Giving False Names and Statements to Police in Georgia

by Mary Agramonte

The Constitution gives us an absolute right to remain silent in response to police questioning. Our best advice is to use it. Your silence cannot be used against you and is not a crime. So proudly use it!

Often times, people will instead make stories up to police officers in hopes of convincing them: ‘it wasn’t me!’ This can put you in a worse position as it is against the law to give false names, or false statements to police. In other words, providing basic identifying information is encouraged; lying can land you in jail.

It is a misdemeanor crime in Georgia to give a false name or birth date to a police officer if he’s in the lawful discharge of his official duties. O.C.G.A. §16-10-20.  Misdemeanors in Georgia have a fine of up to $1,000, plus all the taxes and surcharges. Giving a false name or birthday to an office can even carry up to a year in prison, or can land you on costly and time-consuming probation.

Similarly, under O.C.G.A. §16-10-20, it is against the law to make a use or make false statement to any government agency. In Georgia, it is a felony to make a false statement, or to make or use a false writing or document in any matter involving a government agency. The punishment for speaking or writing a false statement is a mandatory minimum of one to five years in prison, or a fine of $1,000, or both.

For example, it is illegal to alter or falsify information on any applications or documents that you are presenting to any branch of the government. It is also against the law to knowingly conceal or cover up something to the police, and it is illegal to lie to a police officer. All of these things can place you in a position where you are facing felony charges and serious prison time.

If you have been arrested and charged with giving a false name or false statement, it is important you have experienced criminal defense attorneys on your team fighting for innocence and freedom. Call the office now at 404-581-0999 and mention this blog to get a FREE CONSULTATION on your false name or false statement case in Georgia.


Be Ready for the Unthinkable – Child Molestation in Georgia

by Ryan Walsh

Charges of child molestation or the sexual abuse of a child are the most serious cases we face as attorneys in Georgia. They usually begin with a call from someone who says they’ve been contacted by a detective regarding allegations of improper contact with a child and need to know if they should make a statement. We urge anyone who has been contacted by a law enforcement officer to call our office immediately before making any sort of statement. It is okay to tell them I need to contact my attorney. Get the detectives name and telephone number and bring that information to our office immediately.

To understand how to defend charges of child molestation and sexual abuse, you need to understand what child molestation is. Child molestation is define in the Official Code of Georgia Section 16-6-4 and states a person commits the act of child molestation when someone commits an immoral or indecent act to or in the presence of or with any child under the age of sixteen years old with the intent to satisfy the sexual desires of either the child or the person. You can also be charged with child molestation if you send a sexually explicit image to a child under 16 with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of either the child or the sender.

The sentencing range for someone convicted of Child Molestation carries a minimum sentence of five years, and can be up to life imprisonment depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding the accusation.

Defending those accused of child molestation is difficult. The allegation often arises from the statement of a child to a person of authority, usually a parent or teacher. That statement then gets communicated to a law enforcement official and their investigation begins. At some point the child should be interviewed by a forensic psychologist, and that interview is often the most significant piece of evidence presented in the case. But just because there is an outcry from a child, doesn’t mean the case cannot be defended. Children can mimic their parents and older siblings and make statements that aren’t always factual for many reasons. They are prone to suggestion and sometimes coercion by family and friends.

It is important for a defense attorney to get involved early in these cases. Relationships have to be examined. Motives must be found. The Law Offices of W Scott Smith specialize in handling child molestation cases and investigations. Call us today at 404-581-0999 to discuss your case. There is no time to wait in protecting your freedom.

Your Fitbit Might End Up Being the Star Witness Against You

By Mary Agramonte

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. Knowing these two things, a good rule of thumb is to not say anything and to ask for a lawyer.

Even when you don’t talk, your own technology speaks volumes. Your Fitbit knows when you are awake and when you are asleep. Your cell phone sends data of your location any time you log in or send a message. Your Amazon Echo sits and waits to be called Alexa and then listens for a command, which is then recorded and stored along with the time and date. Your Facebook shows where you were when you last posted. Your silence is one thing, but your electronics can tell their own story.

