We are available to speak with you about your Athens DUI case anytime, including after hours, weekends, and holidays! Call Chestney & Sullivan today! 404.816.8777 If you are visiting from out of town, we can appear in Athens-Clarke County Municipal Court on your behalf, so you don’t have to!
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! Mr. Chestney is Board Certified in DUI Defense by NCDD (National College for DUI Defense) and Mr. Sullivan is a former prosecutor. Call us today at 404.816.8777. Our Athens DUI lawyers offer a free in-office consultation on how we can effectively defend your Athens DUI charges.
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. As a warning to drivers and boat operators this summer season, the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety has instituted its Belts and Buoys program targeting drivers and boaters as well as its Drive Sober or Get Pulled over program. Georgia State Patrol will be enforcing its 100 Days of Summer H.E.A.T and Operation Zero Tolerance campaigns and we expect a concentrated effort with these campaigns to continue over the summer holiday period. The Athens-Clarke County Police Department’s Traffic Enforcement Unit is partially funded by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety H.E.A.T. program.
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. The solicitor (prosecutor) that normally handles the prosecution in municipal court is Janna Landreth. The Athens-Clarke County Municipal Court Judge is Ryan Hope. Judge Hope was a long-time chief assistant solicitor for Athens-Clarke County before being appointed municipal court judge.
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 Judge Hope 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 in 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 a jury trial. Athens State Court currently has two state court judges. Your case will assigned to one of the two state court 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 Athens DUI case:
To build a strong DUI defense in Georgia, your Athens DUI lawyer starts by meeting with you about your Athens DUI charges 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 defense in your Athens DUI 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 Athens 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 charges. All of our DUI lawyers are involved in your case. Our Athens 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 an Athens 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 Athens DUI 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 Athens DUI 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 Athens 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 Athens DUI 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
IMPORTANT INFORMATION CONCERNING YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE WHILE YOUR ATHENS DUI CRIMINAL CHARGES ARE PENDING IN COURT
Besides your Athens DUI 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 Athens DI officer’s request for a chemical test, or the breath test results indicated an alcohol concentration above the legal limit, Georgia law requires your Athens DUI officer to serve you notice of a license suspension action. The notice that is used is called a DDS-1205 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).
- We strongly suggest that you set up an online account with the Georgia Department of Driver Services to monitor the status of your driver’s license: https://dds.georgia.gov/online-services
Regardless whether you have actually received a DDS-1205 form, it is important for you to understand that you only have 30 days to request a hearing to preserve your driving privileges or waive your hearing through the Georgia Department of Driver Services by opting for an ignition interlock device permit.
Three tracks you can take [beware of making a choice without the advice of an experienced Athens DUI lawyer]:
- Do nothing within 30 days of the date of your Athens DUI arrest: In most cases we do not recommend this path as if you do nothing and your Athens DUI officer initiated an administrative license suspension action, then on the 46th day after the date of your Athens DUI arrest, your driving privileges will automatically be suspended by Georgia Department of Driver Services for one year with no permit to drive. Even if you did not receive the DDS-1205 form as a result of your Athens DUI arrest, we still recommend that you take some sort of action instead of doing nothing. However, there are limited circumstances where we recommend our clients do nothing regarding a license suspension action, but those circumstances are rare.
- Request an administrative hearing: This is the traditional track that has been the law for many years now, except now there are thirty days instead of ten business days to take action. This track is where a request for an administrative hearing is submitted to the Georgia Department of Driver Services challenging the Athens DUI 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 your Athens DUI officer’s request for a state administered chemical test of your breath, blood, urine, or other bodily substances. There is a $150 filing fee made payable to the Dept. of Driver Services in order for DDS to process the hearing request.
