Are There Alternatives to Jail-Time and License Suspension in Georgia if I Have Been Arrested for DUI?
The legal team at the Law Offices of Richard S. Lawson knows the concerns about stigma associated with DUI charges and convictions. This stigma can be avoided if DUI charges are reduced to something less like reckless driving or a failure to maintain lane. Our office has successfully negotiated alternative sentences in hundreds of Georgia DUI cases.
Richard Lawson is a former Georgia DUI Prosecutor trained by the same police officers and prosecutors who are prosecuting the case against you. For more than 25 years, he has used his experience to negotiate alternative sentences for his clients. Cases do not defend themselves, and if anyone could accomplish the goal, everyone would be doing it.
For our clients, our results speak for themselves. Our reviews can be found on AVVO and other places online. We put our results out there for anyone to see. It does not mean that all cases can be defended. It does, however, mean that if there are defenses we will find them.
Alternative Sentencing in Georgia – Non-DUI Cases:
An individual charged with a criminal offense in Georgia is facing potentially severe consequences. In many cases, these consequences could include jail time, high fines, probation, loss of driving privileges, and a permanent conviction on that person's criminal history. Many employers conduct background checks, and a criminal conviction may result in the loss of employment. In felony cases, a conviction can result in the loss of some of your basic civil rights (i.e. the right to vote and/or own firearms). Conviction of a traffic offense can affect a person's driving privileges, his/her insurance rates, and, of course, his/her wallet, with some traffic offenses carrying extremely high fines.
Fortunately, alternative sentencing options exist that serve to mitigate at least some of these harsh consequences. This resource will describe some of the most common options and how they work.
Many courts operate programs known as "diversion" programs. The program is usually reserved for certain types of offenses, such as Minor in Possession of Alcohol, Shoplifting, Disorderly Conduct, and some minor drug charges. Typically, the individual enrolled in a diversion program will be required to complete a certain number of community service hours, participate in designated classes, and pay a program fee.
Depending on the offense, the accused may be required to complete a drug and alcohol evaluation or a shoplifting awareness class. Once these requirements are met, the case will be dismissed, and the individual may apply for record restriction (formerly known as expungement) of the arrest. The obvious benefit to completing such a program is that it does not result in a criminal conviction.
It is important to keep in mind that an individual's admission into a diversion program is discretionary on the part of the prosecutor. The prosecutor will take all of the facts and circumstances of the case into account in determining whether to admit a person into the program. In most cases, diversion is not offered as a matter of course; rather, you or your attorney must negotiate admission into a diversion program. Typically, diversion will not be available if an individual has a criminal history.
How Diversion Works:
An individual entering a diversion program is not required to enter a guilty plea or otherwise admit guilt upon entering the program. As a result, if that individual fails to complete the program, the prosecutor will move forward with prosecuting the case, but the presumption of innocence and all other rights remain intact.
While all diversion programs, if successfully completed, result in the dismissal of the charges, the actual programs themselves vary considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, for a Minor In Possession of Alcohol (MIP), some jurisdictions require just community service and a class, some require an essay, and some may even require jail time. Additionally, in some jurisdictions, the office of the Solicitor General operates diversion programs, but in others individuals in the diversion program are supervised by that jurisdiction's probation office.
Real World Examples:
Cobb County State Court has a very active diversion program. The program is managed by the Solicitor General's Office, and any person seeking to enter the program must be represented by an attorney, who must file a formal request with the court. Cobb's diversion program is generally only available for Minor in Possession of Alcohol (MIP), Misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana, and Misdemeanor Shoplifting charges. Cobb County has a strict rule that persons under 21 years of age who test over the legal limit of 0.08 or who refuse a test are not eligible for the diversion program, nor are individuals with prior similar charges.
If the individual is accepted, he or she must pay a $150 diversion fee and complete 40 hours of community service. There will be additional requirements that are specific to the charges. For example, individuals charged with MIP or Misdemeanor Possession are required to complete a drug and alcohol assessment and complete a specified number of random drug/alcohol screens.
