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Georgia DUI

When you are pulled over for suspicion of a DUI, the officer will conduct a test called “horizontal gaze nystagmus” or HGN for short. This is the test where an officer will ask you to follow either their finger or a pen to see if the eyes involuntarily jerk or twitch as your eyes move laterally.

The test must be done correctly. The officer must place the stimulus (usually a pen or their finger) 12 to 15 inches away from your nose and slightly above eye level. Then the officer must move the stimulus in a stage consisting of 14 passes. The first stage of passes has the officer moving the stimulus from left to right to center for at least two seconds to check or equal tracking of the pupils.

The second stage has the officer place the stimulus from the center position to your left and back to the center. They will repeat this for the right eye. The stimulus should be moved at a speed that takes at least two seconds from the center position to the side position.

The third stage of passes is designed to determine whether the person has distinct nystagmus at the point in which your eye is fully moved to one side and cannot move any further. The stimulus moves from center to the side taking at least two seconds, holding at the side for at least four seconds, and then moved back to the center in at least two seconds.

The final stage is a set of four passes designed to determine if the onset nystagmus occurs before your eye moves to a 45-degree deviation. It must take at least four seconds to move the stimulus from your center to a spot around your shoulder. The stimulus must be held long enough to confirm the onset nystagmus. Each of the passes in this phase must take at least eight seconds, with a three second count out, a two second count hold, and a three second count back.

 

It is vital to note that the entirety of the HGN test must take AT LEAST 82 seconds- usually around 90 seconds. If the officer is well under that time, then they employed the test incorrectly and the HGN test can be excluded from any evidence that could indicate potential impairment. The stimulus must also remain in the 12 to 15 inch range from your nose and its path cannot loop or curve. If it does, then the officer did not administer the test properly. If you’re pulled over for a DUI, make sure you know the process for HGN evaluation and call our office today.

Georgia DUI Law – Necessity Defense to a DUI Charge

There are many legal challenges and defenses available to defendants in a DUI case. One of these defenses is an “affirmative defense.” An affirmative defense is one in which the defendant argues that, even if the allegations of the indictment or accusation are true, there are circumstances that support a determination that he cannot or should not be held criminally liable. In the context of a DUI, the defendant would be arguing to the judge or jury that the defendant was in fact DUI, but the defendant is justified or excused in driving under the influence. One justification defense[1] to DUI is “necessity.”   

Under federal law[2], the doctrine of necessity requires:

1) the defendant reasonably believed that a danger or emergency existed that he did not intentionally cause; 2) the danger or emergency threatened significant harm to himself or a third person; 3) the threatened harm must have been real, imminent, and impending; 4) the defendant had no reasonable means to avoid the danger or emergency except by committing the crime; 5) the crime must have been committed out of duress to avoid the danger or emergency; and 6) the harm the defendant avoided outweighs the harm caused by committing the crime.

In 1991, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed a conviction for DUI because a jury could have found driving under the influence was justified when Defendant was driving 8 ½ month pregnant wife to the doctor.[3] 

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. You can also find out more detailed information about Atlanta laws here.


[1] O.C.G.A. § 16-3-20

[2] Manners v. Cannella, 891 F.3d 959, 11th Cir. (2018)

[3] Tarvestad v. State, 261 Ga. 605 (1991)

Georgia DUI Law: Calendar Call

There are several court dates in the life of a DUI case. The first court date is arraignment. This is where the court formally notifies the defendant of the charges and asks the defendant whether they plead guilty or not guilty. After arraignment, the case is then scheduled for a “calendar call,” court date.

What is Calendar Call?

The purpose of calendar call is for the parties to appear in court and “announce” to the judge the status of the case. This way, the judge will know whether the case is going to be a trial, a plea, or if the case needs to be continued due to an outstanding issue (missing evidence, witness unavailability, accountability court applications, scheduling conflicts, etc.). Calendar calls promote judicial efficiency.

