The Evolution of our Georgia DUI Laws:
In the 20 years I have practiced law, I have seen several changes that have affected Georgia's DUI Laws. When my career began, a person could be charged with a first DUI and plead nolo contendere (no contest) as their blood alcohol level was below .15. They would not lose their license or even have it restricted. There was no possibility of going to jail as well. A person could have an unlimited number of DUI convictions in a lifetime and never be charged with felony DUI, so long as no one was hurt and they were not caught driving while having habitual violator status.
Now, a 4th DUI after 2008 is always a felony, no matter how many years have passed between offenses. People can and do go to jail, even on a first offense, and intensive forced treatment courts are now the norm. Additionally, people with more than one DUI are forced to install ignition interlock devices on their vehicles to get restricted licenses in second or more offenses. That is after at least four months with no driving at all.
The trend is towards increased punishment in DUI cases in Georgia. Our pattern follows what is happening in other states. Additionally, people are losing their right to refuse testing with the advent of forced blood draws when a person refuses to test.
The following are my 11 predictions for the next ten years:
- Our legislature will eliminate the "right" to refuse to test completely. There will be an advent of mobile instant blood testing that will provide real-time readings of actual blood alcohol levels.
- There will be a minimum of 10 days in jail for a first offense and a minimum of 90 days in jail for a second offense. All third or more offense will be treated as a felony
- All vehicles sold will be outfitted with passive alcohol detection systems. Tampering with those systems will be a Federal Offense, just like tampering with a smoke detector on an airplane
- All vehicles will store the last hour of driving data on the downloadable flash memory. Police officers will have to asses to that data to help prove the manner of driving (whether reckless or erratic) and the last speed before any impact. This data will also be accessible to probation officers to verify that a person is complying with a curfew or any other requirement of probation.
- Street cameras will continue to offer real-time views of driving and will record car accidents.
- Everything that happens in an arrest will be recorded on a police officer's body camera. Police officers will be sanctioned for interfering with these recordings. That being said, actual up-close recordings of those suspected of DUI will not always help the accused.
- Cars will continue to provide more and more safety features that help avoid accidents. There will be less death and injury on our roads. According to Bill Ford, the Chairman of Ford Motor Company, by 2025 cars will have telemetry between one another that helps each vehicle avoid an accident. A child born today will very likely never die in a car crash by the time they are licensed to drive.
- Vehicular homicide will eventually be treated like murder for punishment purposes.
- In a counter-trend, minor traffic offenses will become civil infractions in Georgia, like in most other states. As a result, a person will have the potential for far less punishment associated with offenses such as speeding and other minor traffic offenses. However, with less punishment will come fewer rights. A person charged with a minor traffic offense will no longer have a right to a jury trial.
- Damages in civil cases where a person is injured by a DUI Driver will not be subject to so-called "tort reform," and will not be capped.
- DUI Drugs and DUI Prescription Drugs will become more and more prevalent because of an aging society.
My basic prediction of the future is greater safety while driving with much less tolerance for those who are accused of major driving offenses such as driving under the influence. My other main prediction is that minor traffic offenses will finally be treated as they should be, as civil infractions. It's preposterous that a person is technically guilty of a misdemeanor if they are caught speeding in Georgia.