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Georgia DUI Laws: Total Costs, Penalties for First DUI in GA

By: Cory Yager, Former Law Enforcement Officer and Atlanta DUI Attorney Near Me Who Has Worked With Georgia DUI Lawyer Bubba Head His Entire Legal Career

DUI Lawyer Cory Yager explains the different types of DUI you can be charged with in Georgia, including first offense DUI, misdemeanor and felony, and multiple DUIs.

Georgia DUI laws and the related Georgia DUI penalties have become more severe with each passing year starting in the early 1980s. The State of Georgia, like every state in the Union, has been coerced into boosting punishment by the federal government by making the receipt of federal highway money contingent upon “falling into line” with the suggested changes.

The primary mechanism is through the withholding of federal funds for highways, until a state passes laws that comply with federal regulations. Using a “carrot-and-stick” approach, if the Peach State does not comply by altering Georgia law, the State will lose valuable federal highway construction and repair money.

DUI In Georgia can be classified as a less safe DUI or per se, where the arresting officer determines you are less safe to drive due to ingestion of alcohol or marijuana for example.

Georgia is also one of the states that permits the prosecutor to seek a conviction under alternative “methods” of conviction when a blood test or breath alcohol is admitted into evidence. One is what lawyers call “common law” DUI, which only requires the State to prove that it was less safe for the person to drive (due to alcohol ingestion) or being shown to be rendered incapable of driving safely, from marijuana or drugs of any type.

What Defines A DUI in Georgia?

In GA and in 48 other states, the BAC legal limit is 0.08 grams percent for drivers aged 21 and over. In 2019, Utah lowered its BAC level for adult drivers to 0.05 grams percent.

In considering your representation by lawyers for a DUI, review the factors that separate the top-rated DUI lawyers near me from the rest of the crowd of criminal law attorneys selling their legal services. Because no “do-overs” are allowed in criminal court if you select an attorney that only knows basic information about DUI cases, your only option is to hire legal advocates with the highest attorney ratings for DWI vs DUI defense.

For drivers under age 21 in Georgia, the legal limit is only 0.02 grams percent. This is equal to half of a 12-ounce can of regular beer (which is about 5% ethanol) or a 4.5-ounce glass of red wine (which is about 12% ethanol) for a 100-pound female, drinking on an empty stomach.

For any operator of a CMV (commercial motor vehicle), the maximum permissible legal BAC is 0.04 grams percent. Commercial drivers who are tested for a suspected DUI and show any measurable level of alcohol (or who refuse implied consent testing), are issued a 24-hour “out of service” order by law enforcement.

“BAC” stands for “blood alcohol content,” and you can quickly and easily check your estimated BAC level with our BAC calculator. A Georgia DUI can be classified as a misdemeanor DUI or a felony DUI. Felony or misdemeanor depends on the extenuating circumstances of the DUI arrest, and the criminal background of the accused citizen for prior DUIs within the past 10 years, based on dates of arrest.

DUI Laws Unique to Georgia

One aspect that sets Georgia’s DUI laws apart from those of other states is the state’s “per se” law. This law states that if a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above a certain level (0.08% for most drivers, 0.04% for commercial drivers, and 0.02% for drivers under 21 years of age), they are considered to be “per se” guilty of DUI. This means that regardless of the person’s level of impairment or their ability to drive safely, they can be convicted of DUI based solely on their BAC level.

Another unique aspect of Georgia’s DUI laws is the state’s “implied consent” law. This law states that all drivers in Georgia are deemed to have given their consent to a chemical test (blood, breath, or urine) of their BAC if they are arrested for DUI. If a person refuses to take a chemical test, their license will automatically be suspended for one year and they may face additional penalties if they are convicted of DUI.

Georgia’s DUI laws also include a “zero tolerance” provision for drivers under 21 years of age. This means that if a person under 21 years of age is found to have any amount of alcohol in their system, they can be charged with DUI. Additionally, the state has a “habitual violator” provision, which can result in harsher penalties for repeat offenders.

