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I was arrested for DUI at a roadblock/checkpoint. What do I do?

Georgia law and the United States Constitution requires that police officers possess a certain level of suspicion in order to stop a driver. Police officers must have reasonable articulable suspicion that a driver is, has, or is about to break the law in order to pull them over. However, DUI checkpoints and roadblocks are an exception to this requirement, and police do not have to have any suspicion whatsoever to stop a car passing through a checkpoint.

If you have been arrested at a checkpoint, you may be wondering how to best defend your case. The good news is that the State must show that the roadblock was conducted in such a way that complies with Georgia law. In the case of Baker v. State, 252 Ga. App. 695 (2001), the Georgia Court of Appeals articulates the six prongs which must be shown to support a stop at a checkpoint. The Court in Baker held that a roadblock is valid when:

  1. The decision to implement the checkpoint in question was made by supervisory officers and not officers in the field;
  2. The supervisors had a legitimate purpose in conducting a checkpoint;
  3. All vehicles passing through the checkpoint are stopped, not just “random” vehicles;
  4. The delay to drivers is minimal;
  5. The checkpoint operation is well identified as a police checkpoint (think flashing lights, marked vehicles, and traffic cones);
  6. The screening officer’s training and experience are sufficient to qualify him to make an initial determination as to which motorists should be administered field sobriety tests.

This test is all-or-nothing. If the prosecutors cannot show each and every one of these elements, the stop and any subsequent observations, statements, or arrests may be suppressed.

If you have been arrested at a checkpoint, you may have a valid defense in your case. Call our office for a free consultation and find out what your best options are. 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine A. Edmonds.

Big Win for DUI Defense and What it Means for You

In November, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a ruling which marks a major victory for the United States and Georgia Constitutions, as well as folks charged with driving under the influence. In Ammons v. State, the Court held that suspects have the right to refuse an officer’s request to perform a preliminary breath test and field sobriety tests. What is more, is that the Court stated that refusal to take the tests is inadmissible under Georgia law.

The Constitution of Georgia protects citizens rights against self-incrimination. In Georgia, the government, including police and prosecutors cannot force you to speak or act in ways that could result in criminal consequences. Before the Georgia Supreme Court issued its decision in Ammons, however, the prosecution could introduce evidence that a suspect declined to take part in field sobriety tests at the request of an officer. The purpose of introducing refusals of field sobriety tests was to indicate to the jury or judge that the suspect refused to perform fields because they guilty. This is an improper purpose, and because of the Ammons decision, the State cannot try to convince the jury of your guilt based on your refusal because it is a constitutional right to refuse to offer incriminating evidence against yourself.

So what does this mean for you? This means that if you are stopped by police and asked to perform field sobriety tests, it may be in your best interests to refuse to do so, particularly if you have been drinking or have a history of DUI arrests.

Of course, if you are reading this blog, you may have already been charged with DUI and wondering what your options are. If you have been charged with DUI and refused field sobriety tests, that refusal is not admissible. However, there may be other evidence in your case that could be admitted if gone unchallenged. You should consider hiring an experienced DUI attorney to protect your interests and ensure that the State is not able to admit evidence which was improperly or illegally obtained. If you want to learn more about your options, call our office for a free consultation. 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine Edmonds.

HGN and Head Trauma

If you have been pulled over in Georgia on suspicion of DUI, the investigating officer will probably ask you to perform a battery of standardized field sobriety tests. This request may take the form of any number of questions, such as “can we just check to see if you are safe to drive?” or “we want to perform some tests before we let you on your way, is that alright?”. These tests are not required, and declining to perform these tests cannot be used against you in a prosecution of DUI. For this reason, it is better to decline to perform any tests, no matter how much reassurance the police officer gives you that they are “just to make sure you are safe on the roads.”

Still, many people opt to perform the tests, either because they don’t see the harm, they wish to be congenial with the officer, or because they don’t know that they can decline to perform the tests. If you choose to perform the tests, the officer may ask you if he can “take a look at your eyes.” This is an indication that he is about to perform the first of three standardized field sobriety tests, the horizontal gaze nystagmus.

This test is considered to be a “scientific” test, and because of this, it is important that the officer comply with his training as exactly as possible. The test must begin with a number of questions designed to medically qualify the participant. The officer is trained that he must ask you whether or not you have recently had any head, neck, or brain injuries, as these kinds of trauma can affect whether someone exhibits nystagmus, even if not under the influence of alcohol. It is common practice to ask whether or not the subject has “any eye problems” or vision issues, but this is not enough. The officer must also determine that it is appropriate to use this test. If the subject has been in a recent accident, suffering from whiplash, a concussion, vertigo, or some other balance and coordination related condition, the HGN test may not be accurate or reliable.

If you have been in an accident at the time of your DUI investigation, the officer may have overlooked potential head trauma before administering this test. As a result, the “clues” of the test may be unreliable, and could be subject to suppression before trial.

