott Smith has 18 years of DUI under his belt, and is active The National College of DUI Defense, Georgia Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers, The Lawyer Club of Atlanta, the Cobb County Bar Association and the Sandy Springs Bar Association. Mary Agramonte is an associate of W. Scott Smith and is a Marietta and Cobb County DUI lawyer and has successfully completed multiple advanced DUI seminars, as well as attended the renowned Bill Daniels Trial Lawyers College.

The address of Marietta Municipal Court is 240 Lemon St NE, Marietta, GA 30060. It is located in the same building as the Marietta Police Department. This court handles all cases where defendants are charged with traffic misdemeanors and local ordinances within the City of Marietta in Cobb County. The City of Marietta has its own police department, and so if you are arrested for a DUI in Cobb County by a Marietta Police Officer, your case will begin in the Marietta Municipal Court.

If you have been arrested with a DUI in Marietta or in Cobb County, our lawyers are ready to fight to avoid a DUI conviction. We are a group of knowledgeable attorneys prepared to defend against your Cobb County DUI in order to best protect your freedom and your license. If you have been charged with Driving with a Suspended License, a Super Speeder Speeding ticket, or Possession of Marijuana, and your case is in the Marietta Municipal Court, then call a law firm with the experience necessary to achieve the most favorable result for you.  We are available 24/7 to speak with you about your Marietta DUI or Marietta traffic case at 404-581-0999.

Avondale Estates DUI Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been charged with an Avondale Estates DUI, contact our firm to speak with experienced DUI attorneys on how to best defend your case. Experienced Avondale Estates lawyers in our firm are available any time, including nights and weekends, to provide you with the best possible outcome and advice. We can be contacted 24/7 at 404-581-0999 and provide free consultations.

Our firm consists of six highly trained Avondale Estates attorneys. W. Scott Smith has 18 years of DUI law under his belt, and is active The National College of DUI Defense, Georgia Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers, The Lawyer Club of Atlanta, the Cobb County Bar Association and the Sandy Springs Bar Association. The associates of W. Scott Smith, are  Avondale Estates DUI lawyers and have each successfully completed multiple advanced DUI seminars.

The address of Avondale Estates Court is 21 N. Avondale Road in Avondale Estates, Georgia. It is located in City Hall in Avondale Estates. This court handles all cases where defendants are charged with traffic misdemeanors and local ordinances within the City of Avondale Estates. Avondale Estates has its own police department, and so if you are arrested for a DUI in Avondale Estates by an Avondale Estates Police Officer, your case will begin in the Municipal Court.

If you have been arrested with a DUI in Avondale Estates, our lawyers are ready to fight to avoid a DUI conviction. We are a group of knowledgeable attorneys prepared to defend against your Avondale Estates DUI in order to best protect your freedom and your license. We are available 24/7 to speak with you about your Avondale Estates DUI at 404-581-0999.

DUI Refusal Reaches the Supreme Court

SUPREME COURT UPDATE:  Can they charge me with a crime for refusing the breath test?

On April 20, 2016, the Supreme Court heard argument on Birchfield v. North Dakota.  The case addressed the question of whether a State can criminalize the refusal to submit to a chemical test of blood, breath, or urine without a warrant.   In both Minnesota and North Dakota, it is a separate crime to refuse to take the State chemical test.   Prosecutors for both the State of Minnesota and the State of North Dakota argued that an officer’s request for a breath sample without a warrant protects against evidence spoiling (BAC dropping over a period of time).  Interestingly, the Supreme Court Justice’s peppered both lawyers with factual scenarios about the reality that, with today’s technological capabilities, it is fairly easy for a police officer to contact a magistrate judge to obtain a warrant.   Interestingly, the Justices did not focus all of their tough questions towards the State.  It appears that the Justices had significant feelings about the minimally invasive nature of a breath test in comparison with a blood test.  There also seemed to be some confusion about the use of a roadside portable breath test versus a State administered breath test at the jail.