Another unique aspect of Georgia’s DUI laws is the “look-back period” which is 10 years. This means that prior DUI convictions within the last ten years will be considered in determining the penalties for a current DUI conviction. For example, a second DUI conviction within ten years will result in harsher penalties than a first-time DUI conviction.

The penalties for a DUI conviction in Georgia can be severe, including fines, jail time, and a license suspension. For a first-time DUI conviction, a person can face up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, and a license suspension for one year. Repeat offenders can face even harsher penalties, including longer jail sentences, higher fines, and longer license suspensions.

More than 15 times since 1981, GA DUI laws have been enacted or revised by the Georgia Legislature. The most recent alteration was to re-write the Georgia implied consent law “notice,” which happened April 28, 2019, after the landmark case of Elliott v. State declared that the prior implied consent notice in GA was constitutionally defective.

Once the new laws go into effect, all judges and prosecutors in Georgia are then held to these higher punishment standards, even if the case is for DUI charges first offense. Multiple DUI laws in GA control license suspensions, points, and license reinstatement after a DUI in GA.

Georgia DUI Per Se – Georgia DUI Less Safe – Georgia DUI Drugs

DUI in Georgia comes in several forms. A Georgia DUI Less Safe means that even if your BAC was less than 0.08 grams percent, you can still be arrested for DUI – if the arresting officer determines you are “less safe” to drive because of the amount of alcohol in your system.

A Georgia DUI per se will be charged if your BAC is 0.08 grams percent or above. BUT you can be charged with a DUI per se if the State can prove that your BAC reached 0.08 grams anytime within 3 hours before you began to drive. Georgia DUI Drugs will be charged if you drove under the influence of prescription drugs or illegal drugs.

We have seen a dramatic rise in DUI Drugs defendants come in our offices, as more and more people are taking pills and then driving, unaware of the dangerous effect of their doctor-prescribed medicines, especially when mixed with a few glasses of wine.

Georgia DUI Marijuana charges are pursued if a person’s system contains traces of the active ingredient in marijuana, even if a police officer does not observe impaired driving. If suspected of marijuana use, a DUI blood test or urine test will be ordered and carried out.

A marijuana breath test machine is being developed so local police can more easily measure the amount of marijuana smoked or ingested. As some states begin to legalize marijuana, our Georgia DUI attorneys may see more of these cases, and as always, we will be 100% prepared to successfully fight these charges.

Various Georgia DUI Laws Identified for Further Investigation

The State of Georgia has enacted numerous laws relating to the issue of Georgia DUI penalties. This section is intended to assist interested parties in quickly accessing the appropriate code section for research purposes. Once you have identified the code section you need, go to the Code of Georgia for the complete details of the law.

  • OCGA 40-6-391 is the central statute for describing the various types of DUI offenses. Great detail and broadly-worded prohibitions for drivers being impaired by ANY substance are contained in the multi-thousand-word GA code section.
  • Georgia Code Section 40-5-55: The statute that authorizes post-arrest implied consent to chemical tests of blood breath or urine.
  • O.C.G.A. Section 40-5-67 sets forth laws for the seizure and disposition of a GA driver’s license, following a DUI conviction or nolo contendere plea. Special temporary driving permit conditions are found here. Plus, reinstatement rules that are applicable to drivers who have a driving under the influence conviction are set forth.
  • GA Code Section 40-5-67.1: The statute sets forth the rules for periodically checking and verifying the accuracy of DUI chemical tests on the CMI Intoxilyzer 9000. This code section contains Georgia’s implied consent notices for drivers under age 21, those age 21 and over, plus the 0.04 grams percent limit for CMV (commercial motor vehicle) operators. This code section provides the authority for appealing a proposed DUI suspension for a DUI refusal and sets forth the limited legal issues for said OSAH judicial hearings.
  • O.C.G.A. 40-5-67.2: Establishes the terms and conditions for suspension of a license under subsection (c) of companion GA code Section 40-5-67.1.
  • OCGA Code Section 40-5-64.1: Georgia’s 2017 change that added an ignition interlock option for a person accused of refusing the post-arrest implied consent testing. The driver may either appeal or take a 12-month interlock through Georgia DDS oversight.
  • OCGA 40-5-57.1: Georgia’s statute controlling evocation of drivers’ licenses for persons under age 21 for certain offenses. Plus, this GA code section controls issuance (by GA DDS) of a new Georgia driver’s license following a driver’s license revocation.
  • OCGA Section 40-6-393 – Homicide by Vehicle (felony or misdemeanor vehicular homicide): First-degree vehicular homicide GA will be based on one of the designated serious traffic offenses, including DUI, reckless driving, hit and runs, and others. All other regular traffic violations like running a red light, not stopping at a stop sign, failure to yield, or following too closely would be 2nd-degree vehicular homicide misdemeanors.
  • O.C.G.A. 40-6-394: Serious injury by vehicle through either DUI or reckless driving. This felony statute does not have a second-degree status, for which minor traffic violations that cause grievous bodily injury are elevated to felonies.
  • O.C.G.A. 40-6-393.1: Feticide by vehicle by DUI. Again, only driving impaired under any of the subsections of 40-6-391

