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Georgia DUI FAQs

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense in Georgia. A night of bar hopping in Atlanta or a couple of drinks with co-workers can easily lead to serious consequences if a police officer pulls you over. Depending on the facts surrounding your case, penalties may range from the suspension of your license to imprisonment.

While no one plans to get arrested for DUI, it helps to have a better understanding of your rights and the DUI process. Below, we share answers to several frequently asked questions about driving while intoxicated in the State of Georgia.

Can I go to jail for my first DUI?

The short answer is yes. In the state of Georgia there is a minimum mandatory jail time of 24 hours for a conviction of DUI Per Se but not for DUI Less Safe. Time spent in jail after your arrest is taken into consideration at sentencing.

However, while the minimum time behind bars is 24 hours, a judge has the discretion to send you to jail for up to 12 months. Sentencing factors will include whether there was an accident, deaths or injuries arising from your DUI, your BAC reading, and your record.

If you are facing DUI charges, it is important that you find a reputable DUI attorney like The Dickerson Firm to help with your case and to represent you at sentencing. The right DUI attorney could possibly have your charges dismissed or reduced. We have helped several people in DUI cases throughout the Atlanta area.

Can the police charge me with a DUI even if they didn’t see me driving the car?

The police do not always witness the defendant driving in a DUI case. However, the officer can still arrest you for a DUI offense even if he/she did not see you driving the car because the law allows police officers to consider all facts and make reasonable assumptions in every case.

According to Georgia DUI law, if law enforcement arrives and you are not in the vehicle, it must be reasonable for the officer to assume that you were the driver. For example, if the police reach the scene of an accident and you are no longer behind the wheel but are instead outside receiving medical attention, it is reasonable to assume that you drove one of the vehicles involved in the accident.

The fact that the police did not see you driving the car is irrelevant because it is evident that the vehicles did not drive themselves into the accident. Furthermore, not all evidence in a criminal matter is based on what another person sees or hears at the scene of a crime. Sometimes other facts, known as circumstantial evidence, connect the dots and help a court decide whether someone is guilty.

In the case of a DUI, the circumstantial evidence could be that the automobile's engine is warm or that the ignition is still on. If law enforcement has reason to believe that you were recently in control of the vehicle, it is sufficient to arrest you for DUI.

Do I have to submit to a roadside test?

It is within your rights, as a Georgia motorist, to refuse to participate in the series of roadside activities, collectively known as a field sobriety test. These activities include walking in a straight line, the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, and the one leg stand (OLS) test.

Accordingly, the police cannot force you to perform any of these activities. Unfortunately, since police are not obligated to tell the driver that the test is voluntary, most drivers are unaware of their rights in this regard. However, if you ask, the officer is legally obligated to tell you that it is your choice whether you perform the activities or not.

While field sobriety tests are not mandatory in Georgia, they should not be confused with breath, blood, or urine tests after an arrest. These chemical tests are mandatory by law. Furthermore, a Georgia officer can arrest you without administering a roadside test if he believes you are intoxicated.

Can the breathalyzer reading be wrong?

The breathalyzer is a human-made device and like any testing equipment, it is prone to error; as such, police are required to observe you for at least 20 minutes before administering the test. For example, the machine can provide a false reading if smokeless tobacco, mints, lip balm, or even denture adhesive is present in your mouth.

Additionally, there are medical conditions that may cause you to exhibit high blood alcohol levels. Evidence of this nature is critical to your DUI case, and your attorney can use it to contest a BAC reading above the legal limit.

Apart from the circumstances above, the officer's training and whether someone had previously inspected the device are also factors that may lead to a false reading.

What is DUI Less Safe?

In the state of Georgia, there is a charge of DUI Per Se and DUI Less Safe. DUI Per Se occurs if your BAC is 0.08% or higher. DUI Less Safe, on the other hand, can occur even if your BAC is below the legal limit. The court must prove that you had a BAC between 0.05 to 0.08 and that this amount of alcohol in your system rendered you less safe to drive.

While DUI Less Safe is not a lesser offense, it does not carry the minimum mandatory jail time of 24 hours.

Do I have to submit to sobriety testing?

In Georgia, the law of implied consent makes it mandatory for a driver who has been arrested to take a breath, blood, or urine test. Essentially, the implied consent law means that by virtue of having a driver's license, you have already agreed to chemical testing in the event you are arrested. Your refusal to take a blood alcohol test is an offense and if it is your first occurrence can result in the suspension of your license for one year.

However, before your arrest, there is no law compelling you to submit to sobriety testing. Accordingly, roadside sobriety testing is voluntary, and you cannot be forced to submit to it. So how do you know which test is optional and which is mandatory? If the arresting officer reads the implied consent law to you (the orange card) you are required to take the test.

What should I do if I get arrested for a DUI?

An arrest, especially if it is your first time, can be very confusing. However, what you do following a DUI arrest is critical to your case and defense. Here are three things you should do if you are arrested for driving under the influence in Georgia:

  1. Remain silent – Individuals arrested for a crime are always quick to offer up an explanation or defense. Remember that the police cannot determine your innocence or guilt, but anything you say can be used against you in court. Accordingly, it's best to remain silent if you are arrested for DUI.
  2. Request a DMV hearing – Separate from your court proceeding; the DMV will carry out an administrative process that involves the suspension of your license. If you fail to request a hearing within 10 days of your arrest, the administrative process will proceed in your absence with an automatic suspension of your license even before a court determines your guilt or innocence. Consequently, if you do get arrested for driving under the influence, the second thing you should do is request a DMV hearing.
  3. Contact a DUI attorney – A DUI offense in Georgia carries severe consequences, and you will need an experienced DUI lawyer who knows Georgia DUI laws to help prepare your case and represent you in court.

Keeping these three factors foremost in your mind after a DUI arrest can help you immensely.

How much alcohol is too much?

You can be arrested for driving under the influence in Georgia if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher if you are 21 years or older, 0.04% or higher if you are operating a commercial vehicle, and 0.02% or higher if you are under the age of 21.

How intoxicated you are at the time of your arrest will depend on the rate of alcohol absorption in your blood. The absorption rate varies based on gender and other factors, such as the time between the last drink and your arrest, the frequency of beverages, and food consumption before drinking. On average, a person eliminates 0.015% of alcohol per hour from their body; this is the equivalent of a 12-oz. beer or a 5-oz. glass of wine.

Often individuals assume that feeling drunk is the standard of proof in a DUI case. Even if you don't "feel drunk", your BAC may still be higher than the limit. It is better to proceed on the side of caution and avoid driving after drinking alcohol.

Can I lose my license if it's my first DUI offense?

If you are found guilty of DUI, and it is your first conviction, you can face a license suspension of up to 12 months (more on types of DUI penalties). However, your license may be reinstated after 120 days if you successfully complete DUI school and pay the license reinstatement fee. If you qualify, you may apply for a driving permit with limited use, such as driving to school, work, or DUI school during the suspension period.

Losing driving privileges is often one of the biggest concerns of individuals who are arrested for DUI in Georgia. A DUI charge is no small matter. It is a criminal offense that carries severe penalties.

Whether it is your first time or whether you are a repeat offender, it is best to hire a DUI lawyer. At the Dickerson Firm, our mission is to provide aggressive and efficient legal representation to those accused of DUI in Georgia. We have represented thousands of people all throughout the Metro Atlanta area in DUI court cases.

Our team of attorneys includes former prosecutors with a wealth of experience in the criminal judicial system.

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