If You Have Been Arrested for a Georgia DUI , Let Our Experts Explain the Georgia DUI Process
While no two Georgia DUI cases are the same (because the underlying facts of each case are different), the court processes follow the same basic steps. Having a Georgia DUI lawyer on your side is the key to working through this process and ensuring that all court hearings and deadlines are met.Your case will not defend itself. Your case begins with the ALS Hearing and the 30 day letter. Richard Lawson is the top-rated and most reviewed DUI Lawyer in Georgia. His reviews can be found on AVVO.
Richard Lawson has more than 25 years experience defending DUI cases throughout Georgia, Atlanta, Metro Atlanta, and all of North Georgia. As a former DUI Prosecutor, he is uniquely qualified. He understands both side of a DUI cases and puts that experience to work for you. Experience is the difference. Understanding is what we do.
30 Day Letter / 30 Day Warning
The very first thing, no matter how you decide to handle your case, is sending your 30 day letter. In many situations you cannot even defend your case unless your Georgia DUI Attorney sends it. The 30 day letter starts the process used to make sure you keep your ability to drive. If not sent, you are facing as much as 1 year without the ability to drive. in the case of an alleged refusal, the suspension can be as much as 1 year, without any restricted license at all. So, time is of the essence. Contact our office so we can send your hearing request.
The Georgia DUI Arrest Process:
A DUI case is initiated, of course, when you get pulled over in your vehicle. If law enforcement suspects that you are DUI, you will be asked to submit to field sobriety tests. You may also be asked to take a blood or breath test. If law enforcement believes that there is enough evidence for a DUI case, you will be issued a citation at the Georgia jail followed by DUI prosecutors at the Solicitor-General's or District Attorney's office beginning to compile a court case against you.
Generally the citation that you are issued at the jail will contain an initial court date, which is known as your arraignment date. Arraignment is simply the time when you will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Generally a not guilty plea is entered on your behalf at your first arraignment which allows your Georgia DUI attorney the opportunity to access and review the evidence against you. After that is completed, the negotiations for a plea deal begin if you want to enter a guilty plea at a later time or your Georgia DUI lawyer works to get your case together for Motions and Trial.
Many times in Georgia arraignment is conducted several times during which time the evidence is being gathered and your DUI attorney is negotiating with prosecutors. If you decide to contest a Georgia DUI case, motions are the next step. Motions are decided by a judge, and your Georgia DUI Attorney will have the opportunity to present legal arguments in the hope of getting the case dismissed or at least key evidence excluded.
Motions can be critical because they offer your defense attorney the chance to cross examine the arresting law enforcement officer under oath and obtain further information that may later be useful at trial. If motions do not resolve your Georgia DUI case, then a trial is your next step. You have the right to elect for a trial by judge or jury in Georgia.
So to in summary, the Georgia DUI Process includes:
- The Arrest
- Bonding out
- Selecting the Best Georgia DUI Lawyer
- The 30 Day Letter / Georgia ALS Hearings
- Discovery motions filed and reviewed
- Motions hearings such as motions to suppress improperly seized evidence
- Pre-trial conference with the prosecutor and / or judge
- Plea Negotiations / Plea Bargaining
- Trial by judge or jury
- Georgia DUI Penalties
Helping you Navigate the Georgia DUI Process:
Explaining the Georgia Court System:
Many DUI cases in Georgia follow a similar pattern of events over the course of the legal process, but a case may begin in a Municipal, Recorder's, Probate, State or Superior Court. Regardless of where the case begins, defending a DUI charge requires several court appearances and court procedures and can be a confusing maze of rules, statutes, and deadlines that can significantly affect the outcome of your case. Understanding how your case will proceed and what your options are can be empowering and will ease the stress of handling a serious charge within Georgia's legal system.
DUI in a Georgia Municipal Court:
If you were arrested for DUI in an incorporated city within Georgia, your case will begin in that city's Municipal Court. Municipal Courts have jurisdiction to hear misdemeanor cases, traffic offenses, and local ordinance violations. Municipal Courts have a judge and an attorney representing the city called the solicitor.
