What to Expect After Arrest for DUI in Georgia (And Why Hiring the Right Lawyer is Everything)

Police at DUI Stop - Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia

This scenario might sound all too familiar. After a fun night out, you leave a gathering of friends and get in your car to head home. Before you know it, a kaleidoscope of flashing blue is reflecting off of your rearview mirror. You pull over and roll down your window as an officer approaches and asks for your license and registration. As you provide the requested information, the officer asks, “have you been drinking?” You perform field sobriety evaluations and eventually submit to the State’s request for breath or blood testing.

 You are surprised to find yourself in the back of a police car on your way to jail. You have just been arrested for DUI: driving under the influence of alcohol.

You Have Only Been Accused of DUI

At this point, most people say, “I got a DUI.”  The most important thing you should recognize is that the arrested person has merely been accused of driving under the influence.  The mindset of “I got a DUI” should only be used after the accused has been through the criminal process and has either decided to enter a plea admitting guilt or been found guilty of the violation after a trial before a judge or a jury. 

Frankly, an officer’s decision to arrest is merely the officer’s opinion. Just because you have been arrested or charged does not mean than you are guilty of driving under the influence.

The information listed below is intended to be informative.  As each case and jurisdiction is different, you should consult with an experienced DUI attorney to obtain legal advice about your specific case so you can be advised of the procedures, of possible defenses, and of the possible penalties associated with the charges placed against you by the government.  Nothing can replace the consultation and advice that will be provided by an experienced DUI attorney.

If you are reading this and have been arrested for DUI in Northwest Georgia, we encourage you to contact a Cartersville drunk driving defense attorney at Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia today. We offer not just years of experience, but an attorney who cares about your case and knows what you're up against. We do everything we can to protect your rights and reputation — and to keep a mistake or wrongful arrest from sending your life off track.

What Happens After a Drunk Driving Arrest

Here is what you can expect after an arrest for DUI in Georgia, and how working with experienced DUI defense counsel is crucial in every step along the process.

Making Bail and Your Arraignment

After an arrest for DUI in Georgia, you will typically be required to post bail to get out of jail.  The amount of money that must be posted depends on the charges made, the set bond schedule established by the court, and whether the DUI charge is a first or subsequent DUI offense.  The amount of bail and the bail procedure can vary by jurisdiction.

If you submitted to testing that demonstrated an alcohol concentration of .08 grams or more, the law provides that you “may be detained for a period of up to six hours after booking and prior to being released on bail or on recognizance.”

In most jurisdictions, you will be provided with an arraignment date when released on bond.  However, in some jurisdictions, or with some courts, you may be advised that you will receive an arraignment or appearance date in the mail.  Failure to appear or failure to have an attorney appear for you at the assigned arraignment date will typically result in the court issuing a bench warrant for your arrest.

Arraignment is the first appearance you will actually make in court. At this proceeding, you will advise the court if you want to enter a plea or guilty or not guilty. 

As certain motions and discovery demands should be made at or before arraignment, it is advisable to retain an experienced drunk driving defense attorney prior to arraignment, so work can commence on your behalf and the proper motions and demands can be timely filed. In addition, the attorney may be able to waive arraignment on your behalf and the attorney may be able to limit the number of times that you will have to appear in court. 

You will want your attorney to know as much about the case as possible prior to arraignment so the attorney can take the opportunity to address any issues — such as the suspension of your driver’s license — as soon as possible.  Failure to file motions and proper discovery demands within the time required may result in the waiver of certain defenses that you may have.  

Losing Your Driver's License During Your DUI Case

The State may, through an administrative civil court action, suspend your right to operate a motor vehicle prior to your initial arraignment or court appearance for the criminal violation. The rules regarding administrative suspension of your license and the length of suspension, if any, will depend on specific facts surrounding your case. An experienced drunk driving defense attorney may be able to prevent an administrative suspension from occurring. If you have been arrested and accused of driving under the influence, it is imperative that you determine your license status before you continue to drive. If legal action is not taken to preserve your license, you may be administratively suspended. If you are suspended, drive after the suspension, and are stopped by the police, you can be arrested and charged with driving with a suspended driver’s license. This violation could result in substantial fines and/or jail or probation for a period of 12 months, if the suspended license violation is a first violation. 

Pretrial Matters

When you retain an attorney, it is the attorney’s job to discover and investigate the evidence the State has against the person charged with the violation. The first step in this process typically occurs by the attorney making a formal demand for discovery at arraignment or by the attorney using other methods to obtain a video or other evidence pre-trial.

