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Statutory Rape

Statutory Rape

By Andrew Powell J.D.

Georgia’s statutory rape law is often times misunderstood.  Many people believe that statutory rape is a crime that only a male can commit. Some also believe that if the two people consent to the sexual act then there can be no crime, regardless of the age. However, these misconceptions can get you into a lot of trouble.

Georgia does not distinguish between male and female genders when it comes to charging someone with statutory rape. Simply put, statutory rape is when any individual has sex with someone else who is not at the age of consent. In Georgia, the age of consent is 16. If both individuals are under 16 years old, then both individuals can be charged with misdemeanor statutory rape.

Interestingly, you can still be charged with statutory rape even if the alleged victim lies about their age.  If you are a young person and find yourself in a situation where you are about to have sex, it is critical that you are certain that the person you are about to have sex with is at least 16 years old. Never take someone’s word in a matter as serious as statutory rape.georgia-juvenile-defense

Several of our clients find themselves in these situations far too often.  In several situations, the parents of the alleged victim find out that their child is having sex and file charges with law enforcement.  The same happens at a school where teachers know of students having sex and report it to law enforcement. In any scenario it is important to stay ahead of the charges and seek legal counsel to help navigate you through the legal process.

There are few circumstances where a person charged with statutory rape may face a misdemeanor instead of a felony charge.  In Georgia, it is a misdemeanor if you are 18 years old or younger and the alleged victim is between 14 and 16 years old.  In any other circumstance, statutory rape is a felony with a penalty of one to twenty years in prison. However, if you are over the age of 21, then you will face a minimum of ten years in prison and a maximum of twenty years. In addition, if you are convicted of felony statutory rape you must register as a sex offender for the rest of your life.

If you have been charged with a violation of Georgia’s statutory rape law, 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. 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.

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.

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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.

Bench Warrant

Bench Warrant

Being arrested and having to show up for court can be stressful enough.  What’s even more stressful is missing a court date and knowing that there is a bench warrant out for your arrest.  Clearing a bench warrant is different in every jurisdiction, but there are a few common aspects of the law that can help in clearing a bench warrant.

First, it’s important to understand how a bench warrant is issued.  When a Georgia citizen is arrested and released from custody they are either given a court date at the jail or the person is told that a court date will be sent to them by mail.

Some cases, especially felony cases, are not immediately docketed with the court and it can take time before the courts add your case to the calendar.  In some jurisdictions that can mean months and even years before a court date is set up for your case.   Unfortunately, those court dates don’t always make it into your hand and if you missed your court date, then the Judge can issue a bench warrant for your arrest.   A bench warrant is warrant issued directly by the Judge for missing court.  A bench warrant instructs all law enforcement authorities to immediately arrest the person listed on the bench warrant and return them to court.Marietta-Office-Courtroom

So what do you do if you if you have a bench warrant?  Well, if you’re aware of a warrant it’s important to realize that it is unlikely that the warrant is going to go away on its own.  In fact, the warrant will remain until the Judge addresses the issue of why you missed court.   Because of that, it’s important to contact a lawyer immediately to address possible options.  Some jurisdictions will allow the attorney to discuss the case with the prosecutor and potentially resolve the warrant without you having to go back to jail.  In other jurisdictions, it will be on you to turn yourself in and allow your lawyer to work diligently on getting you in front of the Judge as soon as possible.

In some circumstances it can be shown that you did not in fact receive notice.  If the evidence shows that to be the case then the Judge would have the ability to lift the bench warrant and give you a new court date.  Or you may have been in custody in another jurisdiction and you were not able to make court because you were not transported to the courthouse. In those situations a lawyer can obtain a proof of incarceration and ask the Judge to lift the bench warrant immediately.   In any event, a lawyer can assist in helping lift a bench warrant and get you back to your loved ones as soon as possible.

Every courthouse is different.  It’s important to have a lawyer who knows how to effectively represent individuals with bench warrants.  At W. Scott Smith P.C., our lawyers have handled cases all over the State of Georgia and know the quickest ways to lift a bench warrant.  If you have an active bench warrant and need assistance, please call 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Family Violence Battery

FAMILY VIOLENCE BATTERY

A conviction for Family Violence Battery in Georgia can have consequences that go far beyond a conviction for other misdemeanors.   Frequently, I meet with individuals who come to our office with citations from a police officer charging our client with battery or simple battery.  The stories range in complexity, but often I learn from our initial consultation that the alleged victim in the case is someone who can elevate the charges from Battery to Family Violence Battery.  Many times the Officers do not include the Family Violence component on the citation and clients are surprised to learn that their case can be modified by the State prosecutor to include even more consequences.  For some clients, this is their first interaction with law enforcement and their concerns include: jail time, criminal history reports, and trial options.   All of these concerns are very real when facing Family Violence Battery charges.

Before we get started with the impacts of a Family Violence Battery conviction, it’s important to note that not all charges for Battery and Simple Battery have a Family Violence Battery component.  In order to be charged with Family Violence Battery the alleged victim must be:

  • A spouse
  • Persons who are parents of the same child
  • Children
  • Step-Children
  • Foster Children
  • Other persons living in the same household (roommates)

State prosecutors will often include multiple counts of Battery, Simple Battery, and Family Violence Battery within one formal charging document, called an accusation.  Unfortunately, many people go to court on their first court date, without exploring the consequences of a Family Violence Battery conviction, and enter a plea.   Whether the person committed the acts alleged or they simply just want to put this chapter of their life behind them, even though they’re innocent, it’s vital to consult with an attorney.  At the very least, an attorney can discuss the implications of being convicted of Family Violence Battery.