- Properly waive your right to an administrative hearing in your Athens DUI case and have an ignition interlock installed: This track came into effect July 1, 2017. This allows first DUI arrest in five years drivers to be able to drive in the state of Georgia and fight their Athens 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 you will need to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle for a minimum of 120 days if you tested over the “per se” legal limit, or one solid year of having the ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle (and driving under the confines of an ignition interlock permit) if you refused the Athens DUI officer’s request for a state administered chemical test. If you choose this track, we highly advise that you install the ignition interlock first, then go to DDS within 30 days from the date of arrest to obtain the permit. There are obvious concerns and pitfalls in choosing this track. For many people, the stigma of having the ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle is just not worth it. The ignition interlock device is also expensive: it requires an installation fee as well as a monthly monitoring fee. 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. In addition to waiving your right to an administrative hearing and having an ignition interlock device installed on your vehicle, you must also meet the following conditions:
- An application for the permit must be made with DDS within 30 days of the person being served notice of the administrative license suspension (ALS) by the Athens DUI arresting officer through the DDS-1205 form (usually 30 days from the date of arrest), or—in the event of a DDS-1205S form—within 30 days of receiving such notice of the ALS from DDS (from a blood test result that was not procured by a search warrant);
- The ALS cannot stem from a motor vehicle accident involving fatalities or serious injuries;
- The person must be licensed in Georgia and not have any other suspensions, cancellations, or revocations against his or her Georgia driver’s license;
- If the person holds a Georgia commercial driver’s license (CDL), he or she must downgrade to a non-commercial Georgia driver’s license in order to obtain and maintain the permit;
- The person cannot have any prior convictions for DUI in the 5-year period preceding application for the permit. If there is a DUI arrest with a DUI conviction within 5 years of the current Athens DUI arrest, the person can still opt for track 2 – requesting an administrative hearing, or track 1 – do nothing at all;
- The person must surrender his or her Georgia driver’s license, either to the Athens DUI officer at time of arrest or to DDS prior to issuance of the permit; and,
- The person must pay a $25.00 permit fee to the Georgia Department of Driver Services.
The period a person must successfully maintain the ignition interlock device on their vehicle will be based on whether he or she consents to or refuses the state-administered chemical test requested by the Athens DUI arresting officer. A person who consents to the state-administered chemical test and opts for the new permit will be required to successfully maintain the ignition interlock device on their vehicle for a period of 4 months. If he or she is subsequently acquitted of the underlying Athens DUI charge, or the underlying DUI charge is dismissed or reduced, the ignition interlock device may be removed at no cost and the driver’s license may be replaced. A person who refuses the state-administered chemical test and opts for the new permit will be required to successfully maintain the ignition interlock device on their vehicle for a period of 12 months, regardless of the outcome of the underlying Athens DUI charge.
Successful maintenance of the ignition interlock device must be evidenced by the permit holder to DDS through the production of satisfactory monthly monitoring reports prior to DDS removing the ignition interlock restriction from the permit. A permit may be renewed for a fee of $5.00 if additional time is needed for the permit holder to comply with the terms of the ignition interlock device, but it may only be renewed one time once the permit holder becomes eligible to reinstate his or her driver’s license. Following the designated term of successful compliance, the ignition interlock device restriction may be removed from the limited driving permit in person at a DDS customer service center for a fee of $100.00 (or $90.00 if removal of the restriction is requested by mail or other approved alternate means). The removal fee is in addition to any reinstatement fee that may be required.
Like the title of the ignition interlock device limited permit suggests, there are limitations on where you can drive while on the IID permit:
- Going to his or her place of employment or performing the normal duties of his or her occupation;
- Receiving scheduled medical case or obtaining prescription drugs;
- Attending a college or school at which he or she is regularly enrolled as a student;
- Attending regularly scheduled sessions or meetings of treatment support organizations for persons who have addiction or abuse problems related to alcohol or other drugs, which organizations are recognized by the commissioner;
- Attending under court order any driver education or improvement school or alcohol or drug program or course approved by the court which entered the judgment of conviction resulting in suspension of his driver’s license or by the commissioner;
- Attending court, reporting to a community supervision, juvenile probation, or Article 6 of Chapter 8 of Title 42 probation office, reporting to a community supervision officer, county or Department of Juvenile Justice probation officer, or probation officer serving pursuant to Article 6 of Chapter 8 of Title 42, or performing community service;
- Transporting an immediate family member who does not hold a valid driver’s license for work, to obtain medical care or prescriptions, or to school;
- Attending any program, event, treatment, or activity ordered by a judge presiding in an accountability court, as such term is defined in Code Section 15-1-18; or
- Going for monthly monitoring visits with the permit holder’s ignition interlock device service provider.
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.
I made a proper request for a license suspension hearing in my Athens DUI case, what happens next?
The license suspension action is a civil action separate from your Athens DUI 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 Athens DUI 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 60 days from the date of your Athens 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 Athens DUI 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 Athens DUI 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 Athens DUI 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 Athens DUI 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 Athens DUI 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 Athens DUI 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 Athens DUI 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 or properly waive your right to an administrative 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.