Discovery and Investigations

Some of the areas your lawyer will examine include, but are not limited to:

  • Police activities leading up to and including your arrest
  • Written police reports
  • Any video or audio recordings of the stop and arrest
  • Information regarding any breath tests you might have taken, including the credentials of the person administering them and the equipment or devices used
  • Information regarding blood tests, including the credentials of the person administering them and equipment used
  • Information about your health, and any other factors relevant to your case
  • Whether procedural or legal issues are present that undermine the State's case
  • Whether the State can prove the violation beyond a reasonable doubt

Pretrial Motions

Your drunk driving defense attorney will take the information gleaned from discovery and investigations and work to have evidence against you suppressed or excluded through pre-trial motions. Raising issues in pretrial motions, if the facts of a particular case present legal arguments, may result in a dismissal of charges or the exclusion of evidence that may result in dismissal or a reduced charge.  Failure to properly file your motion to preserve the issues or to make a proper discovery demand may result in the waiver of defenses by way of motion that could help your case.

Plea Bargaining

Plea bargaining is common in the Georgia criminal justice system. There are advantages and disadvantages to entering into a plea deal and your defense attorney will go over all the pros and cons of considering a plea deal with you.

For instance, particularly in Northwest Georgia where public transportation is practically non-existent, most individuals place a priority on being able to continue to drive to work or school.  Thus, it may make sense to attempt to plead guilty to lesser charges in order to avoid losing your driving privileges. Being able to negotiate a good plea deal is dependent, in large part, on how much your defense team can leverage information that pokes holes in the prosecution’s case and how familiar your attorney is with the local prosecutors. However, a “good plea deal” or a DUI reduction will not typically be made or obtained without hard work on the part of an experienced attorney.  Often, one will have to prepare for and be ready to go to trial before a prosecutor will agree to make a reduction recommendation. 

Going to Trial in a DUI Case

It is best to prepare your case for trial as doing so will result in the most favorable outcome for you.  If your case ends up going to trial, you will need to rely on your DUI attorney to help you decide whether you would like to proceed with a bench trial or a jury trial.

With DUI bench trials, the judge rules on the law and is also the trier of fact. He or she alone decides your case. With a DUI jury trial, the judge will still rule on legal matters – such as what evidence is admissible or who qualifies as an expert witness – but the jury will decide the facts, including which witnesses are to be believed and whether the prosecution removed all reasonable doubt as to whether you are guilty of the drunk driving charge.

There are different levels of courts in Georgia that hear DUI cases. The court hearing your case  depends on a number of factors including whether you were arrested by local or state law enforcement, whether you opt for a bench or jury trial, and whether you are charged with a misdemeanor DUI or a felony DUI violation.

A DUI attorney who has extensive criminal law trial experience and knows the local lay of the land will be able to help you navigate the relevant court system where your case will be decided.

At the conclusion of the trial, if you are found not guilty of all charges by either the judge or jury, the case will be over and you will be free to go.

Sometimes, however, defendants are found guilty of one or more charges and the case will move to sentencing.

Sentencing and Appeal

Judges are required to impose mandated sentences that are prescribed by Georgia law.  The minimum required sentences vary depending on whether the charge is a first violation. If you have been convicted of a prior DUI, the minimum required sentence will increase.

By way of example, the law provides that a first DUI conviction is a misdemeanor which may be punished by imprisonment of up to 12 months. A minimum fine of $300 and not more than $1,000 (most courts give more than the minimum fine) will be imposed.  In addition, surcharges will be added to this fine amount. The law requires a period of imprisonment of not fewer than ten days and not more than 12 months, which in the discretion of the judge may be reduced to a mandated 24 hours to be served in jail.  The remainder of the time not served in jail has to be sentenced on probation.  Thus, at a minimum, a defendant must serve 24 hours in jail with 11 months 29 days being served on probation. In addition, not fewer than 40 hours of community service must be completed, and the defendant must complete a DUI risk reduction program. Georgia law also requires an alcohol and drug evaluation unless the court waives this requirement.  

While the law imposes minimum sentences, the judge has a great deal of discretion when deciding if a sentence in excess of the mandated minimums is warranted.  Sentences given, especially for a first time DUI conviction after trial, can vary greatly among jurisdictions and among the various judges presiding within a particular jurisdiction.  If you have been found guilty or if you have pled guilty to DUI, sentencing is a crucial area where an experienced drunk driving attorney can leverage his experience to assist you.

Call a Cartersville DUI Defense Attorney at Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia

If you have been arrested for DUI in Northwest Georgia, hiring an experienced DUI attorney as soon as possible after arrest is important. Please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia or call Attorney Lance McCoy at 770-382-0984 so we can begin working on your case. Remember, you are not guilty until the government proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty or until you decided that it is in your best interest to enter a plea of guilty.  There is hope!

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