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Laying Drag

According to O.C.G.A. § 40-6-251, laying drag is defined as operating a vehicle “in such a manner as to create a danger to persons or property by intentionally and unnecessarily causing the vehicle to move in a zigzag or circular course or to gyrate or spin around.”

There are two exceptions to this law:

(1) If the driver lays drag as a necessary maneuver to avoid a collision, injury, or damage to their vehicle or person, they will not be prosecuted under this statute.

 

(2) If the driver is operating the vehicle in or on any raceway, drag strip, or similar place customarily and lawfully used for such purposes, it will not be construed as laying drag in accordance with O.C.G.A. § 40-6-251.

The State of Georgia has ample case law detailing how laying drag is made, and further, whether certain evidence of laying drag can constitute criminal conduct pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 40-6-251. For example, the following circumstances are not sufficient evidence to cite a driver for laying drag:

(1) It is not unlawful for a driver’s vehicle tires to cause smoke while he/she is making a turn, and it would not be sufficient evidence to prosecute a driver for laying drag.

 

(2) There also will not be enough evidence to prosecute a driver for laying drag if the only evidence of laying drag is the sound of an engine coupled with screeching tires. There must be additional evidence in order to prosecute a driver for laying drag.

Penalties

The offense of laying drag will be characterized as a misdemeanor The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor in the State of Georgia is 12 months in custody, and a $1,000 fine.

In Georgia, laying drag also includes assessing three points on an accused person’s driver’s license. If he/she has assessed 15 or more points in any 24-month period, he/she will be at risk of a suspension of his/her driving privileges.

However, if the accused person is under the age of 18 these general rules are different. Drivers under the age of 18 will have their driver’s license suspended if they have accessed four or more points in any 12-month period. Thus, laying drag for a driver under the age of 18 can have much more serious consequences than drivers older than the age of 18.

Contact Us

Due to the severity of the penalties for laying drag, it is of vital importance to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who is knowledgeable of all possible options for an accused dealing with such serious allegations. At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, we are skilled at defending such charges. Therefore, if you or a loved one has been cited or arrested for laying drag, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Battery – Family Violence Charges in Haralson County, Georgia

A conviction for Family Violence Battery in Georgia can have consequences that go far beyond a conviction for other misdemeanors.   For some clients, this is their first interaction with law enforcement and their concerns include: jail time, a permanent mark on their criminal history , and the possibility of trial. All these concerns are very real when facing Family Violence Battery charges. This is especially true when charged with Family Violence Battery in Haralson County. This jurisdiction has specifically allocated money and resources in aggressively prosecuting domestic violence charges.  This article aims to explain the nature of the offense, punishments, and how these cases are handled within Haralson County.

 

The Offense

 

Georgia Criminal Code § 16-5-23.1 defines domestic violence (named “battery – family violence”) as whenever a battery, an intentional physical harm or visible bodily harm, is committed against “past or present spouses, persons who are parents of the same child, parents and children, stepparents and stepchildren, foster parents and foster children, or other persons living or formerly living in the same household.”

 

Therefore, in order to be charged with Family Violence Battery, the alleged victim must be within a certain relationship of the defendant:

 

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

 

Punishment

 

A first conviction for Family Violence Battery is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in custody and a $1,000 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 collateral consequences unknown to most people.  For example, because Georgia’s classification of Family Violence Battery falls within the Federal definition of “domestic violence,” a Georgia citizen who is convicted of Family Violence Battery is prohibited from possessing a firearm under Federal Law.

 

Furthermore, while the maximum penalty includes 12 months in custody and a $1,000 fine, many judges throughout the State will also 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 (usually Domestic Violence Intervention Program – DVIP), but they generally include 24 weeks of classes, counseling, and program fees that are not included in the fine ordered by the judge.  In addition, judges can add community service, counseling requirements, fines, and alcohol and drug evaluations.  It is important to know that your attorney can negotiate all of these things.

 

How it Works in Haralson

 

The first step after arrest is getting a bond. If charged with misdemeanor Family Violence Battery, the law provides you shall be given a bond (in all misdemeanor cases).  But, in addition to having to pay bail money to bond out, the judge will also typically impose a No Contact provision as a condition of your pre-trial release. For example, in a case where a husband is accused of battering his wife, and the couple have minor children who live with them, a judge will usually order the defendant to have No Contact with the wife (alleged victim), the children, and be prevented from returning to the shared home. This No Contact provision places a great burden and strain on the accused as a violation of this bond condition (any form of contact, direct or indirect) can land the accused person in custody until the case is resolved. Therefore, the accused has to find alternative living arrangements and be estranged from their family.