The City of Atlanta Municipal Court's diversion program is referred to as “Pre-Trial Intervention – Criminal,” or PTI. Atlanta does not require the involvement of an attorney as a prerequisite to participation in the program, although an attorney can expedite matters and prevent numerous court visits. Additionally, in borderline situations your attorney can help get you into the program.
Generally, the accused would appear in court on the date listed on his or her citation. His/her attorney would negotiate for admission into the PTI program. If the prosecutor agrees, the person will be given a new court date and instructed to make an appointment to meet with the PTI Coordinator in the Solicitor's Office, Ms. Sylvana Hannah. Ms. Hannah will instruct the individual as to the number of community service hours he or she must complete, and will generally supervise the duration of participation in PTI. Once all requirements have been met, the individual (or his/her attorney) must appear before a judge, who will formally dismiss the case on the record.
Pre-Trial Intervention – Traffic:
The City of Atlanta Municipal Court offers a program called Pre-Trial Intervention – Traffic (also known as PTIT). Successful completion of the program results in a dismissal of the case. As a result, no points will be assessed on your license, and the offense will not appear on your driver's history. You may participate in PTIT once per calendar year. PTIT is never available in accident cases or for certain other serious offenses.
In order to determine whether you qualify for PTIT, you should appear in court on the date listed on your citation. Once you check in for court, the judge's assistant will inform you whether or not you are eligible, and will give you an informational sheet about the program. You will be instructed to appear in another courtroom in the same building.
You will be asked to pay a "program fee," which will be calculated based upon your offense. This program fee is ordinarily less than the fine would be if you had decided to plead guilty or nolo contendere to the offense. You may either pay the program fee that same day, or the court staff will give you a certain amount of time to pay. You may mail in the fee or bring it to the courthouse in person. You may also be asked to take a defense driving class or some other type of class. If you fail to pay the program fee or complete any other terms of the program, your case will be assigned a new court date. Your Atlanta DUI Lawyer will help you get into the PTIT program.
In addition to PTI and PTIT, the City of Atlanta Municipal Court offers the “Community Court Restorative Board Program.” It is designed for people who are ineligible for the PTI program, but who nonetheless wish to have their charges dismissed and to maintain a clean criminal history.
In order to be admitted into the program, an individual must:
- Be between 17-30 years of age;
- Have no more than one (1) prior misdemeanor or ordinance violation conviction;
- Have no felony convictions.
Restorative Board has six different "modules," designed specifically for different kinds of offenses. For example, Module 1 is for individuals charged with Misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana or any alcohol-related offenses (other than DUI). This module requires 60 hours of community service, a drug and alcohol evaluation, proof of a job/participation in school, two random drug screens, and an addiction prevention workshop.
Individuals charged with the following offenses may be eligible for the Restorative Board Program:
- Certain violence charges
- False representation
- Use of fighting words
- Gaming offenses
- Park offenses
- Idling and Loitering
- Massage without proper permit Escort without permit
- Curfew violation
- Disorderly at school
The Restorative Board Program specifically excludes individuals charged with traffic cases or under-21 marijuana or alcohol cases.
Unlike PTI or other diversion programs, Restorative Board does require the participating individual to enter a plea on the record. The practical effect of this is that if the individual does not comply with the terms and conditions of the program, he or she will be brought back to court for sentencing, and the offense will appear as a conviction on his or her record. Your Atlanta DUI Attorney will help you get admission into the program.
Conditional Discharge – O.C.G.A. § 16-13-2 and O.C.G.A. § 3-3-23.1:
O.C.G.A. § 16-13-2 is also known as the “Drug First Offender” statute. It is designed specifically for individuals who either plead guilty or are found guilty of possession of drugs who have not been previously convicted of any drug-related offense. Upon a finding of guilt by a jury or upon a guilty plea, a judge may defer further proceedings and place the individual on probation subject to "reasonable terms as the court may require." The legislature placed a particular emphasis on requiring people to complete treatment for substance abuse issues; the court may also require community service or other classes.
