Our experienced Athens DUI lawyers are available 24/7 to discuss your case at 404.816.8777. Call us today – we offer a free consultation.
If you have been arrested for a DUI in Athens, experienced DUI trial attorneys James “Skip” Sullivan and Bob Chestney are available to discuss your case anytime – including after-hours and weekends! Call us at 404.816.8777 (office), Mr. Sullivan’s mobile phone: 404.291.2151 (call or text), or email at Skip@dui-lawyer.com; Bob@dui-lawyer.com
If you are charged with a DUI in Athens Georgia, our experienced Athens GA DUI lawyers are prepared to go the distance to vigorously defend your DUI to avoid a conviction.
Whether you are charged with an Athens DUI or underage alcohol possession (or both), your case is likely to begin in the Athens-Clarke County Municipal Court.
Athens-Clarke County Municipal Court is a court of “limited jurisdiction,” meaning that they do not have jury trials there. If you want a judge to decide your case at trial, that is called a “bench trial,” where the prosecution has the burden to prove each element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt and a judge decides if the prosecution has met its burden. Sometimes a “bench trial” is a sound strategy, sometimes it is not.
There are many times when a jury trial is the best possible option to avoid a DUI conviction on your Athens DUI case. Because Athens Municipal Court does not conduct jury trials, your case would need to be transferred to Athens-Clarke County State Court for trial. Athens State Court currently has two state court judges. Your case will assigned to one of the two judges once your case is bound out of municipal court for jury trial. The current elected Athens-Clarke County Solicitor is C. R. Chisholm. There are assistant solicitors assigned to each of the two state court judges. Because each State Court judge handles their caseloads differently, it is important that your Athens DUI lawyer knows how each particular courtroom operates. Because we are known to contest DUI cases in Athens-Clarke County State Court, we have contested cases in both Judge Auslander and Judge Simpson’s courtrooms and we also are familiar with the prosecutors handling your case.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) awarded the following officers in 2014 for the number of Athens DUI arrests they made in the previous year:
Athens Officers Preston Cusachs, Nathaniel Franco, Michael Sanders, Katie Thornton, Stephen Van Bueren, and Kris Ward each received MADD Silver Pins in 2014 for the number of Athens DUI arrests they made in the previous year. Also, Athens Officer Bob Schulte received a MADD Bronze Pin for the number of Athens DUI arrests he made the previous year.
How our skilled Athens DUI lawyers build a successful defense in your DUI case:
To build a strong DUI defense in Georgia, your Athens DUI lawyer starts by meeting with you about your DUI case and learning as much as possible from you about what happened. Using this core information, our own in-house investigator can look for more evidence to help our defense by using specialized resources as needed to determine if all testing and other details of your arrest were accurate and legal. Our investigator gathers information, videos, 911 calls, possible surveillance videos, police reports, documents road/scene conditions and more. There are also times when we use the services of toxicologists, accident reconstructionists, private investigators, breath test/field sobriety experts, medical professionals, video illustrators, to name a few, to help build a solid DUI defense in your case. Our Athens DUI lawyers then analyze your case starting with whether the initial stop or reason why the police were involved was legal. We also look for suppression issues with the admissibility of field sobriety tests or state chemical tests (breath, blood, or urine tests). Our DUI attorneys meeting as a group then develop strategies in how to best conduct the license suspension hearings, preliminary/committal hearings, motion hearings, and trial. Our team approach is an effective way to ensure we are prepared to defend your Athens DUI. All of our lawyers are involved in your case. Our DUI defense lawyers have regular meetings on all of our cases, so the lead DUI lawyer can get as much input as possible in developing a winning strategy in your Athens DUI case.
Can I just enter a guilty plea myself and avoid hiring a DUI defense lawyer?
There is a saying that “a person who represents himself has a fool for a client.” DUI cases are one of the most serious cases that are prosecuted in Athens Municipal Court or State Court. Even if you think you are guilty and may not want to fight your case all the way, there are matters that a skilled Athens DUI lawyer is better able to handle than someone representing him or herself. Here are some reasons why you may consider hiring our Athens DUI attorneys rather than representing yourself:
- You can put your driving privileges in jeopardy if you simply go to court and enter a guilty plea by yourself. If you have been arrested by an Athens DUI officer, Georgia State Patrol, or any Georgia police officer, you should have been served notice of an administrative license suspension action. If you enter a guilty plea without properly addressing the license suspension action, you will not be able to get a limited permit (if you are eligible to get one at all) until and unless the license suspension action is conducted properly.
- If your license is suspended for refusing the State’s chemical test from losing a license suspension hearing or failing to address a license suspension action within 30 days from the date of your arrest, your Georgia driver’s license or driving privileges will be suspended for a year with NO PERMIT. Properly coordinating and handling the criminal case and the license suspension action can improve your chances of being able to drive.