Who Must Appear?                                                             

Unrepresented defendants must appear at calendar call. Failure to appear will cause a bench warrant to be issued for your arrest and forfeiture of your bond. At calendar call, an unrepresented defendant who does not desire to hire an attorney may announce “pre-trial” at calendar call. This announcement signals to the judge that the defendant wishes to have a brief conversation with the prosecuting attorney about the case in an effort to reach a resolution. In this “pre-trial” conference, the defendant should ask the State what their offer is on the case. If acceptable, then accept. If the offer is unacceptable, or confusing, or seems fishy, the defendant should hire a lawyer. It is important to remember any statements the unrepresented defendant makes to the prosecutor can be used against the defendant at trial.

Represented defendants may have to appear at calendar call, depending on the judge. Most judges will allow the attorney to appear and make an announcement on the defendant’s behalf. Therefore, it is critically important attorneys know the judge’s preferences in advance of court as to avoid a possible bench warrant. If a judge is particular about represented defendants appearing in court, the attorney may still be able to excuse the defendant by filing a “waiver of presence,” with the court. This is simply a notarized document signed by defendant stating they waive the right to be present. Furthermore, some judges will allow attorneys to make their calendar call announcements via email in advance of court. This saves the attorney and possibly the defendant a trip to court.

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. You can also find out more detailed information about Atlanta laws here.

Georgia DUI Law: How a DUI Becomes a Felony

The vast majority of DUI arrests are charged as misdemeanors in Georgia. There are certain circumstances, however, that will cause the DUI charge to be elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony. This article serves to explain the three major ways a driver in Georgia could obtain a felony DUI charge.

Multiple Prior DUI Convictions

A fourth DUI arrest within a ten year period[1] that results in a conviction is punishable as a felony. A first, second, or third DUI conviction in a ten year period will be treated as a misdemeanor, although the third conviction will be a high and aggravated misdemeanor.

If convicted of a fourth offense within a ten year period, the judge has the authority to impose a prison sentence between one and five years (all of which may be on probation except 90 days).

Causing Serious Injury or Death

You can be charged with a felony if you seriously injure another person while driving under the influence. Under O.C.G.A. 40-6-394(b), “[a]ny person who, without malice aforethought, causes an accident that results in bodily harm while violating Code Section 40-6-390 or 40-6-391 commits the crime of serious injury by vehicle. A person convicted of violating this subsection shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than 15 years.” Bodily harm is defined as, “an injury to another person which deprives him or her of a member of his or her body, renders a member of his or her body useless, seriously disfigures his or her body or a member thereof, or causes organic brain damage which renders his or her body or any member thereof useless.”

Similarly, “[a]ny person who, without malice aforethought, causes the death of another person . . . [while driving under the influence] shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than three years nor more than 15 years. O.C.G.A 40-6-393.

High Risk Operator

The law recognizes people who are convicted of DUI should be punished more severely because they are transporting children at the time of impaired driving. This occurs in two ways.

A third conviction of DUI child endangerment will result in a felony charge. This offense is punishable by one to five years imprisonment and a fine of $1,000 to $5,000.

Finally, under O.C.G.A. 40-6-391.3, a school bus driver convicted of DUI while driving a school bus is punishable as a felony. The school bus driver will face a one to five year prison sentence and a fine between $1,000 and $5,000.

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. You can also find out more detailed information about Atlanta laws here.


[1] Measured from the dates of arrest (but only since July 1, 2008). Arrests resulting in convictions prior to this date do not apply towards the total number of arrests for this purpose.

Georgia DUI Law – What a Georgia DUI Costs

In 2018, there were 21,784 DUI convictions in Georgia. A DUI arrest and conviction has serious consequences. Among those consequences, you can expect to pay a significant amount of money in defending the case. This article serves to provide a general idea of what it costs to be arrested and convicted of DUI.