 

As a result, our office routinely files a Motion to Modify Bond Conditions to change the No Contact provision to No Violent or Harassing Contact. This will allow the accused to return home and have contact with the alleged victim and anyone else protected under the bond order; allowing the accused to return to some semblance of a normal lifestyle.

 

After arrest, a case file is created with the Haralson County Solicitor General’s Office. They are responsible for prosecuting misdemeanor cases within Haralson County. At first, the case will be “unaccused.” This simply means that no accusation has yet been filed on the case. An accusation is the official charging document for misdemeanors in Georgia. It is intended to provide notice to the accused of the charges, the dates of the offense, and information sufficient to place the defendant on notice of how to defend the case. An experienced attorney should periodically check to see whether the case has been accused prior to arraignment.

 

It is possible to resolve a Family Violence Battery charge prior to the filing of an accusation. Attorneys should contact the Solicitor General’s Office to see if they are eligible to be admitted into the Haralson County Domestic Violence Pre-Trial Intervention Program. If the accused successfully completes the DVPTI program, their charges will be dismissed with their records restricted.

 

Once a prosecutor reviews the file and believes there is at least probable cause to proceed upon, the accusation is filed and the case is formally “accused.” If accused and not eligible for DVPTI, the accused must begin preparing their case for a possible trial, subject to reaching a plea negotiation with the prosecutor. This includes investigating the case and gathering evidence. In our experience, Haralson County prosecutors are largely unwilling to outright dismiss Family Violence Battery charges. Therefore, defendants are typically confronted with deciding whether to take a no jail time plea deal to Family Violence Battery or proceed to trial.

 

Haralson County State Court prosecutors will often include multiple counts of Battery, Simple Battery, and Family Violence Battery within the 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.

 

Contact Us

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Initial (First) Appearance in Georgia Criminal Cases

An “initial appearance” is an accused’s first face-to-face encounter with a judge after arrest. The purpose of an initial appearance is to inform the accused of the nature of the charges and advise him/her of their basic rights.

The initial appearance may also serve as a probable cause hearing if the person was arrested without a warrant and no arrest warrant is secured prior to the initial appearance. However, getting an arrest warrant within 48 hours after a warrantless arrest satisfies this probable cause requirement.

Police making an arrest without a warrant shall bring the arrested person in front of a judge within 48 hours after the arrest. O.C.G.A. § 17-4-62.

Police making an arrest with a warrant shall bring the arrested person in front of a judge within 72 hours after the arrest. O.C.G.A. § 17-4-26. These time limitations include weekends and holidays.

Failure to meet these time requirements may result in the release of the arrested person through a writ of habeus corpus under O.C.G.A. § 17-4-62. The failure to provide a timely first appearance, however, will not prevent the State from prosecuting the case.

At the initial appearance the judge shall:

  • Inform the accused of the charges
  • Inform the accused of their Miranda rights
  • Determine whether the accused wants a court appointed attorney and how to obtain one
  • Inform the accused of their right to a committal (probable cause) hearing, unless waived by getting bond
  • In the case of a warrantless arrest, make a probable cause determination
  • Inform accused of right to grand jury indictment or accusation
  • Inform accused of when grand jury will next convene
  • Inform accused of right to jury trial
  • Inform accused of right to waive rights and plead guilty
  • Set bail unless offense is only bailable by superior court judge

Importantly, a defendant’s volunteered statements at the initial appearance may be admissible against the accused at trial. The accused person is NOT entitled to an attorney at the initial appearance because the initial appearance is not considered a “critical stage” in the criminal justice process. Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103 (1975).

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If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

 

 

Georgia Criminal Law – Preliminary Hearings

Defendants held in custody without bond are entitled to a preliminary hearing under Georgia law. Preliminary hearings are a vital pre-trial proceeding where the defendant has an opportunity to be released from custody if the State cannot prove the existence of probable cause for the charges against the defendant. This adversarial proceeding affords the defendant the chance to cross examine the State’s witnesses and present evidence negating probable cause.

If the presiding judge determines probable cause exists for one or more charges, the case is then “bound over” to the trial court. If not, the charges have been dismissed[i]. This article will outline the laws governing preliminary hearings, the standard of proof, rules of evidence, role of the judge, and guidelines for how such hearings should be conducted.

What is a Preliminary Hearing?