Once all conditions have been met, and the probationary period has run, the court will dismiss the charges, and the individual will not have a conviction on his/her record. If, however, the individual fails to complete all terms of the conditional discharge or otherwise violates probation, the court may enter a formal adjudication of guilt. Obviously, discharge under this “first offender” statute may be used only once with respect to any single person.
Conditional Discharge under O.C.G.A. § 3-3-23.1 operates similarly, but is specifically designed for individuals charged with purchasing, attempting to purchase, or knowingly possessing alcohol, or misrepresenting age for the purposes of obtaining alcohol. Discharge under this law also results in a dismissal of the charges upon completion of all terms and conditions of probation.
These provisions of law can be particularly helpful, as both a misdemeanor drug possession conviction and conviction for certain types of MIP offenses will result in the suspension of an individual's driver's license. Dismissal under either O.C.G.A. § 16-13-2 or O.C.G.A. § 3-3-23.1 prevents a conviction and therefore prevents the subsequent license suspension.
Felony First Offender Act – O.C.G.A. § 42-8-60:
For individuals charged with a first lifetime felony offense, the Felony First Offender Act can be extremely beneficial. Like the Conditional Discharge statutes above, they allow the court to sentence an individual to either a term of probation or a term of incarceration after a finding of guilt by a jury or a guilty plea, but without a formal adjudication of guilt by the court. If the person does not comply with any required terms of the sentence, the court may enter a formal adjudication. If, however, all terms and conditions are satisfied, the individual is completed. Exonerated of all charges, and his or her civil liberties will remain intact.
Technically, “first offender” under O.C.G.A § 42-8-60 can be used in misdemeanor cases as well. However, it can only be used once in a lifetime. As a result, we generally advise people to not use it in a misdemeanor.
Speed Reductions and No-Points Moving Violations:
For speeding and other traffic offenses, many people are concerned with accruing points on their license. This is a valid concern, as a total of 15 points within a 24-month period will result in a license suspension for a driver over 21 (the rules differ for younger drivers). The number of points assessed varies by offense. Most offenses will result in the assessment of 3 points, though more serious offenses may result in more. For example, Reckless Driving is a 4-point offense, and Improper Passing of a School Bus is a 6-point offense.
Although many courts do not offer diversion programs for minor traffic offenses (like the City of Atlanta Municipal Court's PTI-T program), this does not mean that there are no options.
In a speeding case, one valid option is to negotiate for a reduction of the speed marked on the ticket. This can be beneficial for several reasons. First, fine amounts are graduated based on the speed limit, so reducing the speed can result in a lower fine. Second, for certain people, reducing the speed can result in the ticket not being reported to the Department of Driver Services at all. This is because courts do not report tickets of 14 mph or less over the speed limit, and thus no points will be assessed on an individual's driving record.
For example, if an individual is traveling 73 mph in a 55 mph zone, he or she is 18 mph over the posted speed limit. If the prosecutor is willing to mark the individual's speed as 69 mph instead of 73 mph, the ticket will not be reported. It would not go on a person's MVR or seen by someone's insurance company. Finally, a reduction in speed can prevent an individual from running afoul of Georgia's harsh Super Speeder Law, which can save him or her at least $200.
In other, non-speeding traffic cases, attorneys will often negotiate for the coveted "Basic Rules/Too Fast for Conditions" reduction. Although the Basic Rules/Too Fast for Conditions statute is expressly defined by statute, in many courts the statute functions as a non-specific, catch-all law that has the advantage of carrying no points. The Basic Rules statute can be found in O.C.G.A 40-6-180.
