When the temperature goes up in Atlanta, most folks like to have a cool drink to beat the heat. And if the work day is over, nothing does the trick like a Peachtree Margarita. That's fine and all, but only so long as you aren't driving afterwards. Georgia law comes down hard on tipsy drivers. An arrest might cause you to sweat more than the August sun ever did. Review this article if you've had a DUI arrest in Atlanta and you could use a break.
The Official Code of Georgia makes it illegal to operate a car while the driver is under the influence of alcohol or any drug, and that influence makes a driver "less safe." The same statute makes it unlawful to drive at any time when the driver's alcohol concentration is at or above 0.08. Drivers in Georgia should also know that they break the law if there is any amount of marijuana or other controlled substance in the driver's blood or urine. This is true even if the driver is lawfully using the controlled substance.
DUI arrests tend to be very similar to one another. An officer must have "reasonable suspicion" that the driver has violated a traffic law or committed a crime to stop the car. At that point, the officer will likely collect the driver's information. If the officer at any point in the process becomes suspicious of alcohol use, the officer may request a chemical analysis of the driver's blood, breath, urine, or other bodily substance. From that point, a DUI stop can go one of two ways: either the driver submits to the test or they refuse.
Submitting to a Chemical Test
If a driver submits to the test, an instrument will score his/her alcohol concentration (AC, or BAC in other jurisdictions). If the driver's AC is at or below 0.05, state law says that a judge or jury may infer from this alone that the driver was not under the influence of alcohol. If the judge or jury makes this conclusion, the criminal case is probably over.
If the AC was above 0.05 but below 0.08, the judge or jury may not make any inference about whether the driver was under the influence; instead, they must rely on other evidence -- such as police testimony or dashboard recordings, etc. -- to decide if the driver is guilty. If the driver's AC was above 0.08 within three hours of the time that the driver was operating the vehicle, the driver is conclusively in violation of the DUI statute and guilty of a misdemeanor. Check out FindLaw's resources for criminal cases in Atlanta.
Refusing a Test
If a driver refuses a test, he or she faces automatic penalties (see below). In addition, the driver can still be convicted of driving under the influence. A driver's refusal can be used as evidence against him/her in a criminal trial.
As driving under the influence continues to be a problem, the exact consequences for getting caught are likely to change. It's safe to say that the punishment will typically include a suspended license, fines, jail time, community service, mandatory DUI education, and probation.
Georgia's DUI laws set out a range of possible suspension terms for drivers who have been caught DUI. The possible terms change depending on the number of prior arrests, convictions, and test refusals over the previous five years. The length of license suspension will range from 120 days to 18 months. In general, the length of a suspension following a test refusal is longer than if the driver had simply failed the test. Therefore, for some drivers it may be better to submit to the test than it is to refuse. Visit the Department of Driver Services' page on license suspension and revocations for more information.
The suspension goes into effect immediately upon failing or refusing a chemical test. Beginning the next day, a driver whose license has been suspended has 10 business days to request a hearing (PDF) to appeal the suspension. The fee for doing so is $150.00, due at the time of filing the request.
First and second convictions are misdemeanors. You can expect a fine ranging from $300 to $1,000. With a felony conviction, the maximum fine amount goes up to $5,000. If you can show that the fine makes for an economic hardship, you can request to pay the amount in installments. Your ability to do so, however, is entirely up to your trial judge. He/she also has the power to suspend half of the fine amount if you are willing to complete substance abuse treatment. You may want to talk to your attorney for more details.
A court may sentence first time offenders to anywhere from 10 days to a year in jail. The judge has discretion, however, to suspend or stay most (if not all) of the jail term. If you were caught for the first time, but you were convicted while having an AC below 0.08, the judge can stay your entire sentence. If you had an AC at or above 0.08, you will do a minimum of 24 hours behind bars. As you'd expect, the jail sentences go up with second and subsequent convictions.
In general, drivers convicted of DUI will have to perform at least 40 hours of community service. Repeat offenders can look forward to 30 days of service with a misdemeanor conviction and 60 days of service with a felony. In many cases, drivers can request specific organizations through which they fulfill their hours and days requirements. If you're having trouble finding a service assignment, Hands On Atlanta helps place court-ordered servants with volunteer opportunities.
Upon each conviction, drivers must complete a DUI, Alcohol, or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program. Each program's cost is determined by law. As of January 2014, the total cost is $292, to be paid by the driver. First, a driver will have to fill out a questionnaire asking about the driver's alcohol and drug use. Next, the driver will complete a 20-hour course that features group counseling and therapeutic education. For more information, see the Department of Driver Services' answers to Frequently Asked Questions.
Most offenders will have to serve at least some time on probation. Each misdemeanor offender must remain on probation for a year after conviction, minus any time that he/she spends in actual incarceration. Felony offenders remain on probation for five years, minus jail and prison time served.
Some drivers will be eligible for a limited driving permit before their suspension period has ended. The permit allows drivers to travel to work, school, medical appointments, driver education programs, and other forms of substance abuse treatment. A repeat offender may have to install an ignition interlock device to prevent his or her car from operating without a clean breath sample.
Other drivers will have to wait until their suspension term has ended before doing any driving. See the DDS page on reinstatement for more information.
Get Help with Atlanta DUI: Call an Attorney Today
Whether this is your first DUI charge or your third, a conviction can have negative impacts on your job, your driver's license, and your future. If you have additional questions about a DUI arraignment, the plea negotiation process, or even going to trial, you may want to speak with Georgia criminal defense attorney.