There are many advantages to having your case heard in a Municipal court as opposed to a State Court. Most importantly this gives you two chances to negotiate a fair and reasonable plea to resolve your case. If your case begins in a city's Municipal court, you always have the right to transfer your case to the State or Superior Court of that county for a jury trial. You have a Constitutional right to a jury trial and the Municipal court cannot deny your request to transfer your case to the higher court. This does not mean that you must go forward with a trial, but instead your case will essentially start over and you will have a second opportunity to negotiate a plea with a new prosecutor and a new judge presiding over the case.
Many Municipal Courts within Georgia have also created programs that give you an opportunity to complete certain requirements and if completed, have your charges dismissed. If the charge is dismissed, in some cases it is possible the charge can also be expunged (permanently removed) from your criminal record. If this program is offered and successfully completed, no conviction will be recorded and you will be able to honestly state that you were never convicted of the charge.
Municipal Courts have an incentive to retain jurisdiction and have you resolve your case resolved within the city. If the court imposes a fine as a part of your sentence, that money goes into the city treasury. If your case is transferred to the State or Superior Court and resolved there, any fine imposed will go into the county treasury. There is a strong incentive, then, for cases to be resolved in the Municipal Court and a clever attorney will negotiate a plea with this in mind.
Municipal Courts follow a similar sequence of events as other courts in proceeding with its cases. Your first court appearance will be your arraignment date. At arraignment you will be formally accused of the charges against you and expected to enter a plea to those charges. If you plead guilty, you will go before the judge to be sentenced and your case will be over.
If you are fighting the charges, though, you can discuss your case with the prosecutor and attempt to reach an agreement to resolve your case. If you are unable to reach an agreement, you may have to make a decision on how to proceed. You will have to decide whether to enter a plea or have a trial. Municipal Courts only have jurisdiction to hold bench trials, which is a trial by judge.
DUI in a Georgia State or Superior Courts:
As discussed earlier, you have a right to a trial by jury and can choose to transfer your case to the county's State or Superior Court. Again, having your case transferred to a higher court does not require you to proceed with a jury trial, but allows you to have another opportunity to negotiate a resolution to your case.
It can take several months for your case to be accused in the State or Superior Court after being transferred from a Municipal Court. Typically it takes between 1 and 4 months before you will receive your next court date, but in some counties with high case volume, it could take much longer. This can be advantageous because during this time evidence can be lost, witnesses can move or lose contact with the court, the arresting officer may be fired or transfer to a new agency out of state or otherwise become unable to testify against you.
The amount of time it takes to transfer your case also has the potential to be harmful, though, if your situation changes and you relocate so that it becomes burdensome and expensive to travel to Georgia for court appearances. New laws could also go into effect during that time period that could impact your case or increase the penalties upon conviction.
Not all cases begin in Municipal Courts. Where your case is initiated will depend on the charges you are facing and the location of the arrest. If you were arrested for DUI by a county Sheriff's deputy or if you were arrested in an unincorporated part of a Georgia County, your case may begin in the county's Recorder's Court, Probate Court, or State Court as opposed to a Municipal Court.
DUI in a Georgia Recorders Court:
A county Recorder's Court is similar to a city Municipal Court. Not all counties in Georgia have a Recorder's Court, but in ones that do, the Recorder's Court handles violations of state laws and local ordinances, among other issues. A DUI case beginning in a Recorder's Court can be transferred to the county State Court.
DUI in a Georgia Probate Court:
In Georgia counties that do not have State Courts, if the arrest was made by a county Sheriff's deputy or occurred in an unincorporated part of the county, the case will begin in the Probate Court. A DUI case beginning in a Probate Court can then be transferred to the county Superior Court.
Misdemeanor and Felony DUI in Georgia:
In Georgia, DUI is generally a misdemeanor offense, but DUIs can also be charged as a felony in certain circumstances. If your charges include a Felony DUI offense, the case will heard by the county's Superior Court. A fourth DUI within ten years (if all convictions are since 2008), DUI Child Endangerment, Serious Injury By Vehicle, and Vehicular Homicide and Feticide are all felony offenses.
Once the county's solicitor or district attorney accuses your case in the State or Superior Court, your first court date will be an arraignment date. A formal accusation will be entered for the charges the State will prosecute. You will be expected to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the charges against you. If you plead guilty, you will waive your rights to a trial, to cross examine witnesses, and your right to be presumed innocent as well as your other Constitutional rights in a criminal proceeding and you will go before the judge for sentencing and your case will be resolved. The conditions of your sentence will be imposed and you will likely serve some period of time in jail or on probation beginning that day.