  1. Bail/Bond: $150 – $2,500. Cost of bail in a DUI arrest depends on a variety of factors including but not limited to prior criminal history, case facts, and ties to the community.
  2. Towing: $50 – $200. The cost of towing and impounding a car can increase daily.
  3. Insurance Increase: $4,500 or more. Depending on your insurance carrier and driving history, your rates could double, triple or even quadruple over a period of three to five years.
  4. Legal Fees: $2,000- $25,000.
  5. Fines: $300 – $5000. These base fines vary depending on the nature of your offense and any prior DUI’s. These base fines do not include statutory court costs which can increase the base fine by 50% or more. 
  6. Alcohol Evaluation: $95 – $300. The law requires completion of an alcohol and drug evaluation and treatment if recommended by the evaluator.
  7. Classes: $500 – $4,000. As part of a DUI conviction you will be required to complete a Risk Reduction class (also referred to as “DUI School”). This class costs $350. You are also required to complete a Victim Impact Panel which costs roughly $100.
  8. License reinstatement fees: $210 – $410. License reinstatement generally costs $210. However, depending on your history, you could be required to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle in order to reinstate your license. You would have to pay for the installation of the device plus daily maintenance costs.

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. You can also find out more detailed information about Atlanta laws here.

Georgia DUI Law: DUI and Your Record

An arrest and/or conviction for DUI in Georgia will impact your record. There are two types of records, a criminal record, maintained by the Georgia Crime and Information Center (GCIC) and your driving record, also called a Motor Vehicle Report (MVR – maintained by the Department of Driver’s Services).

This article serves to explain how a DUI affects your record, both criminal and driving, and whether you can get a DUI taken off of your records.

Georgia Criminal Record

If you are arrested, booked, and fingerprinted, this information will be forwarded to GCIC and placed on your record. If you are applying for a new job, housing, or if your employer runs a background check on you, they will be able to see the arrest on your GCIC. Each arrest is reported as a “cycle,” which shows the date of arrest, the arresting agency, the offense charged, and a “disposition.” The disposition describes the outcome of the case. If the case is still pending, the disposition will show an arrest but no outcome. If you are convicted or the case was dismissed or reduced, the disposition will state as such.

If you are convicted of DUI, whether at trial or through a plea, it will remain on your record permanently. You will not be able to get the record restricted, you cannot get it expunged, you cannot use first offender. This remains true even if your DUI charge was reduced to Reckless Driving.

Georgia Driving Record

Your Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) is very similar to your GCIC. If you have been arrested for DUI and the officer takes your driver’s license in order to facilitate an administrative suspension of your license, your MVR will show a pending administrative license suspension. If this administrative potion of the case is dismissed, your MVR will be cleared up. However, if you are ultimately convicted of DUI through a plea or trial, your MVR will reflect this conviction and you can expect your insurance prices to rise because insurance companies have access to these MVR’s. This conviction will remain on your MVR permanently.

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. You can also find out more detailed information about Atlanta laws here.

Georgia DUI Law: Challenging the Stop, Driving While Distracted or While Using Mobile Device

Georgia DUI investigations usually begin with a routine traffic stop. At a minimum, in order to stop you and your vehicle, the stopping officer needs to have “reasonable and articulable suspicion” to believe a crime has, or is about to be committed. An officer normally satisfies this requirement by observing a traffic or equipment violation. However, if it is determined the officer did NOT have reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop your vehicle; this could result in the suppression of evidence and the ultimate dismissal of a DUI charge.

Therefore, it is crucial to examine the most common types of traffic violations that result in a DUI investigation. This article serves to inform you of what type of things police officers are looking for when stopping for driving while distracted or while using mobile device.

The Offense

As of July 1, 2018, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241 requires drivers to exercise due care while operating a motor vehicle on the highways of this state and prohibits “any actions which shall distract such driver from the safe operation of such vehicle.”

In addition, drivers may not:

(1) physically hold or support a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device, except for the use of an earpiece, headphone device, or device worn on a wrist to conduct a voice based communication;

(2) write, send, or read any text-based communication, including text messages, instant messages, e-mails, or Internet data, other than voice commands that are converted to text by the device or used for GPS/navigation feature control;

(3) watch a video or movie on a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device, other than watching data related to the navigation of such vehicle; or

(4) record or broadcast a video on a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device, other than devices used for the sole purpose of continuously recording or broadcasting video within or outside of the motor vehicle.

