The most common type of driving under the influence (DUI) arrest in Georgia is for a first-offense DUI. While driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is considered a violent crime in the state of Georgia and never slides off a person's criminal record nor is expunged, for purposes of determining offense level the state uses a five-year, look-back period. That is, a DUI is considered a first offense DUI if the person doesn't hasn't had any prior DUI arrests in the previous five years.
Anyone driving in Georgia will want to understand the laws about driving under the influence. This includes the penalties a driver may get for a first DUI conviction.
Driving Under the Influence
Driving under the influence is often referred to as "drunk driving". But many state laws define the crime as applying to drugged driving as well. Georgia is among the states that make it illegal for a person to drive while their faculties are impaired by the use of alcohol or drugs. In Georgia, this includes both illegal drugs like heroin, and legal drugs like over-the-counter cold medications or prescription pain killers.
This type of DUI must be established at trial with evidence of impairment. The prosecution can use police officer testimony as to the individual's erratic driving or how they behaved when they exited the motor vehicle. Sometimes a video of the person's field sobriety tests is available as well.
Per Se DUIs
"Per se" DUIs are over-the-legal-limit offenses. In Georgia, like other states, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) legal limit is under 0.08 percent. A driver whose BAC tests out to be 0.08 percent or higher is presumed intoxicated and in violation of the DUI statute. For a commercial driver, this BAC limit is 0.04 percent, and for someone under the age of 21 years, it is 0.02 percent.
This is called a per se DUI, meaning a DUI "in and of itself." If chemical testing reveals that a driver's BAC is above the legal limit, no further evidence of impairment needs to be shown in order to convict.
A per se offense for marijuana and controlled substances is also included in the state law. That is, the Georgia DUI statute makes it illegal for a person to drive with any discernible amount of these drugs in their system. However, it also establishes an exception for controlled substances that a person has a legal right to use, like prescription medication. In that case, the prosecution must establish actual impairment existed in order to convict.
First Offense DUI Administrative Penalties
Two kinds of penalties apply to someone stopped for a DUI violation. The first is administrative penalties, which means administrative license suspensions. The second involves penalties from a criminal court action against the driver. The two are independent; the administrative penalties kick in well before the criminal trial and apply regardless of the outcome of the trial.
Administrative penalties stem from the state's Implied Consent Act. This Georgia law provides that those who drive on public streets and roads are deemed to consent to chemical testing if an arresting officer stops them for a DUI violation. Chemical tests include breath, blood and urine testing. The former is the common test used for alcohol; blood and urine tests can also detect alcohol and they are required to determine drugs in a person's system.
Implied Consent to Chemical Test
If a person refuses a chemical test in Georgia, they are violating the implied consent law and are subject to civil penalties. For a first offense in Georgia, the penalty for refusal is a one-year loss of driving privileges. This is in addition to any criminal driver's license suspension and/or revocation the court imposes.
The license suspension period begins 46 days after the arrest. A driver can ask for a hearing on the refusal charge, but they have to act within a week of the arrest.
First-Offense Criminal Penalties
A person who pleads guilty to a first-offense DUI charge, or who is found guilty by a criminal court, will face penalties. While the court has the discretion to send the driver to jail for up to a year, this is rarely done. But DUI first-offense jail time can vary considerably depending on the court and the judge. And jail for a first-time DUI offense is almost always imposed where the DUI is based on a BAC of over 0.08 percent.
In fact, Georgia statutes mandate a minimum jail sentence of 24 hours if blood alcohol or breath alcohol levels are 0.08 percent or more. In some courts, a driver's time behind bars after arrest counts for 24 hours of mandated incarceration.
Probation almost always goes along with jail time. Generally the court assigns a year of supervised probation, then subtracts the time spent in jail from the probation period. The court imposes conditions on the driver during probation, like check-ins with a probation supervisor and attendance at alcohol or drug treatment programs.
Other First-Offense DUI Sanctions
While jail time is what drivers are most concerned about as a first-offense DUI penalty, there are other sanctions to be aware of. Fines are certain, and a driver can be hit with a fine of between $300 to $1,000. In addition, the driver will have to pay court costs and sometimes other add-on fees; pay for DUI education classes; be hit with increased auto insurance rates; driver's license reinstatement fees; and professional counseling and assessments. Increased DUI car insurance costs will typically run between $4,000 and $9,000 in the following three years, depending on the case, according to some experts on Georgia DUI law.
In addition to jail time and fines, a first-offense DUI in Georgia requires a first offender to do some hours of community service. Generally, it is 20 hours for an impairment DUI and 40 hours for a per se violation. There can also be criminal license suspensions.
When a driver is able to get a provisional license, they will be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in their car. This is a type of breathalyzer that allows a car to start only if the driver blows into it and there is no alcohol on their breath. Typically, the driver is ordered to install an IID on every car they own or drive regularly.
First-Offense Felony DUI
Although a simple first-offense DUI is a misdemeanor, it can become a felony under certain circumstances. First, if the driver is a school bus driver, a first-offense DUI is a felony, regardless of whether there were kids aboard. A person evading the police for a DUI is also charged with a felony.
However, most felony DUIs are either fourth-offense DUIs, not relevant to first-offense drivers, or where the DUI driver caused an accident with injuries. If someone is seriously injured as a result of a DUI driver, that driver is charged with a felony. Likewise, if the driver kills another individual in an accident, it is a felony charge.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.