Alternative Sentencing and DUI:
Unfortunately, alternative sentencing options are very limited in Georgia DUI cases. Very few courts will accept an individual charged with DUI into a diversion program. Further, law for DUI cases expressly prohibits First Offender treatment. Your best option for a favorable outcome is to seek a reduction of your DUI to a lesser charge such as Reckless Driving, which does not carry the same stigma as DUI does. Although Reckless Driving is difficult to attain, it is not impossible if there are legal defenses available in your case.
What are the chances my Georgia DUI case will be reduced to a lesser charge?
DUI cases in Georgia are not reduced easily however. Judges and prosecutors do not want the reputation of being “easy” on DUI offenders. Nonetheless, there are times when a good DUI lawyer can get charges reduced to reckless driving. These cases are referred to as “ Getting a reckless” in DUI law circles and do not come without a fight.
There must be a reason that a case gets reduced. There was a time when many first offense DUI cases were reduced to reckless driving. Those days are gone. It takes a full investigation of the case for flaws in the prosecutor's case in order to get a possible reduction to reckless driving or other alternative sentences.
These cases involve filing motions stating that you were stopped by police without a valid reason, or that your blood or breath test results were invalid. Your Georgia DUI lawyer will work with you to then present these arguments before a judge. The judge may use their discretion to continue with the DUI charges. Going to court and winning the trial is the best way to keep DUI charges from affecting your permanent record.
Does it make a difference which Georgia DUI Lawyer I hire?
It is vital that you secure the Best DUI lawyer in Georgia to fight the charges against you. Only a professional experienced in DUI law will know how to get the evidence and support you need to win your case. If you are facing a long jail sentence as a result of a serious DUI, repeat DUI, or from charges of driving on a suspended driver's license, a plea bargain can likely be negotiated allowing you less time in jail.
Some attorneys are considered plea-only lawyers or "plea lawyers." This means that no matter what you are going to be advised to plea guilty. Never plead guilty unless it is in your best interest and only after your case has been fully invested. The decision on how to handle your case can only be made after your case has been investigated by Top-Rated Atlanta DUI Lawyers.
What About My Georgia Driver's License?
In you are convicted of a First DUI in Georgia, you will likely qualify for a limited permit to drive if convicted of DUI. However, the real problem is if you have had prior DUI convictions on your record. In that situation, ordinarily you cannot get a permit to drive. However, if there is a way to keep the DUI off your record, you will be able to drive. The only three ways to accomplish the goal is to win your DUI case or seek some kind of diversion program or reduction to a lessor charge such as reckless driving.
Diversion programs to DUI convictions are very rare and disappearing every year. There was a time when many courts had such programs in Georgia. Now, very few will do it and in very few circumstance. Reductions to lessor offenses such as reckless driving are somewhat more common, yet still rare. The best and most realistic goal is a reduction to reckless driving if the facts of your case warrant the reduction. The Best DUI Lawyers in Georgia are best suited to finding defenses necessary to warrant a reduction to a lessor charge.
What About The Case That is Not Defensible? Are There Still Alternatives?
Alternative sentencing can also be defined as alternatives to jail-time in your case. For example, for a multiple DUI offender, the goal may be to limit time in jail. For example, home confinement or work release can potentially be used to save a person for significant jail-time or a client losing his or her job. Our office has successfully negotiated alternatives to jail-time in thousands of cases in Georgia. Those alternatives have saved people from going to jail and losing their livelihoods.
We consider both defending every DUI case while at the same time looking at possibilities for those without cases that cannot be defended. In addition, often we recommend that our clients complete DUI School, Community Service, and Alcohol and Drug Counseling before going to court. Completing requirements before court may help convince the trial judge and prosecutor that you are a good candidate for an alternative sentence in Georgia. So all options are always on the table.
A plea bargain is where your Atlanta DUI Lawyer and the prosecutor negotiate, and may include requirements such as DUI Court Program, home confinement, or work release options.
Seek Alternative Sentencing and Never Give Up on Your Case:
Your best chance at obtaining these options and more freedom is to get solid, experienced counsel immediately. We are available to start the search for an alternative sentence in your case 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, including nights and weekends. Contact us today.