Georgia currently does not have a criminal penalty for refusing to take the State administered breath test.  Instead, Georgia law allows officers to request a civil penalty (loss of your license for 12 months) for refusing to take the State administered blood/breath/urine test.   However, the decision of the Supreme Court will almost certainly impact Georgia DUI cases going forward.   If the court were to side with the defendants in this case, we certainly can expect the opinion to express strong 4th amendment language that could impact other types of DUI cases.   On the other hand, if the court were to side with the State of Minnesota and North Dakota, we can expect other States, Georgia included, to introduce legislation that would criminalize the refusal of a State administered test.

Our lawyers will be watching closely when the Supreme Court releases their opinion this fall.  For more information about the case, check out the oral arguments at:

http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/audio/2015/14-1468   and

http://www.scotusblog.com/2016/04/argument-analysis-criminal-penalties-for-refusal-to-take-a-breathalyzer-test-in-jeopardy/

We will certainly provide an update when the Supreme Court releases their final ruling.

DUI: Forced Blood Draws

DUI: Forced Blood Draws

By Mary Agramonte

The most shocking and disturbing development in DUI law is the practice of forced blood draws. Picture this: You have a glass or two of wine and are pulled over on your way home. The officer asks you a couple questions, but eventually requests you to step out of your car. He asks you to do a series of voluntary field sobriety tests, which are supposedly designed to accurately detect DUI. You do so in an effort to prove to the officer that you are clearly able to drive and are not impaired at all.

However, not everyone has the same balance and coordination skills. You might have been the kid in school who was picked last for team sports because you were notoriously uncoordinated. Or you might have a bad back or are recovering from a knee surgery. Or maybe you are one of the many people who feel extreme nervousness when an officer pulls you over. Regardless, the officer asks you to stand on one leg, and you accidentally have to tap the ground and hold your arms up to keep your balance. You “fail” the test, and are immediately arrested.

Mary Agramonte received her juris doctorate degree from Georgia State University.

Mary Agramonte received her juris doctorate degree from Georgia State University.

At this point, you might decide to refuse the breath test since your efforts to demonstrate that you are not intoxicated have already proven completely useless. You probably have heard that it is best practice to decline a breathalyzer test, which is true. However, the reality is when you refuse a breathalyzer, it is likely your driver’s license will be suspended for a year under Georgia’s Implied Consent law at O.C.G.A. § 40-5-67.1(d). The law states that yes, you have a right to refuse a chemical test, but if you do, you may face a one year loss of all driving privileges. And now, a more disturbing reality may come after your refusal of a breath test. In 2006, the Georgia legislature added another section to the Implied Consent law, effectively stating that even after exercising your right to refuse a chemical test, that the evidence can still be obtained by a search warrant, against your will.

The Reality of Forced Blood Draws

As inconceivable as it may sound, Georgia law actually allows the police officer to take you to the jail to strap you to a table, place you in a head lock, and force a needle in your arm to get evidence of your blood alcohol level. Forced blood draws occur without your consent and completely against your will. The procedure that includes the gurney, straps, and headlock is the same in every case, even if you are compliant and are no longer refusing the test. Forced blood draws allow the State of Georgia to have a higher DUI conviction rate since the blood evidence will significantly strengthen their case.

CHECK OUT THE FOX 5 ATLANTA STORY ON BLOOD DRAWS: Fox 5 Atlanta Blood Draw Story

What about my Constitutional rights?

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to be secure from unreasonable searches, and that search warrants must be supported by probable cause.

Unfortunately, current Georgia law allows police officers to make a quick roadside phone call to a judge to obtain a search warrant to obtain a blood sample from that individual. All they need is probable cause that you are driving under the influence. Evidence might come from your performance on the voluntary field sobriety tests, your appearance (blood shot eyes, disheveled clothing), and your behavior (smell of alcohol, slurred speech, admissions). These factors tend to be very subjective and it is all in the hands of the arresting officer to determine what he saw.