Commercial vehicle drivers are restricted from using more than a single button on a wireless telecommunications device to initiate or terminate a voice communication or reaching for a wireless telecommunications device or stand-alone electronic device in such a manner that requires the driver to no longer be in a seated driving position or properly restrained by a safety belt.

Exceptions

These prohibitions do not apply if the driver is:

(1) reporting a traffic accident, medical emergency, fire, an actual or potential criminal or delinquent act, or road condition which causes an immediate and serious traffic or safety hazard;

(2) an employee or contractor of a utility services provider acting within the scope of his or her employment while responding to a utility emergency;

(3) a law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency medical services personnel, ambulance driver, or other similarly employed public safety first responder during the performance of his or her official duties; or

(4) in a lawfully parked motor vehicle.

O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(g).

Punishment

O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(f) states that violations are punished as misdemeanors, as follows:

(A) For a first conviction with no conviction of and no plea of nolo contendere accepted to a charge of violating this Code section within the previous 24 month period of time, as measured from the dates any previous convictions were obtained or pleas of nolo contendere were accepted to the date the current conviction is obtained or plea of nolo contendere is accepted, a fine of not more than $50.00, but the provisions of Chapter 11 of Title 17 and any other provision of law to the contrary notwithstanding, the costs of such prosecution shall not be taxed nor shall any additional penalty, fee, or surcharge to a fine for such offense be assessed against a person for conviction thereof;

(B) For a second conviction within a 24 month period of time, as measured from the dates any previous convictions were obtained or pleas of nolo contendere were accepted to the date the current conviction is obtained or plea of nolo contendere is accepted, a fine of not more than $100.00, but the provisions of Chapter 11 of Title 17 and any other provision of law to the contrary notwithstanding, the costs of such prosecution shall not be taxed nor shall any additional penalty, fee, or surcharge to a fine for such offense be assessed against a person for conviction thereof; or

(C) For a third or subsequent conviction within a 24 month period of time, as measured from the dates any previous convictions were obtained or pleas of nolo contendere were accepted to the date the current conviction is obtained or plea of nolo contendere is accepted, a fine of not more than $150.00, but the provisions of Chapter 11 of Title 17 and any other provision of law to the contrary notwithstanding, the costs of such prosecution shall not be taxed nor shall any additional penalty, fee, or surcharge to a fine for such offense be assessed against a person for conviction thereof.

A person convicted of simply holding a mobile device while driving may avoid conviction if they bring to court a device or proof of purchase of such device that would allow that person to operate a mobile device hands-free in the future. However, a person may take advantage of this saving provision only once. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-241(f)(2).

Challenging the Stop

Police officers are looking for distracted drivers, especially those drivers holding their cell phones while driving. If an officer observes this, they would have a lawful reason to stop your vehicle, and possibly launch a DUI investigation. As a result, it is important to challenge the officer’s observations to determine whether the stopping officer has reasonable and articulable suspicion necessary to stop your car. The most successful way to accomplish this is to challenge the officer’s perception. Key issues include, but are not limited to:

  • Distance between the officer and your vehicle
  • Angles of officer’s observation
  • Traffic conditions
  • Lighting
  • Window tint, if any
  • Whether you were lawfully parked

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.

DUI: Drugs

DUI drugs charges can be a source of confusion for defendants and lawyers alike. This article will explore these laws and explain their meaning, what must be proven, how they are proven, and how to defend against them.

There are three ways to charge DUI Drugs cases: (1) DUI Drugs – Less Safe; (2) DUI Drugs – Per Se; and (3) DUI Drugs – Combined Effect.

DUI Drugs – Less Safe

Georgia law prohibits a person from driving a vehicle while under the influence of any drug to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive. O.C.G.A. 40-6-391(a)(2). This “less safe” statute requires proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) that the quantity or amount of the prescribed, illicit, or even over-the-counter drug in the person’s system caused impairment or rendered the person to be a “less safe driver.” Therefore, a person can be prosecuted even though the drugs were legally prescribed or were provided over-the-counter, so long as consuming those drugs caused you to be a less safe driver.