Believe it or not: a murder case in Connecticut was just solved based on the victim’s Fitbit. A husband called 911 and told police a masked intruder had shot his wife. He gave a timeline of the incident of when she got home to when the intruder appeared and killed her. The police got a search warrant for the data on his wife’s Fitbit. The Fitbit showed she was awake and walking at a time the husband stated she had already been killed. It poked holes in his defense and after 18 months while the case was being investigated, the State has charged him with murder.

The Amazon Echo (Alexa) has also made its way into criminal cases. A man in Arkansas allegedly killed his friend after a night of drinking and watching football. Investigators sought to obtain the recordings from Alexa, and served a warrant to Amazon noting there was “reason to believe is in possession of records related to a homicide investigation being conducted by the Bentonville Police Department.” Investigators, not sure what they would find, wondered if the suspect possibly had asked Alexa something like how to clean up a crime scene. Amazon refused, but the defense lawyer filed a motion consenting to the data pull.
We know technology is here in part to make our lives easier. It’s also making it easier for police to solve crimes and see through suspects’ false statements. When your alibi is you couldn’t have committed the crime because you were somewhere else sleeping, the police may later learn from your Fitbit that you weren’t asleep at all.

Technology’s impact in the courtroom will continue to increase. As we become more dependent on technology, law enforcement will also turn to technology in solving crimes. If you have been arrested for a crime in the State of Georgia, hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer that is familiar with the challenges to privacy protections and search warrants as they relate to technology. Call us today for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.

Sources: “Cops use murdered woman’s Fitbit to charge her husband”
“Suspect OKs Amazon to hand over Echo recordings in murder case”

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:   and

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

Making A Murderer: Pointing the Finger in Georgia

MAKING A MURDERER: Pointing the Finger in Georgia

The Netflix documentary Making a Murderer brought to light several issues with our justice system. Two of the most important issues a defense attorney has to overcome is the “presumption of guilt” presented by the media, and the loss of exculpatory evidence caused by poor police investigations.

“Presumption of Guilt”

“All due respect to counsel, the state is supposed to start every criminal trial swimming upstream. And the strong current against which the state is swimming is the presumption of innocence.” – Dean Strang, co-defense counsel for Steven Avery.

Many times, the media will broadcast inflammatory stories regarding pending investigations. Regardless of the truth of the stories, they tend to irreparably tamper with the minds of the prospective jurors months or even years before the trial begins.

The law requires jurors to give the defendant the presumption of innocence, but many jurors are already biased against the defendant because he has been charged with a crime and is seated at the defense table. High-profile cases present an additional hurdle because the jurors have already heard many untrue facts about the case from the media.

We rarely encourage clients to make statements to police or media since those statements can be used against them at trial. In fact, the best way to truly prove one’s innocence to the public is to have a jury find you NOT GUILTY. However, every case is unique, and we use our experience with high-profile cases to develop a plan to counteract this media bias. Recently, our firm counseled Marcus Lewis, the Uber driver who was wrongly accused, and advised him to speak with the police with our support. He was exonerated in less than 24 hours, and no charges were ever filed from the police. Learn more about that case here:

It Was the Other Guy

In Making a Murderer, Steven Avery’s attorneys were unable to accuse any specific person of committing the murder. Instead, they had to focus on the poor investigation conducted by the police in general. The Judge limited Steven’s defense due to Wisconsin law. There, a defendant cannot point their finger and allege that a third party committed the crime unless he can present evidence of the third party’s motif, opportunity, and a direct connection between the third person and the crime charged.

