By: Cory Yager, Former Law Enforcement Officer and DUI Atlanta Attorney
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 doing this by the federal government by making the receipt of federal money contingent upon “falling into line” with the 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.
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 laws, 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 prosecutor in Georgia are then held to these higher punishment standards. Multiple DUI laws in GA control license suspensions, points, and reinstatement after a DUI GA.
DUI Laws in Georgia
GA DUI penalties 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. For example, only 40 hours of community service work is mandatory, and a fine as low as $300 on a DUI first offense in the past 10 years.
For repeat offenders, however, the penalties and driver license consequences ramp up for any second offense DUI and subsequent offenders. 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 laws firms near me who specialize in DUI defense is critical for these highly challenging criminal cases, misdemeanor or felony.
Penalties for a DUI in Georgia First Offense
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.
· Jail sentence of 24 hours or more, when the chemical test from a blood alcohol or breath alcohol was reported to be 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 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 waiver, suspended or terminated early.
Many potential clients call our law firm voicing concern about Georgia DUI penalties 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.
Roadside Evaluations are Optional and Voluntary: Never Attempt to Pass a Field Sobriety Test
The officer may ask you to perform field sobriety tests, like the “walk and turn,” the “horizontal gaze nystagmus test,” or the “one-leg stand.” In Georgia these roadside tests are VOLUNTARY. A person should politely decline to take these sobriety tests.
Remember, anything you do or say after being pulled over for suspicion of a Georgia DUI, is being recorded by the officer’s dash cam. This police DUI video of field sobriety tests will be handed over to the Georgia prosecutor and used as hard evidence against you. The less you say or do prior to being cuffed, the better.
Convictions in Georgia for DUI-Drugs Carry a 6-Month Loss of License (or More)
Convictions on DUI alcohol and DUI drugs have different consequences for your driving privileges and other benefits. A first offense DUI-drugs causes total suspension for six months. The added cost and inconvenience of not being allowed to drive is one thing, but many offenders must be able to drive to keep their jobs. Plus, any conviction of a drug crime can disqualify a person from receiving state scholarship money, like Georgia’s amazing Hope Scholarship, after a drug-related DUI conviction.
The federal government, under President Richard Nixon, pushed through this nonsensical provision. Part of his “war or drugs,” included these types of harsh driver license consequences. Nixon created a national paranoia about marijuana being the most dangerous of drugs, despite his own advisors showing medical studies refuting that claim.
The Georgia Legislature complied, and on a 1st DUI-drug conviction, total license suspension for 6 months is the punishment. By contrast, a first offense DUI alcohol driver over age 21, can obtain an immediate first offender affidavit and limited permit. This allows the immediate right to drive in Georgia for most purposes.
In a DUI-alcohol case (no matter what the alcohol level or even if involving an accident) the convicted person could still get the permit. Two exceptions to this exist: The person can’t have been administratively suspended in the past 5 years, nor have had a criminal conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) in any jurisdiction within the past 5 years.
Georgia Licensees Only: Act no later than the 30th day after ARREST, to save your right to drive
Two types of implied consent suspension are possible after arrest for DUI in GA. A DUI refusal of the implied consent “chemical” test poses the biggest threat, which is a potential 12-month total loss of driving privileges.
For other Georgia licensees who took the test a less problematic first DUI offense suspension occurs, for drivers age 21 and over. For licensees age 21 and over in Georgia, A DUI first offense driver who has an alcohol test result of 0.08 percent on an implied consent forensic test, is entitled to apply to Georgia DDS for restricted driving privileges immediately.
Since July 1, 2017, OCGA 40-5-64.1 means that you must install an ignition interlock device for a full 12 months, after having refused the post-arrest implied consent testing. For some job holders, such a restriction of driving only this one vehicle will cost him or her the right to work.
With a 2nd DUI in Georgia within five years, license suspension is severe. The law is even more restrictive for a second offense DUI within five years. If arrested within five years of the date of the first offense DUI arrest, the ability of a driver will be highly restricted if convicted of a 2nd DUI.
For any person convicted of a 2nd DUI in GA within 10 years, your mugshot and summary of your DUI penalties is published in the local newspaper, at your expense. In addition, the Court confiscates all license plates on all cars registered to that driver in GA, so that the vehicle cannot be operated.
A mandatory clinical alcohol and drug dependency evaluation will include at least 17 weeks of counseling sessions with a license Georgia therapist. The sessions are three hours each session.
Ignition Interlock Is Not Available to Every Driver Facing DUI Charges
If you face an administrative license suspension in Georgia for DUI refusal (not agreeing to take the officer’s requested blood or breath alcohol test under implied consent law), the state of Georgia does not permit you to use the IID (ignition interlock device) option. Plus, our state offers NO hardship license at all. Most Georgia drivers age 21 and over may opt to install the 12-month ignition interlock device, but this option is highly risky and cumbersome.
If you opt to fight the pending suspension by filing a DDS GA appeal, and you lose the appeal, you face a full year of not being able to drive. A GA DDS appeal to the Georgia Department of Driver Services (Georgia DDS) could go against you. This creates a one-year suspension.
If Arrested in Georgia, Our Lawyers’ Directory Will Match You to Lawyers Near Me
Since Georgia DUI laws change every year based on recent court case decisions, you must retain a top-reviewed Georgia DUI lawyer to represent you. With over 1000 different courts handling GA DUI cases, you need attorney near me.
In the greater Atlanta metropolitan area, that could mean a lawyer in Atlanta Municipal Court, DeKalb State Court, Alpharetta Municipal Court, Marietta Municipal Court, Sandy Springs Municipal Court, Cobb County State Court, Gwinnett Recorder’s Court or State Court, Fulton County State Court. Other large population centers in Georgia include the Savannah-Chatham Recorder’s Court or State Court, Macon-Bibb DUI court, Columbus-Muscogee Recorder’s Court or State Court.
Georgia DUI laws are meant to cause enough pain so that you won’t drive impaired ever again. And the more Georgia DUIs you get, or if injuries or death occur as a result of your drunk driving, you face hard jail time and stiffer penalties. Do not plead guilty to a Georgia DUI without first talking to a deeply experienced Georgia DUI lawyer who knows every Georgia DUI prosecutor and judge, and who knows the absolute latest GA DUI laws.
Until convicted, no permanent criminal record for conviction of a drunk driving offense exists. A DUI attorney knows that raising legal challenges to the evidence and having court rulings on the record are crucial to fighting a DUI successfully. Avoiding conviction for a DUI in Georgia is the objective, so do not trust that difficult task to just any DUI attorneys near me.
An arrest is not a conviction ™! Obtain your FREE consultation and a get a FREE 430-page “DUI Book” written by Bubba Head that will educate you on how to fight a DUI in any state. Some of America’s best GA DUI lawyers are listed with DrunkDrivingDefense.com.
OTHER Georgia Court Links:
The Busiest Municipal Courts in Georgia:
Athens Municipal Court (Athens-Clarke County Municipal Court)