The “less safe” provision is the most common way DUI drugs charges are prosecuted. The State is not required to prove the accused had a particular level of drugs in their system. As a result, the State may prosecute even though no chemical test exists. The arresting officer will look for the following indications of impairment:

  • Admitting to using drugs
  • Bloodshot or watery eyes
  • Slurred or slow speech
  • Presence of drugs in vehicle or on person
  • Bad driving
  • Poor performance on Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

The key to defending these “less safe” drugs cases is raising doubt as to whether the drugs taken were the actual cause of the bad driving complained of. This causation element is something the State is required to prove. There are many reasons for bad driving unrelated to the consumption of drugs. In addition, defense counsel should raise challenges to the arresting officer’s training and experience in detecting and investigating DUI Drugs cases. In many instances, the arresting officer does not have the degree of training required to properly investigate these cases such as an officer who is qualified as a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). Furthermore, defense counsel should raise a Harper challenge to the scientific validity of the Romberg Field Sobriety test if that test was performed by the accused. [1]

DUI Drugs – Per Se

Georgia law makes it illegal for a person to operate a vehicle while there is any amount of marijuana or a controlled substance, as defined in O.C.G.A. § 16-13-21, present in the person’s blood or urine, or both, including the metabolites and derivatives of each or both without regard to whether any alcohol is present in the person’s breath or blood. O.C.G.A. 40-6-391(a)(6).

Given the language of the law, the mere presence of a drug (prescribed or not) will constitute a violation of this code section. The question becomes how an arresting officer would know whether the accused had a valid prescription or not? Without an admission, this would be difficult for a prosecutor to prove.

Issues of proof aside, Love v. State, 271 Ga. 398 (1999), has essentially wiped out the “DUI Drugs – Per Se” law entirely. The Love case held that O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391(a)(6), was too broadly drawn, as it incriminates both legal and non-legal users of marijuana, constituting a violation of the Equal Protection clause of both the Georgia and United States Constitutions. This is the primary reason most DUI Drugs cases are prosecuted as “Less Safe” cases.

What remains of the DUI Drugs – Per Se statute is to punish those cases where someone is driving with drugs in their system which offer no lawful use (cocaine, heroin, etc.).

DUI Drugs – Combined Influence

Under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391(a)(4), a person is prohibited from driving a vehicle while under the influence of any two or more of the substances provided in the DUI code section (alcohol, drugs, or toxic vapors) to the extent it is less safe for the person to drive.

Again, we see the State being required to prove the accused was a less safe driver because of the combined effects of two or more intoxicants (alcohol and drugs – prescribed or not). Although these cases present greater challenges, a skilled attorney can raise doubt as to whether the combined effect of intoxicants actually caused less safe driving.  

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.


[1] The Romberg test consists of the subject tilting their head back, closing their eyes, and counting in their head until the subject believes thirty seconds has elapsed and then telling the officer when they believe those thirty seconds had elapsed.

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. 

CDL & Georgia DUI Law

Truck drivers possessing a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) are treated differently than other motorists facing a DUI charge in Georgia. This blog article aims to discuss those differences.

CDL Holders Are Held to a Higher Standard

For the majority of drivers in Georgia,[1] a person may be convicted of DUI if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is at 0.08% or more while driving. If a CDL driver, however, is stopped for DUI while operating a commercial vehicle, the legal BAC limit is 0.04%.

Consequences of a Refusal of Chemical Test or DUI Conviction

While you may refuse the State administered test of blood, breath, or urine, CDL drivers face severe consequences for refusing and for being convicted. The driver of a commercial vehicle who is convicted of DUI while operating a commercial vehicle, or who refuses to submit to a chemical test, is disqualified from driving a commercial vehicle for a period of not less than one year. This disqualification is in addition to any license suspension imposed for a DUI conviction.   Because of these harsher punishments, it is critically important you hire a skilled attorney to defend the case.

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.


[1] Except for drivers less than 21 years of age and CDL drivers.