First Offence DUI Laws in Georgia: Five Common Questions Answered

Georgia DUI law does not allow diversion, conditional discharge or use of a first-offender DUI plea for any drunk driving convictions. Georgia DUI penalties are strict and among America’s most punitive. So, your sentence, if convicted, can include jail time, loss of driver’s license, court fines and surcharges, being required to take DUI classes, and performing community service hours. Is it worth getting a lawyer for a DUI? A DUI in Georgia cannot be expunged (removed) from your permanent criminal record. You will take any conviction to the grave.

1. What happens for your first DUI offense? GA DUI penalties under 40-6-391 begin with benign punishments for a 1st offense DUI. As can be delved from a review of the GA DUI penalty chart below, very tough laws in GA exist for drunk driving.

2. How much is a DUI ticket? For example, only 40 hours of community service work is mandatory for a first DUI conviction and has a fine as low as $300 (plus State surcharges) on a DUI first offense in the past 10 years. But, pleading guilty and paying that tiny fine amount is an irreversible decision, and you will be living with that conviction for LIFE! It can never be expunged or have that record restricted.

3. How long do you lose your license for a DUI? In every case, the license (or driving privileges in Georgia, for defendants with out-of-state licenses) is taken. By operation of law, your driver’s license is taken in court and suspended (or revoked) at Georgia DDS.

4. How much jail time for DUI? For repeat offenders, however, the penalties and driver license consequences under the Georgia DUI statute ramp up for any second offense DUI and subsequent offenders. In all instances, only by installing and paying for 12 months on an alcohol ignition interlock device can any early reinstatement occur. For example, 72 hours of DUI jail time is the absolute lowest number of jail hours you can be sentenced to serve, and 120 days of total license suspension before the interlock option may be applied for.

5. How likely is jail time for first DUI? Absent a car accident with the driver having a high BAC level, or bad conduct toward police officers, additional jail time on a DUI plea of guilty is rare.

Installing an Ignition Interlock device on a convicted DUI driver's vehicle after the deriver refused to give a breath, blood, or urine sample.

Repeat Offender penalties for driving under the influence. A 3rd DUI within ten years makes the jail time from 15 days to a full year for the person to serve. A fourth DUI within 10 years is a felony and carries not less than 90 days of incarceration, with as much as 5 full years possible.

For a 4th DUI felony, the community service hours jump to at least 480 hours and the fines range from $2500 to $5000, plus surcharges. Finding law firms near you who specialize in DUI defense is critical for these highly challenging criminal cases, misdemeanors, or felonies.

Penalties for a DUI in Georgia First Offense

The Georgia Criminal Code requires a driver’s license hard suspension for anyone who “refuses to consent“ to submitting to a post-arrest, forensic test, or lab test. This would either be a breath alcohol test machine, the Intoxilyzer 9000, a blood test, or a urine test. In 2021, many police officers now only request blood extraction from their arrestees, which Georgia law permits.

