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Interference with the Custody of a Minor in Georgia Criminal Law

An “interference with custody” criminal charge in Georgia usually arises in the context of a family law dispute where one parent retains custody of a child longer than they are allowed to under a custody agreement. The purpose of statute criminalizing interference with custody is to protect custody interests of child’s lawful custodian from interference by another person. Thompson v. State, 245 Ga.App. 396 (2000). This article will explore the nature of the offense, case law interpretation of the charge, and the possible punishment if convicted.

The Offense

Under O.C.G.A. § 16-5-45: a person commits the offense of interference with custody when without lawful authority to do so, the person:

  • Knowingly or recklessly takes or entices any child or committed person away from the individual who has lawful custody of such child or committed person;
  • Knowingly harbors any child or committed person who has absconded; provided, however, that this subparagraph shall not apply to a service provider that notifies the child’s parent, guardian, or legal custodian of the child’s location and general state of well being as soon as possible but not later than 72 hours after the child’s acceptance of services; provided, further, that such notification shall not be required if:
    • The service provider has reasonable cause to believe that the minor has been abused or neglected and makes a child abuse report pursuant to Code Section 19-7-5;
    • The child will not disclose the name of the child’s parent, guardian, or legal custodian, and the Division of Family and Children Services within the Department of Human Services is notified within 72 hours of the child’s acceptance of services; or
    • The child’s parent, guardian, or legal custodian cannot be reached, and the Division of Family and Children Services within the Department of Human Services is notified within 72 hours of the child’s acceptance of services; or
  • Intentionally and willfully retains possession within this state of the child or committed person upon the expiration of a lawful period of visitation with the child or committed person.

A person commits the offense of interstate interference with custody when without lawful authority to do so the person knowingly or recklessly takes or entices any minor or committed person away from the individual who has lawful custody of such minor or committed person and in so doing brings such minor or committed person into this state or removes such minor or committed person from this state.

Case Law

Defendant could not be convicted of interference with custody of a minor based on his conduct in picking up the victim and her friend after they left school in the middle of the school day, or for his conduct in having the victim at his house when she was supposed to be in school; the plain language of the statute required defendant to entice the child away from an individual having custody, and the school was not the lawful custodian of the victim or her friend. Owens v. State, 353 Ga.App. 848 (2020).

Defendant could not be convicted of interference with custody based on his act of taking a truant 15-year-old female to his apartment, in absence of evidence that female’s mother desired to exercise custody over female at that time but, because of defendant’s actions, was unable to do so. Thompson v. State, 245 Ga.App. 396 (2000).

Penalty if Convicted

On conviction of for a first offense, the defendant shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be fined not less than $200.00 and no more than $500.00 or shall be imprisoned for not less than one month nor more than five months, or both. A second conviction is punished as a misdemeanor and shall be fined not less than $400.00 and no more than $1,000.00 or shall be imprisoned for not less than three months nor more than 12 months, or both. Upon a third or subsequent conviction, the defendant shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one and no more than five years.

A person convicted of the offense of interstate interference with custody shall be guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned for not less than one year and no more than five years.

Contact Us

If you or someone you know has been arrested, contact the law firm of W. Scott Smith at 404.581.0999 today for a free case evaluation. You’ll find a local Atlanta attorney ready to aggressively fight on your behalf. You can also find out more detailed information about Atlanta laws here.

 

 

Georgia Criminal Law – Perjury

Perjury is a serious offense that causes immeasurable harm to the functioning and integrity of our legal system and to private individuals. As such, a conviction of perjury can have serious consequences on the accused. This article aims to explore the nature of perjury, possible punishment, and available defenses.

The Offense

O.C.G.A. § 16-10-70 provides, “a person to whom a lawful oath or affirmation has been administered commits the offense of perjury when, in a judicial proceeding, he knowingly and willfully makes a false statement material to the issue or point in question.”

Thus, the essential elements of perjury are: (1) knowingly and willfully making a false statement, (2) material to the issue or point in question, (3) while under oath in a judicial proceeding. Sneiderman v. State, 336 Ga.App. 153 (2016). Perjury is different from the offense of “false swearing” in that perjury requires both the intent to testify falsely and the act of false testimony, as opposed to swearing rashly or inconsiderately, according to belief (false swearing). Gates v. State, 252 Ga.App. 20 (2001).

The test of “materiality” is whether false testimony is capable of influencing tribunal on issue before it. U. S. v. Cosby, 601 F.2d 754 (1979).