The law and reality is troubling. With this knowledge, I hope that Georgia residents can prepare themselves for the possibility that the officer won’t take “no” for an answer when it comes to getting a hold of your blood in order to prove in court that you are guilty of the misdemeanor crime of driving under the influence. If you are pulled over, you can politely decline all field sobriety and chemical tests, but be informed about the possibilities of losing your driver’s privilege and even being held down to have a needle forced in your arm.

Do I need a Lawyer?

Yes. If you have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and then forced to submit to a blood test under a search warrant, please call our office to speak with an experienced DUI attorney. We know the ways to attack every facet of a DUI case, even a forced blood draw. Call us today for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999 and maximize your chances of excluding the blood results in your day in court.

 

Move Over Law

 

MOVE OVER LAW

By Mary Agramonte J.D.

Georgia’s “move over” law is designed to keep officers, emergency workers, and first responders safe when they are stopped on the side of the road with their emergency lights flashing. The law was passed in 2003 to reduce the number of police officer and HERO fatalities that were occurring due to traffic crash responses. The “move over” law saves lives and makes sense, but unfortunately, too many Georgia motorists are unaware that it exists until they are slapped with a $500 fine.

Under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-16, Georgia law requires drivers to move over to the next lane if safely possible when passing a stationary emergency vehicle, towing vehicle, or recovery vehicle when their lights are flashing. If moving over is absolutely impossible, the law requires you to slow down to below the speed limit and be prepared to stop your car if necessary. Violations can result in a fine of $500 for the first offense. Once you factor in the court costs, however, this can put you well above $500, even if this was your first offense, and even if you had never heard of the law. Paying the fine on your citation means you are admitting you are guilty to the offense which raises a number of consequences.

MaryPic2

Mary Agramonte has her Juris Doctorate from Georgia State University.

A violation of this statute could cost you much more than the fine itself. A conviction for this traffic offense will also add 3 points to your driving record, and it will stay on your record forever. A driver who is over the age of 21 is allotted 15 points in a 24 month period before the Department of Driver Services will suspend a driver’s license. Points on your record also subject you to higher car insurance rates because your insurer believes you are more likely to file a claim than someone with lower points on their record. Getting just one traffic ticket can boost an average person’s auto insurance premiums by as much as 22 percent.

Additionally, violating Georgia’s move over law can be a basis for an officer to stop your vehicle which can lead to even more serious charges. Under both the Georgia and the United States Constitutions, an officer needs “reasonable articuable suspicion” to justify pulling your vehicle over for an investigative stop. Violating this statute gives the officers that power to stop you and investigate you, which ultimately can lead to a DUI arrest or the investigation of other potential and more serious crimes.

To avoid these repercussions of violating Georgia’s move over law, always drive attentively and don’t risk being pulled over or injuring the emergency workers on the side of road. If you see lights ahead, do all that you can to safely move over. If moving over safely is impossible, remember to slow down below the speed limit when passing emergency lights, and be prepared to stop. It can save lives, and it can save you money and the hassle.

If you have been charged with a violation of Georgia’s move over law, call our office and we can help you navigate the system. Our office has extensive experience in traffic violations and DUI defense. Fighting traffic tickets with an attorney’s help is important because any conviction on your record will greatly reduce the possibility of having future citations lowered or dismissed. Our firm can handle your traffic ticket case with the experience you need to save your record. Give us a call for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.

NEW YEARS EVE DUI CHECKPOINT

NEW YEARS EVE DUI CHECKPOINT:

Every year, thousands of Georgians celebrate the dawning of a New Year by enjoying the several New Year’s parties around town.  As we all know, those parties often include music, food, and alcohol.  According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, New Year’s Day is the second most deadly day for drivers with an average of 140 deaths related to alcohol.  Because of this, law enforcement agencies throughout the State set up DUI checkpoints to prevent drunk drivers from getting into accidents.   We certainly advise that you find a safe ride home on New Year’s Day.  But if you find yourself at a DUI checkpoint, it’s important to know your rights before the Officer mistakes you for a dangerous driver.