If you enter a plea of not guilty, your case will continue. If you intend to file motions in your case, they must be filed soon after your arraignment date or they will be considered out of time. This can have a significant impact on your case and you may lose the chance to have key evidence suppressed at a motion hearing so that the prosecutor cannot use that evidence against you at trial. The results of a motion hearing can also impact the prosecutor's willingness to negotiate a favorable plea that may resolve your case prior to trial.
Some counties with State Courts also have DUI Court programs for offenders with multiple prior DUI convictions. DUI Court is designed to combine substance abuse treatment with judicial supervision and focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. To join, participants must first enter a guilty plea to DUI. Participation within the program is then a requirement of probation.
Participants must meet eligibility requirements and will receive certain incentives to join the program. Commonly, jail time and fines are significantly reduced and participants earn credit toward any community service hours they are required to perform through attendance at treatment and counseling sessions within the program as well as court appearances.
Most DUI Courts have 12 to 24 month long programs with multiple phases of treatment. Initially, the program can be very demanding and require attendance at multiple counseling sessions per week. Twice a month participants may have to attend DUI Court sessions with the supervising judge in order to review their progress within the program. Because participation in the program is a condition of probation, the judge can impose sanctions if there are any infractions such as a failed drug or alcohol screen or missed court appearances. Sanctions can range from additional community service or jail time to expulsion from the program.
Georgia DUI Hearings:
If no plea is negotiated and entered, your case will be scheduled for a Calendar Call, which is used by the judge to schedule further motion hearings and trial dates. A motion hearing can be used to obtain a ruling on certain issues prior to trial. A common motion issue in a DUI case is the suppression of evidence such as your performance on standardized field sobriety tests or the results of a chemical test showing your blood alcohol concentration. If evidence is suppressed it cannot be used at trial and could substantially weaken the prosecution's case against you.
In a typical DUI case, you can have a bench trial heard only by a judge or a jury trial decided by six jurors. A bench trial may be a better option if a jury may not be able to fully comprehend the details of the evidence or the science behind your defense. The State has the burden of proof at trial and must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Your attorney will cross-examine the arresting officer and other witnesses and magnify the weaknesses in the State's case to persuade the judge or jury to find you not guilty. Once the verdict is read, your case will be resolved.
You may appeal any sentence, judgment, decision, or decree of the court to one of Georgia's Appellate Courts. A direct appeal must be made from a final judgment or ruling meaning that the case has been resolved and is no longer pending in the lower court. Appeals from convictions in a Probate Court or Municipal Court are made to the Superior Court. Appeals from convictions in a Recorder's Court are made by writ of certiorari to the State Court of the county. No new evidence may be presented at the hearing.
Appeals from the State and Superior Courts go to the Court of Appeals and to the Supreme Court. On appeal, the defendant no longer enjoys the presumption of innocence. The appellate court views any evidence in favor of the verdict given in the lower court. The appellate courts do not make determinations as to facts in the case and do not make findings regarding the credibility of witnesses but instead the court gives deference to the trial court's original determinations on those issues.
The Supreme Court will not hear all cases. A writ of certiorari will only be issued in cases of great concern, gravity, and importance to the public. All other cases are reserved to the Court of Appeals. Adverse decisions of the Court of Appeals may be appealed to the Supreme Court.
We Can Help you with Your Georgia DUI Case:
Only a skilled Georgia DUI Lawyer will know how to navigate the Georgia DUI Process to assure the best possible outcome. Our Georgia DUI Attorneys are trained by the same people prosecuting the case against you. Experience and results are the difference. If there is a defense to your case, we will find it. If there isn't we will negotiate the most favorable plea-bargain.
The Law Office of Richard S. Lawson can help you decide which option if preferable for your case and can answer any questions. The prosecuting attorney of Georgia has the burden to prove the DUI charges against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. This is a tall order. Should you have questions about any aspect of the Georgia DUI process, call our law office for a free case consultation. We are available to answer your questions and begin your defense 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call Now. Your best defense begins here!