- Other charges in addition to your Athens DUI charge may be more serious and carry more punishment than the Athens DUI charge itself.
- Sometime the prosecutor gives a bad plea offer. Even if you decide not to contest your case, an experienced DUI attorney who is familiar with Athens Municipal Court as well as Athens-Clarke County State Court or Superior Court can assess a plea offer to determine if it is worth taking or moving your case to state court, or you may decide to take your case to trial.
- If you decide to represent yourself at trial, the Georgia Rules of Evidence still applies to you. Lawyers go to law school for years to learn these rules and you will be at the mercy of a skilled prosecutor and judge if you are not careful.
Administrative License Suspension
Besides your criminal case pending in Athens, you are likely facing an administrative license suspension. There is only a limited time to request this separate hearing to preserve your driving privileges. Whether you refused the State’s chemical test, or the breath test results indicated an alcohol concentration above the legal limit, Georgia law requires your Athens officer to serve you notice of a license suspension action. The notice that is used is called a DS-1205 form (click on link to show the form). This form is either yellow or white and the officer may have had you sign it. Sometimes this paperwork gets lost (you may have received it, but may have been misplaced, or it may have been lost at the jail).
You only have 30 days to request a hearing to preserve your driving privileges:
You only have 30 days to request a hearing to preserve your driving privileges, or waive your right for a hearing through the Georgia Department of Driver Services by opting for an ignition interlock permit.
Regardless as to whether you have actually received a DS-1205 form, it is VERY IMPORTANT that you take action within 30 days from the date of your arrest to preserve your driving privileges.
There are now two tracks you can take regarding your driver’s license if you have been served a notice of an administrative license suspension (DS-1205 form – commonly referred by law enforcement as as temporary driving permit). It is essential that you understand your options as your decision can substantially impact your ability to drive.
One track is the traditional track that has been the law for many years now. A request for an administrative hearing challenging the officer’s decision to administratively suspend your driver’s license for testing above Georgia’s “per se” legal limit for alcohol concentration, or for refusing the officer’s request for a state administered chemical test of your breath, blood, urine, or other bodily substances (we have yet to see a DUI case involving testing of “other bodily substances”…).
The other track is new as the law took effect July 1, 2017. This allows first DUI arrest in five years drivers charged with a DUI to be able to drive in the state of Georgia and fight their DUI criminal case without losing the privilege to drive. It comes with a cost of course. It involves you waiving your right to an administrative hearing through the Georgia Department of Driver Services and installing an ignition interlock device on your vehicle for a minimum of 120 days if you tested over the “per se” legal limit, and one solid year of having the ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle (and driving under the confines of an an ignition interlock permit) if you refused the officer’s request for a state administered chemical test, and obtaining an ignition interlock permit. There are obvious concerns and pitfalls in choosing this track. First you can amaze your friends with your fancy new device that makes your car start by blowing into the device. For most folks the stigma of having the interlock installed in your vehicle is not worth it. The ignition interlock device is also expensive: it requires an installation fee as well as a monthly monitoring fee. Oh, and if you remove it while under your ignition interlock permit, tamper with it, or it tests positive, your permit to drive may be revoked for six months – meaning no driving at all. So no party tricks with your friends “testing” your ignition interlock device.
Either way, if you do not request a hearing within 30 days from the date of your arrest and pay Georgia Department of Driver Services a $150 fee, or properly waive your right for an administrative hearing through the Georgia Department of Driver Services in exchange for an ignition interlock device permit, your Georgia driver’s license or privilege to drive in Georgia (for those with an out of state driver’s license) will be suspended automatically on the 45th day after the date of your arrest – if your officer submitted the administrative license suspension DS-1205 paperwork to the Georgia Department of Driver Services. In most cases, you do not want your license to be suspended without a hearing, or without waiving your hearing by agreeing to the ignition interlock permit.
There are times when it may be a good strategy not to submit a request for a hearing, or to purposefully lose a license suspension action. That sounds counter-intuitive, but in a limited number of circumstances, it is a wise strategy to gain an advantage in your Athens DUI criminal case. We do not make a decision to use this type of strategy until we thoroughly review your case to see if the facts of your case fit within one of those limited circumstances. We then review with you the pro’s and con’s of using such a strategy.
Contact us today to discuss your DUI case with our dedicated Athens DUI lawyers at 404.816.8777. Our DUI defense lawyers are experienced in trying DUI cases as well as handling license suspension actions. We can review your case and prepare a strategy for your Athens DUI criminal case and your license suspension action.
Once a proper request for a license suspension hearing is made, what happens next?
