DUI, or Driving Under the Influence, is a serious offense. If you are arrested on this charge in Georgia, the first thing you should do is engage the services of an attorney with broad, in-depth experience in this area of the law. Carter/Pilgrim, located in Suwanee, serves many surrounding counties, including Forsyth, Gwinnett, Hall, Jackson, Barrow and other surrounding counties. Our firm specializes in DUI law and has an exceptional track record of success. We are well-known for trying the most difficult cases in front of a jury while always attempting, and often succeeding, in obtaining favorable plea bargains and dismissals with our strong negotiation tactics.
Defining a DUI in Georgia
Georgia defines two ways in which you can be considered in violation of DUI laws. One is by having a police officer determine that you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs through observation and a field sobriety test. In Georgia, you can be charged for driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or inhalants by exhibiting manifestations consistent with impairment. Without a breath or blood test, driving manarasims coupled with the observations made by law enforcement can lead to a charge of DUI “Less Safe”.
The other, known as DUI “Per Se,” means that you have been shown by chemical blood, urine, or breath analysis to have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher or an illegal drug in your system.
Field Test for Sobriety
Three methods of evaluation are standardized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for use in field tests for sobriety:
- The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Evaluation
- The Walk and Turn Evaluation
- The One-Leg Stand Evaluation
The State of Georgia can also charge you with DUI if your driving is impaired by a substance other than alcohol, such as illegal drugs, prescription medications, or even over-the-counter substances such as inhalants, cold or sleep medications, cough syrups, or pain relievers. Remember if you have any amount of marijuana or other controlled substance in your blood or urine, you can be prosecuted, even if you that substance has been legally prescribed.
Ways You May Be Convicted of DUI
If the prosecutor is able to prove that you consumed alcohol or drugs before driving, even if your BAC is lower than 0.08 percent, you can be found guilty of DUI. Typically in such cases, your driving and/or field sobriety tests will show evidence of impairment. As you would expect, though, the more elevated your BAC is, the more challenging your case can be.
In Georgia, you are required to take a breath, blood, or urine test if you are arrested for a DUI because you are considered to have “impliedly consented” to testing by obtaining a driver’s license and/or operating a vehicle on the highways of the state. If you refuse to submit to a test the police have requested, you may face a year of a license suspension.
Though it is upsetting to be arrested, don’t despair. Even with a BAC above the legal limit, our attorneys know the ins and outs of DUI detection and enforcement. Our extensive experience and knowledge of the intricacies of the law and of scientific methodology will empower you in a way that going through the legal system with only mediocre legal support never would.
Administrative License Suspension
If you are arrested for DUI in Georgia, you will be faced with two separate problems: your criminal case and a civil administrative licensing issue. The former will be settled in criminal court; the latter will be handled by the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) through the Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH). These two processes are separate; the outcome of one will not affect the outcome of the other.
You should be aware that Georgia, like states throughout the country, has strengthened laws intended to prevent drunk driving. The state now has a 30-day rule that may result in the suspension of your license for 1 year even before you have been found guilty of a crime unless your attorney files an appeal within 30 days. If you have refused to take a breath or blood test when requested to do so by law enforcement or have taken such a test and registered above the legal limit, the officer is required to begin a process called Administrative License Suspension (ALS).
This situation requires immediate action. If you contact our offices promptly, we will take steps to appeal your license suspension so that you won’t suffer the inconvenience and humiliation of losing your right to drive. In many cases, we can have your permission to drive extended at least until the date of your hearing and there are other options under the new implied consent rules to keep you behind the wheel while you wait for your day in court. Remember, once your license is suspended, you will have no recourse. In many instances, even hardship issues (financial or medical) will not reduce the length of the suspension.
Criminal Penalties for DUI
Depending on the circumstances, in addition to a license suspension, a guilty verdict for DUI may result in, among other things:
- Jail time
- Community service
- DUI school and substance abuse treatment and associated costs
- Increased car insurance rates
Certain factors will affect the severity of your punishment, such as how high your blood alcohol content was and/or whether this is your first offense or one of multiple convictions. To illustrate: depending on the jurisdiction penalties will be harsher for anyone, regardless of age, whose BAC is 0.15 percent or higher. Each judge and jurisdiction have their own nuances and tendencies.
The law is also harder on commercial drivers who drive a commercial vehicle while under the influence; for them, the BAC standard is 0.04 percent rather than the 0.08 percent that applies to other drivers. Even if you weren’t operating a commercial vehicle at the time, a conviction for DUI will result in either a 1 year suspension of your commercial privileges or a lifetime disqualification of your CDL.
An important factor affecting your sentence is your age. Under Georgia’s policy of Zero Tolerance, if you are under 21 years of age and your BAC is 0.02 percent or higher (a much lower limit than for those 21 or older), your driver’s license will be revoked for a minimum of 6 months along with other potentially elevated sanctions. If your BAC is 0.08 percent or higher, you will face adult penalties.
Another factor that will affect the penalties you face for a DUI offense is the presence of one or more children under the age of 14 in your car at the time of arrest. For each child you are transporting at the time of your arrest you face an additional charge of DUI with Child Endangerment. Each charge carries additional penalties and amounts to an additional DUI on your record for each child in the vehicle.
When DUI Is a Felony in Georgia
For a long time, DUI has been a misdemeanor in Georgia regardless of the number of convictions. Recently, the law was changed to make a 4th DUI within a 10 year period be treated as a felony. . Further, someone driving under the influence involved in an accident that results in serious injury or death to the other party will be tried on felony charges.
Why You Need an Georgia DUI Defense Attorney
Although DUI may seem to be a black or white issue, it actually involves many gray areas. As our experienced DUI attorneys will help you to understand, the apparently clear evidence of guilt is often tainted by false interpretations, inaccurate instruments, biased assessments, or environmental circumstances.
For one thing, field tests for sobriety are frequently subject to interpretation. Although police officers have been trained to detect the presence of alcohol by taking note of the odor of the driver’s breath, the redness of his or her eyes and the ability of the subject to maintain normal balance, each of these criteria can be misleading. Failure to pass all three of these criteria can be caused by other factors, for example:
- Bloodshot eyes may be the result of allergies, illness, irritants in the environment, or even lack of sleep
- Alcoholic odor on the breath can be strong if the subject has just recently taken a single drink or if he or she suffers from certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, GERD or severe acid reflux
- Balance difficulties may occur due to age, weight, fatigue, neurological defects, or even weather conditions
Beyond this, much depends on the accuracy of the officer’s judgment and is, at least in part, a matter of personal opinion. Even scientific tests are not 100 percent accurate. At Carter/Pilgrim, our attorneys have the know-how to question many aspects of the details upon which the charges are based, such as: Was the police officer biased against the defendant? Did the officer exaggerate evidence? Did another witness’s observations contradict those of the officer? Was standard protocol utilized in administering field tests? Is it possible that the breathalyzer malfunctioned? Does the defendant have any medical conditions that might have been misconstrued as intoxication? Might the blood or urine tested have been contaminated?
Contact Our Georgia DUI Defense Lawyer
Our firm is extremely sensitive to the fact that DUI cases are the only ones in which a witness (the police officer) can testify to what is known legally as “the ultimate issue.” This anomaly in the law can help us to raise a reasonable doubt relative to the defendant’s guilt.
Whether you are innocent of all charges or bear some responsibility for misbehavior, Carter/Pilgrim can be crucial in bringing your case to the best possible resolution. We will always give you our full attention and treat you with the dignity and respect you deserve. Call us or fill out a contact form to schedule a consultation today.