So how does it work?  Every citizen who has been arrested for a crime is fingerprinted and has criminal history created that includes the arrest, the charging document (accusation or indictment), and the ultimate outcome of the case.  A first conviction for Family Violence Battery is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in custody and a $1000 fine.  A second or subsequent conviction with the same family member (as classified above) or another family member results in a felony conviction with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.   O.C.G.A. 16-5-23.1.

While a first lifetime conviction of Family Violence Battery appears to be just a misdemeanor, there are several ancillary consequences that do always appear at first glance.  For instance, under Federal law, any person convicted of a crime of domestic violence can no longer lawfully possess a firearm.   Georgia’s classification of Family Violence Battery falls within the Federal definition of “domestic violence.”  Thus, a Georgia citizen who has a conviction of Family Violence Battery can no longer possess a firearm without the possibility of facing criminal charges in Federal court.

In addition, while the maximum includes 12 months in custody and a $1000 fine, many Judges throughout the State will require individuals convicted of Family Violence Battery to serve time on probation in lieu of jail time, but with the conditions of completing a domestic violence program.  These programs go by several different names, but they generally include 24 weeks of classes, counseling, and program fees that are no included in the fine levied by the Judge.  In addition, Judges can add community service, counseling requirements, fines, and alcohol and drug evaluations.  It is important to know that all of these things can be negotiated by your attorney.

Being charged with Family Violence Battery can be a stressful event in anyone’s life.  At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our lawyers are trained to explore the legal issues with every Family Violence Battery case.  We are aware of all the possible options available to avoid jail time and to protect your criminal history and ultimately your privacy.   If you or a loved one has been charged with Family Violence Battery, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Overcharged

The Prosecution Overcharged My Case!

            I have seen the prosecution overcharge cases on multiple occasions.  The prosecutor’s office will, at times, define your alleged conduct as something much worse than it is.  A misdemeanor will be elevated to a felony, for example, or a felony will be charged as one carrying much more punishment than it should.  That doesn’t sound like truth and justice, does it?

There can be several reasons for a case to be overcharged.  Until defense lawyers get involved, the prosecutors (who are human beings) hear only one side of the story.  The police or the complaining witnesses unload with their side and the prosecutor doesn’t hear a word to the contrary.  And, unfortunately, defense lawyers may not be involved until the case has already been accused or indicted.  (There are exceptions…especially when the lawyer is hired early in the process and there is some form of evidence to support an opposing position).  So, acting only on the word or evidence given by the complainant, the prosecutor files the accusation or indicts the case.  It is extremely important for the lawyer to be thorough when talking to the client and finding out, in detail, what the facts of the case are.

Another reason that cases might be overcharged is that the prosecution is already thinking ahead to plea bargaining.  One prosecutor explicitly told me that he added the biggest charge in the indictment in hopes that he would work a plea to the lesser charges without too much hassle.

Sad?  I think so.  I am convinced that the anxiety people experience leading up to the disposition of the case is twice as bad as whatever punishment may be inflicted.  So many of my clients have suffered long, sleepless nights, loss of their jobs, broken relationships, substance abuse, and many other side effects of being charged with a crime (please note that I did not say convicted of a crime).  That is yet another reason to go early in the process to talk with a lawyer who believes in the presumption of innocence and who treats each client like a unique, special human being.  We take on the burden of your case for you.  We provide you with honest feedback that can give you peace about the situation and, hopefully, enable you to think about everything else going on in your life.  I like to think that my clients are able to dump the burden of the pending case on me and put their time and energy towards their kids, their jobs, their significant other, their hobbies, and everything else going on in their lives.

In my next blog, I will discuss some ways to combat overcharging by the State.

Always feel free to call us with any questions about your case.  You will get to speak with an attorney free of charge.  (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.

I Got Arrested for DUI, But They Never Read Me My Rights

One of the most common DUI questions we get at W. Scott Smith, P.C. is: “Why didn’t the Officer have to read me my Miranda rights?”  What a great question!  Let me see if I can explain.

The Miranda warning stems from a famous United Supreme Court case, Miranda vs. the State of Arizona.   In that case, the Supreme Court of the United States said that IF you are placed into custody and then the Officer attempts to interrogate you, he/she has to warn you of a few rights.  We know these rights as the Miranda Rights and they go like this:

You have the right to remain silent.

Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.

You have the right to consult with an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.

If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish.

If you decide to answer any questions now, without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.

Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney?

If the officer chooses not to read you the warning while you are in custody and still proceeds with questioning, then any statements you make may be suppressed by the court at a later date and ultimately result in your case being much stronger.

 

So Why Didn’t the Officer Read Those to Me When He Placed Me Under Arrest for DUI?

In most DUI cases, not all, the Officer is NOT required to read you the Miranda Warning.  Most Officers will wait to place a driver they suspect to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs under arrest (or in custody) to avoid having to read the Miranda Warning.  Which makes sense, right?  The Officer is trying to get you to answer questions about your consumption of alcohol and have you submit to testing that he/she plans to use against you at trial.  If he starts telling you that you have the right to have a “pesky” lawyer like me present, you’re probably not going to do anything.   In Georgia, our appellate courts have determined that when you are asked to exit the vehicle and perform field sobriety testing or answer questions about where you were or where you are going, you are NOT deemed to be in custody, and thus, not entitled to have the Miranda Warning read to you.

BUT, the question of whether or not you are in custody CAN be a sticky issue.  We encourage anyone who has been arrested for DUI in the State of Georgia to contact our office immediately for a FREE consultation (404-581-0999).   Our lawyers can use their knowledge and experience to determine whether or not the Miranda Warning should have been read in your case, which sometimes can mean the difference between your case being dismissed and a conviction for DUI.