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Penalties for DUI in Georgia

First Offense (misdemeanor)

In order for a conviction to be considered a “first” conviction, a defendant cannot have any previous convictions and no prior plea of nolo contendere accepted within five years or, if after July 1, 2008, ten years. A first conviction will carry a fine not less than $300 and no more than $1000, as well as a period of imprisonment not less than 10 days no more than 12 months. Such period can be, at the judge’s discretion, suspended, stayed, or probated. If BAC is .08 or more, it can be suspended, stayed, or probated by all but 24 hours. A probation period of 12 months is required, less any days during which the defendant is actually incarcerated. In addition to the fine and imprisonment, a defendant will be sentenced to no less than 40 hours of community service. If the defendant’s BAC was less than .08, then no less than 20 hours. The defendant will be required to complete a DUI Risk Reduction Program. In Georgia, unless there is a pardon, a first offense will be on the offender’s record for life –there is no first offender treatment available for a DUI conviction.

Plea of Nolo Contendere

Entering a plea of nolo contendere means to plea “no contest,” meaning the defendant is not contesting the charges, but not pleading guilty either. In Georgia, a nolo contendere plea is the same as pleading guilty—there will be a DUI conviction, which will be placed on the defendant’s record. Pleading nolo contendere will not prevent a driver’s license from being suspended. There are, however, some limited benefits of entering a plea of nolo contendere. It may be helpful in accidents that have the potential to lead to a civil case. Defendants should always consult a lawyer in deciding whether or not to enter such plea will be beneficial to their case. Acceptance of a nolo contendere plea is discretionary, meaning the judge can choose whether or not to accept it. You can only plea nolo contendere if you are a first-offender. A plea of nolo contendere is not recommended for those that are specially licensed drivers, such as taxi drivers or pilots. Nolo contendere is not available for offenders with a BAC of .151 or more, drivers under the age of 18 at the time of arrest, any person who has had a prior nolo contendere plea or guilty plea or verdict within the five-year “lookback” period, and are often unavailable in the event of a refusal to submit to a chemical sobriety test at the time of arrest.

License Suspension

For a first DUI conviction (or “nolo” plea) in five years, the defendant’s driving license can be suspended for one year. This can be shortened to 30 days with proof of DUI school. First time offenders may apply for a Limited Driving Permit (for work, school, medical) for a $25 fee that is good for 30 days so long as they did not refuse a chemical test. Note that if a suspect refuses a chemical test, a license will be suspended for one year with no option for a permit of any type. This suspension can be terminated by an acquittal in the DUI case or a dismissal of the DUI case. For a second DUI conviction in five years the suspension period is three years, but can be shortened to 18 months with proof of DUI school. Persons age 21 and over who are second offenders within 5 years, can seek a special limited driving permit after a 12-month “hard suspension.” Once 12 months of the suspension period has run, and after completing the required conditions for early reinstatement, any age 21 and over driver convicted of a repeat offense within five years may seek a limited driving permit for his or her vehicle so long as an ignition interlock device has been installed for a minimum contract term of 6 months. This provision may save a job for some offenders.

A third DUI conviction in five years will lead to a five-year suspension with probationary license available after two years. Suspensions can be contested through hearings held by the office of the State Administrative (OSAH). Defendants must request an administrative hearing within the ten-day period following arrest, or suspension will be upheld and the defendant will not be eligible to apply for a limited driving permit. In addition to the challenges that can be made to the DUI, challenging a suspension might also include whether or not the hearing not conducted within 30 days and whether or not the suspension was not initiated by a sworn report.

Sentence Enhancements

There are no sentence enhancements in the state of Georgia.

If charged with a DUI while transporting in a motor vehicle a child under the age of 14 years, the defendant will be guilty a separate offense of endangering a child by driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is not an “enhanced” penalty and should not be merged with the offense of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs for the purposes of prosecution and sentencing. The defendant is punished  in accordance with subsection (d) of Code Section 16-12-1, relating to the offense of contributing to the delinquency, unruliness, or deprivation of a child.

Many websites have stated that if a defendant’s BAC is .15 or above, there is a sentence enhancement. This is most likely the case in practice, but Georgia does not have a mandated sentence enhancement for a BAC of .15 or above.

There are enhanced mandatory minimum sentences for school bus drivers and commercial drivers.

Second Offense (misdemeanor)

Defendants with a second DUI conviction within five years, or after July 1, 2008, ten years, the court will administer a fine not less than $600 and not more than $1000. The defendant will be subject to a period of imprisonment not less than 90 days and no more than 12 months, to be followed by a probation period of 12 months, less any days the defendant is actually incarcerated. Not that incarceration does not include house arrest. A period of community service to be no less than 30 days is required. Defendants are required to complete a Risk Reduction Program and undergo a clinical evaluation. For arrest on or after July 1, 1997, judges can order an ignition interlock device. This device, although discretionary, is required to get early reinstatement of the defendant’s license, and is mandatory for 6 months unless there is a “hardship.”

Third Offense (high and aggravated misdemeanor)

A third DUI conviction within five years or after July 1, 2008, ten years, will result in a fine of not less than $1, 000 and not more than $5, 000. There is a mandatory imprisonment not less than 120 days and no more than 12 months. The judge may suspend, stay, or probate all but 15 days of any term. Ten days in jail is mandated. Defendants will be required to perform not less than 30 days of community service. Defendants will also be given a mandatory ignition interlock device and may also be subject to vehicle surrender if offender is noted as a “habitual violator.” If deemed a “habitual violator,” a special application must be made to receive a habitual violator tag on the license plate. Like prior offenses, defendants must complete a clinical evaluation and a Risk Reduction Program and will receive a license suspension. Additionally, a notice of conviction will be published in the newspaper, and may include a photograph taken at the time of arrest and the name and address of the offender.

Fourth Offense (felony)

A fourth DUI conviction within ten years will be considered a felony and can lead to a term of imprisonment between one and five years. The court must probate at least a portion of the sentence and may suspend, stay or probate all but (90) days of any term of imprisonment imposed. The period of probation is for five years, minus any days during which the person is actually imprisoned. The fine for a felony conviction is $1,000 to $5,000, which may be reduced up to one half by the court upon completion of a substance abuse treatment program. Additionally, sixty days of community service are required. However, all required community service may be suspended by the sentencing judge if the defendant is sentenced to serve three years or more of actual imprisonment. As with other convictions, a clinical evaluation is required and if recommended as a part of such evaluation, completion of a substance abuse treatment program as well as completion of a DUI alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program.

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