Also called committal hearings, commitment hearings, or probable cause hearings, preliminary hearings are a post-arrest, pre-indictment, pre-trial hearing to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to justify detaining a defendant on the charges against him/her.

The State bears the burden of proving the existence of probable cause. The defendant has an opportunity to challenge the State’s case and argue for their release due to a lack of sufficient evidence justifying a probable cause determination. The defendant gets a sneak peek at the evidence in the case and the prosecutor has the chance to assess the strength or weakness of a given case.

Right to a Hearing

Although there is no Federal or Georgia constitutional right to such a hearing, Georgia statute O.C.G.A. § 17-7-20 provides for this right. The right to a preliminary hearing is waived, however, if the defendant posts bond on the case and is released from custody.

Preliminary hearings are conducted after a “reasonable” time is afforded to the State and defense to prepare for the hearing. If a defendant is deprived of their right to a preliminary hearing a reviewing court may grant habeus corpus relief.

Right to an Attorney

The preliminary hearing is a “critical stage” of the criminal process under the 6th Amendment and therefore defendants are entitled to the assistance of counsel. A defendant cannot be forced to proceed without an attorney if there is a reasonable probability of obtaining counsel without great delay. A defendant may testify at the preliminary hearing but should be cautious because the statement could be used against him/her at trial.

The Judge’s Role

At the preliminary hearing, the judicial officer shall:

  • Explain the purpose of the hearing
  • Inform the defendant of their rights
  • Ask the defendant if they intend to enter a plea or otherwise waive their right to the hearing
  • Make a probable cause determination for each charge
  • Maintain a record of the proceeding
  • Make rulings on objections by either party
  • Provide a record of the outcome to the appropriate court

The rules of evidence apply at a preliminary hearing with the exception of hearsay evidence. Further, the right to confront witnesses under the 6th amendment does not apply as this is a trial right.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Although the State may later try to indict the earlier dismissed charge via grand jury proceeding.

Understanding Computer Trespass Crimes in Georgia

By Mary Agramonte

 

In response to a growing number of computer-related crimes in both the government and private sectors, the State of Georgia enacted the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act, O.C.G.A. §16-9-90 et. seq. The Act establishes four criminal offenses, all felonies, for violations of the Act: Computer Theft, Computer Trespass, Computer Invasion of Privacy, and Computer Forgery.

 

Computer Trespass is defined at O.C.G.A. § 16-9-93 as when any person who uses a computer or network with knowledge that such use is without authority and with the intention of (1) deleting or removing any program or data; (2) obstructing or interfering with the use of a computer program or data; or (3) altering, damaging, or causing the malfunction of a computer, computer network, or program.

 

The State of Georgia can still prosecute the felony case even if the removing of data is temporary, or if the damage to the computer is minimal or eventually restored. However, Georgia Courts have required that data must actually be hindered or interfered with. For example, in Kinslow v. State, an employee altered a network to get his supervisor’s e-mail rerouted to his own personal e-mail. The supervisor continued receiving his e-mails normally. The Supreme Court of Georgia in June of 2021 held that this was insufficient evidence of Criminal Trespass as the action never blocked or hindered the flow of data. Instead, the e-mails were going to the correct supervisor e-mail as well as being copying to the suspect’s private e-mail and thus he could not be found guilty of the felony crime of Criminal Trespass.

 

The State of Georgia will continue to vigorously prosecute computer crimes. If someone is found guilty of Computer Trespass, the maximum penalty is a $50,000 fine or 15 years in prison, or both. In some situations, if someone is charged with Computer Trespass, there may be enough facts to also charge them with the other computer crimes like computer theft and computer forgery, which can increase the sentencing if convicted. There is also a civil component to the Act, which allows for monetary damages for those who claim they have been victim to a computer crime in Georgia.

 

If you or a loved one has been charged with a computer crime in Georgia, call the Law Office of W. Scott Smith for a free consultation at 404-581-0999. An aggressive criminal defense team can investigate and raise numerous defenses in Computer Crime and Computer Trespass cases, and can protect you through the criminal justice system.

Understanding Computer Theft Crime in Georgia

In response to a growing number of computer-related crimes in both the government and private sectors, the State of Georgia enacted the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act (Act), O.C.G.A. §16-9-90 et. seq. The Act establishes four criminal offenses, all major felonies, for violations of the Act: Computer Theft, Computer Trespass, Computer Invasion of Privacy, and Computer Forgery.