It is important to understand your rights and protections when you are charged with DUI. If you want an attorney that is knowledgeable about DUI police training and procedure, call our office for a free consultation at 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine A. Edmonds.

Alco-Sensor, PBT, Roadside breath test. What is it? Should I do it or not?

If you’ve ever seen an episode of Cops, you are likely familiar with the roadside alcohol detection device known as an Alco-Sensor or PBT. This device calculates your estimated blood alcohol level by measuring the amount of alcohol in your breath. The driver blows into the device, generally during the course of a DUI investigation, and the device produces a result.

Officers are trained that they should tell suspects that the device only tells them whether or not they test positive or negative for alcohol, but this is not accurate. The device in fact gives a numerical reading, such as “0.08” or “0.00.” In Georgia, the numerical results of an alco-sensor test are not admissible in evidence, and neither is testimony that the result on the device was “high” or “over the legal limit” but whether or not the result was positive or negative for alcohol or whether a suspect “passed” or “failed” the test is admissible.

So should you take the roadside breath test if you are pulled over for DUI? A good rule of thumb is no, as the result could be potentially incriminating. Even though the number is inadmissible, it is typically still included in the police report, and prosecutors have access to this information, so a high result can make it difficult to convince the prosecutor to dismiss or reduce the DUI. However, if you have consumed no alcohol, and you are confident that the test result will be 0.00, then it may be worth it to perform the test. It is completely voluntary, and the police cannot force you to comply with the test because you are protected from compelled self-incriminatory acts and statements.

If you or a loved one have been arrested and charged with DUI, give our office a call. We offer free consultations and payment plans to help fit your budget. 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine Edmonds.

Should I perform Field Sobriety Tests?

If you have been pulled over for DUI, the police officer may ask you if you would consent to field sobriety evaluations. Field Sobriety Evaluations are a series of tests which are, in theory, designed to aid officers draw accurate conclusions about a suspect’s blood alcohol consumption. Despite that these tests are only around 75% accurate when administered correctly, they are still thought of as legitimate tests of a person’s intoxication level by most judges and jurors. For this reason, allegedly “poor” performance on field sobriety tests can sway jurors to convict someone for DUI, even if they are not.

So is it in your best interests to perform field sobriety tests? This is a complicated question which will vary depending on the circumstances, but generally, it is better to refuse to participate in the field sobriety evaluations, as it provides the officer with less potentially incriminating evidence. It is important to bear in mind, however, that refusal to submit to field sobriety evaluations is admissible in trial as circumstantial evidence of intoxication. Taken together with other evidence of possible intoxication (slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, admission of drinking, etc.) may support an inference that the suspect was an impaired driver.

That being said, it is easier to make an argument that the officer got it wrong when they arrested you for DUI if the only evidence they have is the smell of alcohol on your breath and bloodshot eyes than if they have evidence of poor performance on field tests. Additionally, even if you refuse field sobriety tests, the officer still has the authority to arrest you. Georgia case law has held that an officer’s observation of bloodshot, watery eyes and odor of alcohol is sufficient to support an arrest for suspected DUI. If you are pulled over for DUI, even if you refuse field sobriety tests, do not be surprised if you are arrested anyway. Instead, stay calm, make no incriminating statements, and as soon as you are able, call an experienced DUI defense lawyer.

We offer free consultations to anyone who has been charged with driving under the influence. Call us today at 404-581-0999. Written by Attorney Katherine Edmonds.

What to expect during a DUI stop in Atlanta, GA

By: Attorney Alex Henson

If you are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol in Atlanta you might be pulled over and investigated by police. What can you expect during a DUI stop?

First, the officer might ask you if you’ve had anything to drink. You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer the question, but always be polite and respectful. Any statements you make could be used against you later in court.

Next, the officer might ask you to perform certain exercises to see if you are safe to drive. These exercises are called Standardized Field Sobriety Tests and your performance could be used against you in court later. The most common of these tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN), the one leg stand, and the walk and turn. It is voluntary to participate in field sobriety tests. Refusing to participate cannot be used against you in court later.

The officer may decide that you are under the influence and less safe to drive. If the officer decides to arrest you, he or she may read you Georgia’s implied consent statement and request chemical testing of your breath or blood. These tests are voluntary, but refusal can result in your license being suspended. If you have been arrested for DUI and would like a free consultation, call us at (404) 581-0999.

Georgia DUI: How many points in a DUI?

In Georgia, a driver’s license will be automatically suspended if engaged in serious traffic violations. Therefore, a DUI does not accumulate any points on your driving record, also called a Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) but carries immediate consequences. For a first DUI conviction (for drivers over the age of 21), your license will be suspended for 12 months by DDS (Georgia Department of Driver Services).

 

Ways a driver can reinstate their license after six months:

  • Your license has already been suspended for 120 days;
  • Completion of a state-approved Risk Reduction Program; and
  • Submit a $210 fine for license reinstatement fees.

Note that this reinstatement will depend on your driving history and will permit you to drive to and from work and school and other permissible places.

 

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.

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.