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DUI Legal Process in Georgia

Vehicle Stops

The first step in a DUI conviction is a vehicle stop. There are two types of vehicle stops that may lead to a DUI arrest. The first is an investigative stop, or a stop made to investigate a reasonable suspicion. The second is a traffic stop, which is a stop made for some violation of traffic law. During stops, an automobile may be searched when the officer can see incriminatory evidence in the car from outside the car. Any search must be confined to what is minimally necessary under the circumstances, and cannot be extensive or prolonged. For defense counsel, it is important to consider the duration of the stop, and whether or not any physical intimidation or force was used during the stop. During a stop or search, officers are not required to read a suspect’s rights until that suspect is under arrest.

Investigative Stops

In order to have a justified investigative stop, a law enforcement officer must have a reasonable suspicion based on articulable facts that the suspect is, has been, or about to be engaged in criminal activity. There must be a minimal level of justification for making the stop—an officer cannot stop based on a suspicion or a hunch. Evidence that results from a stop based on a pure suspicion is inadmissible because the search is unlawful. An investigative stop cannot be arbitrary or harassing in nature.

Traffic Stops

A violation of traffic law is sufficient to give an officer a reasonable articuable suspicion to make the stop. Some examples of traffic offenses are weaving, speeding or traveling at slower than normal speed, improper use of turn signals, unknown insurance status or failure to update driver’s license. A motorist stopped for a traffic violation is not considered to be in custody, and therefore confessions or admissions made during that time are not automatically admissible at trial.

Roadblocks/Sobriety Checkpoints

Roadblocks are not subject to the same standards as a normal vehicle stop—there does not need to be a reasonable suspicion. Rather, the roadblock need only be implemented in a reasonable manner in accordance with the Constitution.

Avoiding a roadblock or checkpoint does not automatically give rise to a justified traffic stop. The officer must still have a basis for an investigative stop, or there must be a traffic violation, to pull someone over when avoiding, or turning around, before a roadblock.

The Arrest

If, after a vehicle stop, an officer believes there is enough evidence to conclude that the suspect was driving under the influence, he will place that suspect under arrest. To determine whether or not a suspect under arrest, it rests on whether or not a reasonable person would believe he or she was free to leave. An officer is required to inform a suspect of his rights when the suspect is placed under arrest. Statements made subsequent to arrest have the potential to be admitted as evidence in trial.

Booking

After arrest, a suspect is booked at the police or sheriff’s station. Booking entails a photograph, fingerprint, and being held until release or until bail is posted.

Arraignment

Arraignment is a formal hearing during which a suspect is charged with a DUI offense. During arraignment a defendant will be informed of the charges that have been filed against them. It is during this time that a suspect will make a plea, which can be guilty, nolo contendere if applicable, or not guilty. It is best to consult a defense attorney prior to arraignment to determine the best options for a plea. If a guilty plea is entered, the case will move forward to sentencing. If another plea is entered, the case will be scheduled for trial. An attorney can attend this hearing on behalf of a defendant. Demands for discovery suppression motions, and special pleas must be made within ten days of arraignment.

Pretrial Hearing

It is important that at this time a defense attorney bring forth any evidence that will assist in defense and also attempt to suppress evidence of the prosecution. Plea bargains may also be negotiated at this stage.

Trial

Trials can be held in front of a judge, known as a bench trial, or a jury. In a bench trial, the judge will play the role of both judge and jury. A defense attorney can assist a defendant in deciding which option is most advantageous to their case. During trial, the prosecution must prove all the elements of the DUI beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sentencing

If a defendant is found guilty after trial, a judge will administer a sentence in accordance with the minimum requirements listed as punishments for the various DUI offenses. A defendant also has the right to file an appeal.


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