STAGE 1:

DUI checkpoints are often set up in two stages.   The first stage is an initial screening stage.   Here, a DUI trained officer will check for some of the common physical manifestations of a person who is driving under the influence.  Often, we see police reports that include the initial screening officer smelling the odor of alcohol coupled with bloodshot and watery eyes.  The DUI officer is also looking for the driver’s behavior.  Particularly, the DUI Officer is looking to see if the person is being belligerent or combative.

It’s important to remember to always be polite in these situations.  If the DUI Officer becomes agitated with the way you respond to his questions, then you’ll likely find yourself at the DUI checkpoint much longer than you would expect.   The Officer will likely ask you how much you’ve had to drink.  If you’ve only had one beer then it’s ok to let the Officer know that.   In Georgia, it is not illegal to consume alcohol and drive.  However, it is illegal to consume alcohol the extent you become a less safe driver.  So, the fact that you have had one beer does not automatically mean you’ve broken the law.

STAGE 2:

The DUI Officers are trained to instruct drivers to the second stage of the checkpoint if they feel there is enough evidence to continue a DUI investigation.  The second stage will often include a second DUI Officer who will almost certainly request the driver to perform field sobriety testing.  As we’ve discussed in the past, field sobriety testing is weighed heavily against the driver.  For example, the walk and turn evaluation is one of the three standardized field sobriety tests.  The evaluation includes a series of clues the Officer is trained to look for.  There are seventy-six opportunities for the driver to display a clue.  If the driver shows two of the seventy-six clues then that is enough for the Officer to establish someone are impaired.   More concerning is the initial studies on this examination showed only a 65% accuracy rate in optimal conditions.

Because of the unreliability of field sobriety testing, we always suggest to our client to refuse any field sobriety testing.  The chances of the Officer making a mistake are extremely high and the consequences to the driver can be drastic.   Finally, if the DUI Officer feels there is enough evidence obtained from all of the interactions then he or she will make an arrest.

As I mentioned earlier, the easiest way to avoid a DUI is call a cab or have a sober driver.  Personally, I’ve found the car service Uber to be fantastic.  But, sometimes we find ourselves in difficult circumstances.

If you or a friend ends up getting charged with DUI on New Year’s Day please contact the office immediately at 404-581-0999.   Our lawyers will be on call and available to for a free consultation.

Peach State Lawyers trial victory!

In my first blog post, Peach State Lawyer Daniel Farnsworth wants to be the first to congratulate our co-worker, colleague, and good friend Peach State Lawyer Michael Murphy on his first jury trial victory.  This is the first of many more trial victories to come for Michael.

Here are the details:

Peach State Lawyer Michael Murphy, went to trial this week against an experienced Dekalb County DUI Task Force Officer.   Michael was faced with the challenge of showing the Field Sobriety Tests that the Officer performed did NOT show that his client was impaired.   The Officer exhibited a tremendous amount of knowledge and training with regard to the Field Sobriety Tests while testifying for the State.   The State relied heavily on the three tests that were administered.   Like many DUI Task Force Officers, the Officer was able to articulate the meaning of the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test, the Walk and Turn test, and the One Leg Stand test.   However, on cross-examination, Michael was able to use his own training to show the jury that not only did his client look great on video, but the tests that his client took were designed for him to fail.   The jury deliberated for a total of three minutes before coming back with a NOT GUILTY verdict.

GREAT WORK MICHAEL!!!

Atlanta Police Department was Awarded a $140,200 Grant

The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety gave the money to APD’s Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic units that aim to enforce speeding laws, reduce drunk driving accidents and educate communities about safety.
The Atlanta Police Department will add $140,200 to the local unit’s budget, giving the program a $233,600 budget.
Between October 2011 and September 2012, the money will be used to “develop and implement strategies using traffic enforcement and education to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities from drugs and alcohol, speed and aggressive driving, as well as the non-use of safety belts,” according to police spokesperson.