The license suspension action is a civil action separate from your criminal case and only deals with your license or privilege to drive in this state. As a matter of fact, it is litigated by a completely separate court from your criminal case. Once the Georgia Department of Driver Services processes your request for a hearing, your case is then sent to the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH) where a hearing will be scheduled in front of a judge from that agency. Typically a hearing date is set roughly 30 to 60 days from the date of your DUI arrest. Once a hearing is requested, the Department of Driver Services will extend your driving privileges until there is an order entered from an OSAH judge.
The scope of the hearing is very limited:
At a hearing, the OSAH judge has a very limited role in deciding your case. The judge is bound by law to only look at certain statutory factors to determine whether or not those statutory factors were met based on the evidence presented at the hearing. That is it. The judge does not look at your criminal or driver’s history. The judge is not concerned about your job, transportation issues with your children’s school or day care, or any other hardship you may if your license is suspended. The judge’s only role in a license suspension hearing is to determine if the following factors were met in your Athens DUI case:
- Whether the law enforcement officer had reasonable grounds to believe the person was driving or in actual physical control of a moving motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance and was lawfully placed under arrest for violating Code Section 40-6-391 (the DUI statute); or
- Whether the person was involved in a motor vehicle accident or collision resulting in serious injury or fatality; and
- Whether at the time of the request for the test or tests the officer informed the person of the person’s Implied Consent rights and the consequences of submitting or refusing to submit to such test; and
- Whether the person refused the test; or whether a test or tests were administered and the results indicated an alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams or more or, for a person under the age of 21, an alcohol concentration of 0.02 grams or more or, for a person operating or having actual physical control of a commercial motor vehicle, an alcohol concentration of 0.04 grams or more; and
- Whether the test or tests were properly administered by an individual possessing a valid permit issued by the Division of Forensic Sciences of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on an instrument approved by the Division of Forensic Sciences or a test conducted by the Division of Forensic Sciences, including whether the machine at the time of the test was operated with all of its electronic and operating components prescribed by its manufacturer properly attached and in good working order, which shall be required. A copy of the operator’s permit showing that the operator has been trained on the particular type of instrument used and one of the original copies of the test results or, where the test is performed by the Division of Forensic Sciences, a copy of the crime lab report shall satisfy the requirements of this subparagraph.
How is the OSAH hearing conducted?
The judge will enforce the Georgia Rules of Evidence, similar to other court proceedings. Because the burden is on the officer to establish that the statutory factors were met, the officer testifies first. Some jurisdictions allow the officer to have help from the prosecutor’s office, or if the officer is a Georgia State Trooper, an attorney paid by the State of Georgia assists the officer on direct examination. The officer is then subject to cross-examination. There are times when we may decide to place our clients or other witnesses on the stand for direct examination. Our witnesses would then be subject to cross examination from the other side. Once the testimony and presentation of the evidence is finished, each side can make a closing argument. The judge will then make a decision typically within 5 business days, and will transmit that decision to the parties and the Georgia Department of Driver Services. If there is an error in how the judge ruled, there is an appellate process available to review the court’s decision.
What happens if I win the hearing?
If the judge finds that one or more of the applicable statutory factors above are not met, then the judge will issue an order reversing the suspension action, transmit it to the Georgia Department of Driver Services, and then Georgia DDS will delete the license suspension action off your driver’s history (no administrative license suspension). This does not mean that the criminal case is being dismissed, but an OSAH hearing can be a great tool for your Athens DUI lawyer to use to gain an advantage in your Athens DUI criminal case.
What happens if I lose the hearing?
If the judge finds that all of the applicable statutory factors were met by a preponderance of the evidence (a lower standard of proof than beyond a reasonable doubt), then the judge will issue an order affirming the license suspension action and will transmit the order to the Georgia Department of Driver Services, who will then impose the license suspension. Again, because the burden on the officer is so low to meet in these license suspension hearings, there is a good possibility that your license may be suspended, but we still may be able to gain an advantage in the criminal case based on testimony from the license suspension hearing. If the judge committed an error in ruling, the decision can be appealed. Also, if your Athens DUI charge is reduced, dismissed, or you are found not guilty, the suspension is lifted and deleted off your driver’s history as a matter of law.
Can I handle the license suspension hearing myself?
Because an administrative license suspension from a Georgia DUI arrest is a very complex subject that even many lawyers don’t understand, we strongly encourage you to contact our experienced Athens DUI lawyers right away to discuss your Athens DUI case. There are simply too many variables that can impact your driving privileges to be discussed here without knowing the specific facts of your case and your prior criminal history. Remember, you only have 30 days to request a license suspension hearing through the Georgia Department of Driver Services.
Call our experienced Athens DUI lawyers today:
If you are facing an Athens DUI charge, license suspension action, or have been ticketed for a serious traffic offense, contact our experienced Athens DUI lawyers today. We will meet with you free of charge to discuss your options, and provide advice based on our experience in the court where your case will be heard. Call us today at 404.816.8777.