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It’s Summertime! A DUI Crash Course

Summertime means happy hour on the patio, barbecues at the lake and hanging at the ball field. Fizzy cocktails and ice cold beer cool down the hottest summer evenings. And while everyone intends to enjoy responsibly, mistakes in judgment occur and the few miles drive after the pool party can have devastating consequences.

In general, driving under the influence of alcohol is a misdemeanor criminal offense with a maximum possible punishment of 12 months in jail and $1000 fine. A 21+ driver may be charged with 2 types of DUI: (1) DUI “per se” for drivers who submit to the state administered breath test and are found to be driving with a blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit of .08 or (2) DUI “less safe” for a driver who refuses to submit to the state administered breath test (or the results are otherwise inadmissible in court) but is suspected to be driving under the influence based on indicators.

A DUI arrest is typically preceded by a driver committing a traffic offense such as failing to maintain lane, speeding, failure to use a turn signal, etc. The traffic infraction, when observed by a police officer, provides the officer with “reasonable suspicion” to conduct a traffic stop. Upon interacting with the driver, the officer usually notices indicators that a driver may be under the influence, including odor of alcohol, glassy eyes, slurred speech, fumbling to find license, etc. Consequently, the officer will conduct Field Sobriety Tests which are designed to offer further evidence of driver impairment. FSTs include the one leg stand, reciting the alphabet backwards or in the middle, walk and turn, and the HGN (horizontal gaze nystagmus-the pen/eye test). An officer will also request a driver to submit to a preliminary breath test (PBT) commonly referred to as the hand held portable “breathalyzer”. The results of the PBT indicate either the presence (and amount) or absence of alcohol in a driver’s system.

After administering some or all of the above tests, the officer will determine whether there is enough evidence, ie probable cause, to make a DUI arrest. Upon arrest, the officer reads “implied consent” notice, requesting that the driver submit to the state administered test of blood, breath, or urine. A driver may refuse the test and face serious consequences merely for refusing. If a driver agrees to the test, he/she will normally be taken to the local police station to give a breath sample on the Georgia Intoxilyzer Model 5000 (or Georgia Intoxilyzer Model 9000 which will be required by all departments by December 31, 2015).

Every driver arrested for DUI is required to surrender his/her plastic driver’s license. In exchange, the officer will issue a “1205” form which is a 30 day temporary driving permit. After 30 days, driving privileges are automatically suspended pending the outcome of the case. However, a suspension upon arrest may be challenged through an administrative license suspension hearing. (For more information on ALS hearings, please see Firm News; ALS hearing article).

DUI convictions impose harsh penalties even for the first time offender with no prior criminal or driving “record”. (Please see DUI tab for more information about a first lifetime DUI conviction sentence) More importantly, a DUI conviction reaches further than legal consequences. Car insurance rates skyrocket, impound fees create financial issues, limited permits are not guaranteed so transportation restrictions affect work, school, doctor appointments, children’s activities, etc. Even your travel plans to foreign countries can be affected as some countries will limit entrance or require special “permission” to enter for those convicted of DUI.

So, what should you do if you find yourself walking out of jail after having posted bail for a DUI arrest? First, start looking for a DUI lawyer immediately. Researching attorneys, initial consultations and securing retainer funds can take several days. Meanwhile, the 10 day time limit for requesting an ALS hearing is running and valuable evidence can be lost with the passage of time.

Retaining an attorney who specializes in DUI defense is critically important. DUI defense requires advanced knowledge of traffic laws, administrative hearings and the Dept of Drivers Services, fourth amendment search and seizure law, the science behind the HGN, PBT, and Intoxilyzers, motions practice and trial law. Before trial, test results may be suppressed because of lack of reasonable suspicion to conduct the initial traffic stop; lack of probable cause to arrest; failure to maintain the Intoxilyzer in proper working condition or failure to read implied consent correctly. License suspensions may be lifted by negotiations with the prosecutor and officers or by successful argument at the ALS hearing. Trials are won by thorough investigation, cross examination and presenting evidence favorable to a defense.

Please don’t drink and drive. But, when unfortunate circumstances occur, the Snyder Adams Law Firm has the experience to get you through the tough time. A DUI arrest does not have to result in a conviction and long term loss of driving privileges. But, protecting yourself and your legal rights are crucial to a positive outcome.

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