Possible Punishment

A person convicted of perjury can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000.00 or by imprisonment for between one and ten years, or both. If the person convicted of perjury was the cause of another person being imprisoned will be sentenced to a term of imprisonment no greater than the sentence for which the other person was convicted. Further, if a person convicted of perjury was a cause of another person being punished by death, the perjurer shall be punished by life imprisonment.

Defenses

  • Defendant was not under oath at the time the statement was made.
  • The false statements were not “material.”
  • The false statements were not knowingly or willfully made.
  • Defendant’s belief that his testimony was truthful constitutes absolute defense to charge of perjury regardless of whether the testimony is actually false. Richards v. State, 131 Ga.App. 362 (1974).

Contact Us

If you or someone you know has been arrested, contact the law firm of W. Scott Smith at 404.581.0999 today for a free case evaluation. You’ll find a local Atlanta attorney ready to aggressively fight on your behalf. You can also find out more detailed information about Atlanta laws here.

Yes, Criminal Cases are Still Moving Forward in Georgia during COVID-19

You may have received a traffic citation, or a citation for misdemeanor possession of marijuana or theft by shoplifting. The officer may have released you on citation instead of taking you to a local detention facility for arrest. This doesn’t mean your case should be ignored, or is not a big deal, now. Cases are being heard in most municipal courts in the State. In fact, many municipalities and counties may ask you to come in and provide fingerprints at a later date when conditions are more safe.

In the past week, our firm has been present for shoplifting, DUI, and marijuana cases in Roswell, Marietta, Acworth, Kennesaw, Douglasville, Sandy Springs, Jonesboro, Forest Park, and many other municipal courts across the state.

Having an attorney represent you at this time can prevent you from having to appear and potentially risk your health. An attorney can also work with the prosecutor to try and get you the best possible outcomes during this time, working on lowering fines, reducing community service, and preventing other activities that may put you at risk for coronavirus exposure.

Our office is available right now to discuss your case with you. Call us at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation. We understand you may be feeling nervous or scared during these uncertain times, and we are here to help.  

Forgery Laws in Georgia

by Ryan Walsh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia’s First Offender Act

by Casey Cleaver

What is it?

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

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

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

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

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

Retroactive Application

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Search Warrants and Social Media in Georgia Criminal Cases

by Mary Agramonte

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Public Indecency Crimes in Georgia

by Mike Jacobs

Public Indecency is a serious crime in Georgia. It is imperative that you retain a qualified attorney immediately if you have been charged with public indecency.

O.C.G.A. § 16-6-8(a) defines public indecency as follows:

A person commits the offense of public indecency when he or she performs any of the following acts in a public place:

  1. An act of sexual intercourse
  2. A lewd exposure of the sexual organs
  3. A lewd exposure in a state of partial or complete nudity; or
  4. A lewd caress or indecent fondling of the body of another person.

A public place means any place where the conduct involved may be reasonably be expected to be viewed by people other than members of the accused’s family or household.

Under O.C.G.A. 16-1-3(15), a public place is any place where the conduct involved may reasonably be expected to be viewed by someone other than immediately family members. In fact, the residence of the accused may be considered a public place if the person performs the lewd act in front of a window or someplace where he intends the public to see it.

Lewd has been defined as any gross indecency so notorious as to tend to corrupt community morals. The act is one in which it represents a moving away from some form of community morality norms towards amorality, immorality or obscenity which in the final analysis within community standards as to particular acts, as to acceptability or unacceptability, is best left to a jury for determination. The statute does not require that some person be embarrassed, offended or otherwise outraged by the lewd act.

The intent of the accused is relevant in a prosecution for public indecency.

The offense of public indecency is not a crime against the person. The person viewing the lewd act is a witness and not a victim of the crime.

The United States Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression does not prevent the State of Georgia from enforcing its public indecency laws.

The punishment for public indecency is up to 1 year in prison. If it is a 3rd or subsequent violation, then the punishment is 1 to 5 years imprisonment. Also, the accused may be required to register as a sex offender under O.C.G.A. §42-1-12.

It is imperative that you do not talk to the police if you are accused of public indecency. Only speak to a qualified attorney so that you can properly defend yourself.

I would be happy to meet with you any time for a free consultation to discuss your case, your rights and your defenses to these allegations.

Call me at 404-581-0999 and let’s schedule a time to meet and discuss your case.

It is your life, your criminal record and you deserve the best representation possible.

Statutory Rape Crimes in Georgia

by Mike Jacobs

Statutory Rape is a serious crime in Georgia. O.C.G.A. § 16-6-3 defines Statutory Rape as engaging in sexual intercourse with any person under the age of 16 years old who is not your  spouse.