 

Computer Theft is defined as when any person who uses a computer or network with knowledge that such use is without authority and with the intention of either taking property of another; obtaining property by any deceitful means or artful practice; or converting property to such person’s use in violation of an agreement to make a specified application or disposition of such property.

 

Courts have held that there is sufficient evidence of computer theft when the defendant used a computer, owned by her employer, with knowledge that such use was without authority, and with intention of removing programs or data from that computer and appropriating them for her own use.

 

However, courts have held there was no criminal theft where an employee got on his employer-owned computer, printed out e-mails, and used the e-mails for a competing business while still employed. The Court held that the use of the computer was not without authority and so he cannot be guilty of the computer theft crime. See Sitton v. Print Direction, Inc., 312 Ga. App. 365 (2011).

 

The State of Georgia vigorously prosecutes these types of cases. If someone is found guilty of computer theft, the maximum penalty is a $50,000 fine or 15 years in prison, or both. In most situations, if someone is charged with computer theft, there may be enough facts to also charge them with the other computer crimes like computer trespass and computer forgery, which can increase the sentencing if convicted.

 

If you or a loved one has been charged with a computer crime in Georgia, call the Law Office of W. Scott Smith for a free consultation at 404-581-0999. An aggressive criminal defense team can investigate and raise numerous defenses in Computer Crime and Computer Theft cases, and can protect you through the criminal justice system.

Cruelty to Animals Charges under Georgia Law

Animals and pets are held close to our hearts in America. The idea of them being abused is upsetting. As a result, the Georgia legislature set out certain laws protecting animals.

Definition of “Animal”

The definition of “animal” shall not include any fish nor shall such term include any pest that might be exterminated or removed from a business, residence, or other structure.

Felony Offense

Under O.C.G.A. § 16-12-4(d)(1) a person commits the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals when he or she:

(1) Maliciously causes the death of an animal;

(2) Maliciously causes physical harm to an animal by depriving it of a member of its body, by rendering a part of such animal’s body useless, or by seriously disfiguring such animal’s body or a member thereof;

(3) Maliciously tortures an animal by the infliction of or subjection to severe or prolonged physical pain;

(4) Maliciously administers poison to an animal, or exposes an animal to any poisonous substance, with the intent that the substance be taken or swallowed by the animal; or

(5) Having intentionally exercised custody, control, possession, or ownership of an animal, maliciously fails to provide to such animal adequate food, water, sanitary conditions, or ventilation that is consistent with what a reasonable person of ordinary knowledge would believe is the normal requirement and feeding habit for such animal’s size, species, breed, age, and physical condition to the extent that the death of such animal results or a member of its body is rendered useless or is seriously disfigured.

Any person convicted of the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years, a fine not to exceed $15,000.00, or both.

Misdemeanor Offense

The lesser crime of cruelty to animals is provided under subsection (b), when a person:

(1) Causes physical pain, suffering, or death to an animal by any unjustifiable act or omission; or

(2) Having intentionally exercised custody, control, possession, or ownership of an animal, fails to provide to such animal adequate food, water, sanitary conditions, or ventilation that is consistent with what a reasonable person of ordinary knowledge would believe is the normal requirement and feeding habit for such animal’s size, species, breed, age, and physical condition.

Any person convicted of the offense of cruelty to animals shall be guilty of a misdemeanor (unless they have been previously convicted).

Contact Us

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

 

Possession of THC Oil under Georgia Law

 

Generally, possession of a personal amount of marijuana is considered a misdemeanor, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 16-13-2(b). However, possession of other forms of THC, such as oil, resin, or wax, which are extracted from the plant, can be charged as a Schedule I felony in accordance with the Georgia Controlled Substances Act.

THE OFFENSE

V.G.C.S.A. offenses, which stands for “Violations of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act,” include criminal charges relating to the possession of THC oil. According to O.C.G.A. § 16-13-25 of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act, THC oil is considered a Schedule I controlled substance. A Schedule I controlled substance is defined as:

  1. A drug or other substance that has a high potential for abuse;
  2. The drug or other substance does not currently have any accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; and
  3. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

According to O.C.G.A § 16-13-30, it is unlawful for any person to purchase, possess, or have under his or her control any controlled substance, this includes non-medicinal THC oil, which is categorized as a Schedule I felony in the State of Georgia.

LOW THC OIL

However, an experienced criminal defense attorney could negotiate for a felony charge to be reduced down to a misdemeanor under O.C.G.A. § 16-12-191. This statute governs the possession of “low THC oil.” Pursuant to this statute, it is unlawful for any person to possess, purchase, or have under his control, 20 fluid ounces or less of low THC oil. If convicted under this statute, the accused will be sentenced to misdemeanor punishment.