In Georgia, the standard is much lower than that in Wisconsin. The defense here only has to present evidence that “renders the desired inference that [the other guy] committed the crimes . . . more probable than would be that inference without the evidence.” Henderson v. State, 255 Ga. 687, 689 (Ga. 1986). All the defense needs is enough evidence “to raise a reasonable doubt of defendant’s guilt in the mind of a juror.” Essentially, the defense needs to present the jury with an alternative that makes a single juror question whether it is possible the defendant did not commit the crime, and that someone else did.

Even though Georgia has a lower standard than Wisconsin, it can still be tough to gather evidence that someone else committed the crime when the police have conducted a careless investigation. In these situations, it is imperative that we get involved as early as possible to ensure that we are able to do our own investigation and gather our own evidence before it is too late. If you have been charged with a crime, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a FREE CONSULTATION in our office so that we can begin working on your case immediately.

Miranda Rights


By Andrew Powell Esq.

Almost everyone has seen a crime television show and heard the infamous phrase “you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law, you have the right to an attorney, and if you cannot afford one an attorney would be appointed to you.” However, most people do not know when or why this phrase is so commonly used by police. In 1966, the United States Supreme Court decided to require law enforcement officials to read this list of rights to someone who has been taken into custody. These rights are known commonly as your “Miranda Rights.”

Purpose Of Reading The Miranda Rights

The United States Constitution and specifically the Fifth Amendment guarantees anyone who has been arrested the right not to incriminate themselves. Plainly put, an individual does not have to talk to police when they have been arrested. The Constitution and our form of justice requires that the government carry their burden and prove to a judge or jury that someone charged with a crime is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.georgia-juvenile-defense

Too often law enforcement officials become overzealous with their search for the truth and overstep the Constitutional bounds in their pursuit. It may not surprise you that police use coercive tactics or even lie to someone to get them to confess to a crime. Miranda warnings are a safeguard to protect against those who may cross that Constitutional boundary. The government must show the court that you were read your Miranda rights and that you waived your rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

When Does Miranda Apply To Me?

Confessions are the leading source of Miranda violations. When someone has been accused of a crime, big or small, they are often questioned in connection with that crime. Miranda rights must be read to someone after they are under arrest and before any law enforcement official asks any questions to the suspect.  Law enforcement officials have a tough job and they investigate crimes every day. Many officers are trying to make quick decisions based on little information. However, this does not allow them to just simply force people to talk to them and answer their questions.

Many times law enforcement officials will arrest someone and take them back to the police station for an interview. Generally, they will quickly go over your rights with you and ask you if you want to talk to them. If you have been charged with a crime this is where you want to stop and tell the law enforcement official that you would like to speak to your attorney.

When Does Miranda Not Apply To Me?

People sometimes think that any encounter with law enforcement requires them to read you your Miranda rights. This is untrue. Most encounters between people and law enforcement do not require the reading of your Miranda rights. As discussed above, the Miranda warnings are only required when you have been placed under arrest and the police are asking you questions regarding the crime.

Traffic stops are a common place to have an encounter with law enforcement where Miranda warnings are not required to be read to someone. In this circumstance, generally you are not under arrest and law enforcement is just going to ask you some general questions and write you a ticket.

In terms of a DUI, the police officer is not required to read the Miranda warnings. The officer may ask you to take a series of tests, known as Field Sobriety Tests or request you to blow into a machine that registers your blood alcohol content. Even though the officer does not have to read your Miranda rights to you, you have the ability to refuse these tests and refuse giving a breath sample.

Another common scenario is when law enforcement asks you to come to the station and make a statement. In this circumstance, Miranda warnings are not necessary because you have voluntarily come to the police station and are not under arrest. Remember, law enforcement is only required to give you the Miranda warnings once you have been arrested and before they initiate any questioning of you.

What Does A Miranda Violation Mean For Me?

Confessions or statements made to law enforcement will not be allowed at trial if law enforcement has not, first, read you the warnings required in Miranda. If you were forced into making a statement or the police did not read your rights to you and you then confess to a crime, whether it is a DUI or murder, that confession cannot be used against you at your trial. With your statement or confession tossed out it can help strengthen your case and possibly force the prosecutor’s office to drop the charges because they do not have enough evidence to prosecute you.