Statutory Rape requires corroboration and cannot stand solely on the unsupported testimony of the victim.

In Georgia, it is not a defense to Statutory Rape that the accused believed the victim was of the age of consent.

Many people have the idea that if they have consensual sex, then they did not break the law. That is not true.  Individuals who commit statutory rape in Georgia can face serious felony charges. In addition to a prison sentence, a person faces being put on the Sex Offender Registry and has limits on housing and job opportunities and loses their right to vote and own a firearm.

To be convicted of Statutory Rape, it is not necessary to fully penetrate the vagina or to rupture the hymen. Only slight penetration of the vulva or labia is sufficient. Proof of force is unnecessary for statutory rape.

The punishment for Statutory Rape is very serious. O.C.G.A. § 16-6-3 mandates that the sentence be from 1 to 20 years in prison. If the defendant is 21 years or older, then the mandatory sentence is 10 years up to 20 years in prison with at least one year on probation. If the victim is at least 14 years old but less than 16 years old and the person convicted is 18 years old and is no more than 4 years older than the victim, then it is a misdemeanor and a maximum of 12 months in custody.

If the defendant is over 21 and convicted of statutory rape, he or she cannot plead under the First Offender Act.

If you face charges in Georgia for Statutory Rape, it is imperative that you do not make any statements to law enforcement or to anyone else and immediately seek help from an experienced attorney handling Sex Offenses. You must protect your rights and take this matter very seriously.

I would be happy to meet with you any time for a free consultation to discuss your case, your rights and your defenses to these allegations.

Call me at 404-581-0999 and let’s schedule a time to meet and discuss your case.

It is your life, your criminal record and you deserve the best representation possible.

Sodomy Crimes in Georgia

by Mike Jacobs

Sodomy is a serious crime in Georgia. O.C.G.A. § 16-6-2 established two separate criminal offenses. O.C.G.A.  §16-6-2(a)(1) defines sodomy as the performance of or submission to a sexual act involving the sex organs of one person and the mouth or anus of another. O.C.G.A. § 16-6-2(a)(2) defines aggravated sodomy  as the commission of sodomy with force and against the will of the other person involved or with a person who is less than ten years of age.

The offense of aggravated sodomy protects individuals from violent acts where the offense of sodomy punishes consensual sexual behavior.

For sodomy, all that is required is contact between the sex organs of one person and the mouth or anus of another person. Proof of penetration is not required in a sodomy case unless is specifically listed in the indictment. Whether there was prohibited contact between the defendant and alleged victim is solely a question for a jury.

No corroboration is required in a sodomy case.

Aggravated Sodomy is different than Sodomy. In order to make out a case for Aggravated Sodomy, the State must show that the contact was made both with force and against the will or without the consent of the alleged victim. The standard of proof is the same as required for a rape case. Both the words and actions of the accused can be used to determine if the alleged victim was in reasonable apprehension of bodily harm.

O.C.G.A. § 16-6-15 prohibits the solicitation of sodomy. Solicitation of sodomy is defined as soliciting another individual to perform to a sexual act involving the sex organs of one and the mouth or anus of another and such act is to be performed in public in exchange for money or anything of value or by force or by or with an individual who is incapable of giving legal consent to sexual activity. In order to be convicted of solicitation of sodomy, the State must be present sufficient evidence of all three elements of the crime.

If you are convicted of sodomy, it is a felony punishable by not less than one nor more than twenty years in prison and is subject to the sentencing provisions of § 17-10-6.2 which requires the sexual offender to receive a split sentence including the minimum sentence of imprisonment.

Aggravated Sodomy is also a felony and is punishable by either life imprisonment or by a split sentence of imprisonment for not less than 25 years and probation for life.

Solicitation of sodomy is a misdemeanor. However if the solicitation is of someone under 18 years of age or the solicitation is for money then it is felony punishable of not less than 5 nor more than 20 years in prison.

If the victim is at least 13 years old but less than 16 years of age and the person convicted of sodomy is 18 years of age or younger and is no more than 4 years older than the victim, then the accused would be guilty of a misdemeanor and would not be subject to the sentencing provision of O.C.G.A. §17-10-6.2.

I would be happy to meet with you any time for a free consultation to discuss your case, your rights and your defenses to these allegations.

Call me at 404-581-0999 and let’s schedule a time to meet and discuss your case.

It is your life, your criminal record and you deserve the best representation possible.