You also face a hard suspension if you refuse a forensic breath test, DUI blood test, or urine test as required by Georgia implied consent laws. A hard suspension means no limited driving permit nor even an interlock-restricted DDS GA license. Under GA DUI laws, your right to drive can be revoked for months or even years with any misdemeanor or felony convictions.

Within 30 days of your DUI arrest, the Georgia DDS will carry out an administrative license suspension that stops you from legally driving. A top Georgia DUI attorney will immediately file for an ALS hearing to try to stop this non-criminal loss of license.

All DUI Penalties in Georgia

Being charged with DUI is NOT a conviction! While our Atlanta DUI attorneys focus on NOT allowing you to get convicted of DUI, people always ask us about the penalties if convicted.

The DUI statute (OCGA 40 6 391) mandates these categories of 1st DUI punishment and mandatory minimum DUI penalties (for each category) that cannot be waived. Penalties for your first DUI conviction include:

GA first DUI penalties include possibly more jail time, community service hours, reporting to a probations officer and submitting to random alcohol and drug testing, court fines, driver's license suspension, and and alcohol and drug assessment..

  • Jail sentence of 24 hours or more, when the chemical test from a blood alcohol or breath alcohol was reported to be a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 grams percent or more, from alcohol consumed before the driving ended;
  • DUI fines in Georgia ranges from $300 to $1000 fine, but multiple state surcharges typically will double the fine amount;
  • Completion of DUI classes for drunk driving charges called “risk reduction,” that is defensive driving course (twenty-hour course taught over several days) which is our state’s DUI school;
  • Community service hours for not fewer than 40 hours on a first DUI case;
  • Driver license suspension for 120 days, with a limited driving permit available for 1st offenders who are age 21 and over at the time of sentencing; and
  • Probation of 12 months, minus any days of jail time following the offender’s DUI arrest. Under GA laws, the 12 months on probation cannot be waived, suspended, or terminated early.

Georgia DUI Penalty Infographic shows the different conviction penalties for the type of DUI convicted of, including first DUI, second DUI, third DUI, fourth DUI.

DUI Conviction in Georgia

If you are convicted of DUI, that conviction, by operation of law, suspends your Georgia driver’s license or a non-resident’s ability to drive in Georgia. It is imperative that you be able to continue to legally drive after your DUI arrest. Most people simply cannot afford to miss work or school or to drive their children to practices.

If any minor children under 14 were in your car at the time of your arrest, you will be charged an additional DUI for each child. These DUI child endangerment Georgia laws add new DUI charges on top of your original DUI charge. So, if you were driving with 3 minor children as passengers, you will be charged with 4 DUIs, with that 4th DUI being a felony charge.

Find A DUI Lawyer in Georgia

Many potential clients call our law office near me voicing concern about Georgia DUI penalties under GA Code 40-6-391 and (if convicted) the consequences for driving under the influence of alcohol. A conviction of a DUI in Georgia 1st offense carries a moderate criminal law punishment. However, the lifetime criminal record and resulting license suspension after a conviction on DUI charges can wreak havoc in your life.

A so-called “zero tolerance” BAC level is in place for drivers under age 21, which is set at 0.02 for underage drivers. Pressure from groups like M.A.D.D. and the American Medical Association (AMA) continue to try push the legal BAC limit down below 0.08%. If you were pulled over by a Georgia patrol car, and you took a roadside breath test and “blew” a 0.08% or higher, the Georgia police officer can arrest you for drunk driving.

The legal blood alcohol content level, or BAC, for adult drivers age 21 and over in Georgia is the same in 49 states and the District of Columbia. 0.08% grams percent. The State of Utah enacted the nation’s first 0.05 grams percent adult BAC level statute in 2019, which is a trend that will likely continue.

Bubba Head DUI Books Authored

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