If you have been charged with crime and feel your rights were violated during the process, call our office and we can help you navigate the system. Our office has extensive experience in misdemeanors and felonies. Fighting charges with an attorney’s help is important because any conviction on your record will greatly reduce the possibility of having future charges lowered or dismissed. At the W. Scott Smith law firm we can identify where the police have violated your rights and ensure evidence will be kept out. Our firm can handle your misdemeanor or felony case with the expertise you need to save your record. Give us a call for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.


Self Defense

Defense of Persons and Property in Georgia and the Effect of the “Stand Your Ground” Law

As discussed previously, [Murph’s blog-] self-defense is a justification defense where an individual is admitting that he or she committed the crime but claiming that his or her use of force was justified.

Self-defense is part of a broader set of statutes that define the situations in which a person is justified in using force. In Georgia, an individual is typically justified in using force to defend both persons and property. See O.C.G.A. § 16-3-21; O.C.G.A. § 16-3-23; O.C.G.A. § 16-3-24.

Determining whether an individual was justified in using force requires a multi-factor analysis which varies greatly depending on the specific facts of the encounter. Some of the factors include: who was the aggressor, whether the harm was imminent, whether the force was proportional, and whether the individual’s belief was reasonable.

The individual claiming justification cannot be the aggressor.

An altercation can progress in stages, and the initial aggressor can become the innocent party if the other party escalates the altercation to a more violent level. Therefore, an individual who pulls out a knife during a fist fight can be deemed the aggressor even though the other individual initiated the fist fight. In this example, the individual wielding the knife can also withdraw from the confrontation by taking affirmative steps to indicate that he does not wish to fight any more. Such indications might include verbally communicating a desire to end the fight and walking away.

The individual must believe that he or she is defending against the imminent use of unlawful force.

The individual must believe that he or she is in imminent danger which means that the aggressor must appear to be capable of immediately carrying through with the threatened use of force. The individual can even be mistaken in their belief that he or she was threatened by imminent harm so long as the mistake is reasonable. If there has been a pause in the altercation (ie. the aggressor walks away) or additional steps must be taken before the aggressor can carry through with his or her threats then the danger is no longer imminent.

The individual’s use of force must be proportional to the threatened harm.

Generally, force can be divided into two main categories, deadly and non-deadly. An individual’s use of force must be no greater than necessary to defend against the threatened harm. A citizen is typically justified in using any means of non-deadly force to defend persons or property, but deadly force is only justified in response to a threat of imminent deadly force. The use of a deadly weapon is almost always considered deadly force, but even someone’s fists could be considered deadly force when considering the difference in size between the two individuals and relative strength.

The individual’s belief that force was necessary must be reasonable.

The standard by which reasonableness is measured is both subjective and objective. To satisfy the subjective standard, the individual must actually believe that force was necessary. This is where the individual’s prior dealings and experience with the aggressor can come into play. The objective standard looks at whether a reasonable person would have believed that force was necessary to defend against the threatened harm.

No Duty to Retreat – “Stand Your Ground” Law

In some states, an individual has a duty to retreat. However, Georgia has removed this requirement by passing a so-called “Stand Your Ground” law. O.C.G.A. § 16-3-23.1. Under this law, a citizen is not required to retreat from a violent confrontation. The key here is that an individual is not required to retreat, but the decision not to retreat can still factor into the previous considerations such as the reasonableness of the belief that force was necessary. Thus, this law does not give an individual unfettered discretion to use force.

Although Georgia has enacted statutory protections to allow an individual to stand his ground, one should not accept this protection as a license to kill. Any time deadly force is used, police will be involved and the decision to use deadly force will be scrutinized. It is always best to attempt to de-escalate a situation and avoid any loss of life. However, we recognize that these decisions can take place in a matter of seconds, and our firm has a history of success with self-defense cases. [Scott’s case –] If you believe you had every right to defend yourself, others, or property, then contact our office today at 404-581-0999.

