Georgia Municipal Court DUI Process:
Almost all Georgia counties have overlapping jurisdictions and courts. Cases may be heard in municipal (city) court or a county court (state or superior court). When the police arrest someone for DUI within an incorporated city, your DUI case will most likely begin in the municipal court of that jurisdiction.
Your first court date in a municipal court will be your arraignment date. Your Georgia DUI Lawyer can appear on your behalf at arraignment, and in most courts, you will not be required at the initial appearance. Your attorney will often use this appearance date as an opportunity to discuss your case with the prosecutor (Solicitor General).
If you decide to appear without counsel, you have several options at arraignment.
- Request a new court date to hire an attorney. Apply for a public defender;
- Enter a plea of “not guilty.” This will result in your case being continued to a new date in the municipal court, which will be your trial date;
- Request that your case be “bound over,” or sent to either the State Court or the Superior Court within the county;
- Enter a guilty plea. Note: It is not advisable to enter a guilty plea to DUI without consulting a lawyer, as this can have long-lasting effects on both your criminal history and your driver's license. A qualified Atlanta DUI Lawyer is in a much better position to negotiate a more favorable plea bargain than a pro se, or unrepresented, defendant.
Ultimately, there are several ways that cases can be resolved in municipal court. First, you may plead guilty to either DUI or to a lesser offense. A sentence will be imposed by the municipal court judge, and your case will be closed. Second, you may have a bench trial--a trial in which the judge alone decides whether you are guilty or innocent. If you decide to exercise your right to a jury trial, your case will be "bound over" (transferred) from municipal court to a higher court in the county.
Your new court date will be in either state or superior court, depending on the population of the county. Not all counties have state courts; counties with smaller populations only have superior courts, which hear both misdemeanor and felony cases. In counties with sufficient population, state courts handle misdemeanor criminal cases (and certain civil proceedings), but unlike municipal courts, they may also hold jury trials.
In state or superior court, your case may resolve in many of the same ways as in the municipal court. You will still have the option to plead guilty either to DUI or to a lesser offense. Even in state or superior court, you have the option of a bench trial. However, you have the added option of a jury trial. For the most part, your case will start over from the beginning. You will have a different judge and prosecutor, and negotiations will begin anew.
It is important to note that any offer negotiated with a municipal court prosecutor is not binding upon a state or superior court solicitor. This is something that must factor into your decision to bind your case over from municipal to state or superior court. In some jurisdictions, the municipal courts are much easier to deal with than are the state or superior courts; however, in other places, the reverse is true.
Therefore, the decision to send your case to a higher court or leave it in municipal court is a strategic one and should never be considered until you seek out the advice of a qualified Atlanta DUI Attorney.