In order for it to be considered “low THC,” the prosecution must prove that the oil was less than a 5% concentration of THC. Thus, the GBI crime lab must provide to the State, as well as to the defense, an analysis of THC concentration, which does not always happen in every case. If this is not provided, the prosecution will have difficulty proving that the oil is above a 5% concentration of THC, and therefore, an experienced criminal defense attorney could negotiate for a felony possession of THC oil charge to be reduced down to a misdemeanor.

CONTACT US

Due to the complexity of the charge of possession of THC oil, as well as the severity of the punishment, it is of vital importance to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend you against such serious allegations. At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our lawyers are trained to know the possible options of an accused arrested and charged with possession of THC oil, we are experienced and skilled at defending such allegations, and we work tirelessly at advocating for our client’s rights. Therefore, if you or a loved one has been arrested for possession of THC oil, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

How Battery-Family Violence becomes a Felony under Georgia Law

Under O.C.G.A. § 16-5-23.1, the offenses of battery and battery – family violence are punished as misdemeanors. However, the same exact offense, under three sets of circumstances can transform this misdemeanor into a felony.

Battery Against the Same Victim

A person commits the offense of battery when he or she intentionally causes substantial physical harm or visible bodily harm to another. A first or second offense against the same victim will result in misdemeanor punishment.

But, upon a third or subsequent conviction for battery against the same victim, the defendant shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years.

Battery – Family Violence

If the offense of battery is committed between household members (past or present spouses, persons who are parents of the same child, parents and children, stepparents and stepchildren, foster parents and foster children, or other persons living or formerly living in the same household), it shall constitute the offense of family violence battery and is punished as a misdemeanor.

However, if the defendant has previously been convicted of a forcible felony committed between household members, he or she shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years.

Or, if a person is convicted of a second or subsequent offense of family violence battery against the same or another victim, the defendant shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years.

Contact Us

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, please contact our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.

Possession of Schedule 1 Controlled Substances – VGCSA – Georgia

Possession of Schedule 1 drugs are classified as felonies in the State of Georgia. According to the laws of our state, criminal charges associated with the possession of these drugs are in accordance with the Georgia Controlled Substances Act. The following controlled substances are examples of drugs classified as Schedule 1:

  • Heroin
  • LSD
  • Morphine
  • Ecstasy

THE OFFENSE

V.G.C.S.A. offenses, which stands for “Violations of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act, include the charge of possessing Schedule I drugs. The Georgia Controlled Substances Act is laid out in the following statutes: O.C.G.A. § 16-13-20 through § 16-13-30. A list of all of the controlled substances considered to be Schedule I are referenced in O.C.G.A. § 16-13-25 of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act. A Schedule I controlled substance is defined as:

  1. A drug or other substance that has a high potential for abuse;
  2. The drug or other substance does not currently have any accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; and
  3. There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

According to O.C.G.A § 16-13-30, it is unlawful for any person to purchase, possess, or have under his or her control any controlled substance, which does encompass any Schedule I drug.

SENTENCING

If an accused is prosecuted under the Georgia Controlled Substances Act for possessing a Schedule I controlled substance, the charge will be classified as a felony. If the accused is later convicted of these charges, the following punishments may occur:

  1. If the aggregate weight is less than one gram of a solid substance or less than one milliliter of a liquid substance, the accused may be sentenced to imprisonment anywhere between 1-3 years;
  2. If the aggregate weight is at least one gram but less than four grams of a solid substance or at least one milliliter but less than four milliliters of a liquid substance, the accused may be sentenced to imprisonment anywhere between 1-8 years;
  3. If the aggregate weight is at least four grams but less than 28 grams of a solid substance or at least four milliliters but less than 28 milliliters of a liquid substance, the accused may be sentenced to imprisonment anywhere between 1-15 years.

Because of the severity of the punishment for possessing a Schedule I controlled substance, it is of vital importance to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend you against such serious allegations. At the Law Offices of W. Scott Smith, our lawyers are trained to know all possible options of an accused arrested and charged with V.G.C.S.A., we understand and assert all potential defenses for such a charge, and we work tirelessly at advocating for our client’s rights. Therefore, if you or a loved one has been arrested for possession of a Schedule I controlled substance, please call our office today at 404-581-0999 for a free consultation.