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.


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.


The “Slow Poke” Law

The “Slow Poke” Law

Traffic Ticket for Driving The Speed Limit? Can you really get a ticket for driving the speed limit?

In Georgia, the answer is YES you can!

Although Georgia’s “slow poke” law has been in effect since July 1, 2014, many people are still unaware of the law and its impact. States across the country have begun cracking down on drivers that impede the flow of traffic by lingering in the left lane. As part of this effort to combat traffic congestion and road rage incidents, the Georgia legislature amended O.C.G.A. § 40-6-184 to criminalize the act of driving in the left lane regardless if the driver is driving the speed limit. Specifically, it is illegal to “impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.” Thus, a driver who is driving the speed limit in the left lane with drivers behind them can be ticketed for failure to move over one lane to the right. In areas with more than 2 lanes of traffic, the law only applies to the “most left-hand lane other than a high occupancy vehicle lane” so drivers are not required to move all the way over to the far right.

Most jurisdictions began implementing the law through the issuance of warnings, but officers are not required to give you a warning because ignorance of the law is not a legal defense. Remember to only use the far left-hand lane when passing slower vehicles and always yield to faster traffic by merging back over to the right. If ticketed with a violation of the “slow poke” law, it’s important to remember that while officers have a wide range of discretion in determining whether a driver is impeding traffic, there are also many other factors such as weather conditions, time of day, and the general flow of traffic in the area that can affect your case.

If you are ticketed for impeding the flow of traffic you may receive a fine up to $1,000, 3 points on your license, and a substantial increase in your insurance premiums. If you have been charged with a violation of Georgia’s “slow poke” law, call our office and we can help you deal with the court. Our office has extensive experience in traffic violations and DUI defense. Fighting traffic tickets with an attorney’s help is essential because any conviction on your record will greatly reduce the possibility of having future citations lowered or dismissed.  If you have received a traffic ticket give us a call for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.

First Offender Act

First Offender Act: Retroactive Treatment

Many people make mistakes in their youth.   For some of us, those mistakes went without tremendous consequence, but for others their mistakes cost them their freedom and labeled them a criminal for the rest of their lives.  Our firm has met with Georgia residents that have criminal histories that continue to haunt them and their career prospects.   Several people had heard about expunging their records from either the internet or friends.  Unfortunately, not everyone was eligible for expungment and, until recently, there wasn’t much we could do.  But now, with the passing of a new law, there is hope for some non-violent offenses to be removed from someone’s record with the use of the First Offender Act.

Traditionally, the First Offender Act is a tool that can be used in a plea deal for certain non-violent offenses like theft or drug charges.   The First Offender Act gives a probationer the opportunity to complete probation in exchange for having the Judge withhold adjudication and seal the probationer’s record.   The purpose of the act is to allow Georgia citizens the ability to not have one mistake ruin their lives.    Unfortunately, not everyone was aware of the First Offender Act and some individuals may have entered guilty pleas without really understanding the long term consequences of a criminal history.  The Georgia General Assembly recognized the problem and passed a new law that would allow some individuals to retroactively petition the court for treatment under the First Offender Act.

In order to have the First Offender Act apply retroactively the petitioner would have to file a petition with the court and obtain permission from the both the prosecutor and the Judge to apply the First Offender Act retroactively.   The Judge then is required to schedule a hearing where the petitioner can introduce evidence of the progress they have made after their earlier conviction.   If the Judge grants the petition, then the petitioner’s criminal history will be sealed in accordance to the First Offender Act.

We were excited to hear the news of this new provision of the First Offender Act.   If you have been convicted of a crime and feel that you may be eligible to have your record sealed, call our office immediately at 404-581-0999.   Our lawyers can help answer any questions you may have about the First Offender Act.