Typically, DUI offenses in Georgia are charged as misdemeanor crimes. Up until 2008, there were no felony DUI laws on the books. Now, the state has enacted a Felony DUI law for repeated DUIs. Felony DUIs carry heavy criminal and social consequences, ranging from fines, jail time, loss of driver’s license, and a felony criminal record.
DUI offenses in Georgia that relate to a Felony charge
After your fourth DUI offense, the Felony DUI charge will apply. You will be subject to fines ranging from $1,000.00 to $5,000.00, and a period of imprisonment from one to five years. At the very least, you must serve at least 3 months of that jail time. The court will also impose a minimum of 60 days of Community Service and require completion of a DUI Alcohol or Drug Risk Reduction Program. The court will also require you to submit to a clinical evaluation where they will determine if you need alcohol treatment, which you must complete. Finally, you will be placed on 5 years of probation, and any jail time you served will be subtracted from the probation length.
One other quirky DUI Felony offense in Georgia is a Felony DUI as a result of driving under the influence of drugs. Although the DUI itself would not be a felony, the prosecution will add a felony drug possession charge. However, in order to prove the DUI charge, they must show that the person was under the influence of a drug that would cause one not to drive in a safe matter, which is a very broad standard.
Arrest and Court Procedures
At the time of your arrest, you may be placed in jail until bail is posted or you appear before the judge. If it is a simple DUI misdemeanor arrest, you will usually be booked and be free to leave, assuming you have someone who can drive you home. In the case of a felony DUI, you may be allowed to be released pending your hearing, or you will be taken into custody. At this preliminary hearing, called an arraignment, you will enter a guilty or not guilty plea. From there, you will go to a pretrial conference to negotiate a possible early resolution of the case, or go on to trial. Early resolutions are encouraged so as to get the case off the calendar and reach a solution that will please the prosecution and the defendant. Once at trial, you will present evidence in your favor, and the prosecution will present its evidence as well. If you are convicted, you will receive your sentence at the end of trial.
Effect on Records and Employment
A DUI in Georgia will stay on your driving record forever, which may jeopardize any chances you have at getting a job that requires extensive driving. Also, because it is a felony, the DUI will show up on your criminal record when background checks are done. Once you have completed probation and paid your fines, it may be possible to have the court make an expungement of the DUI off your criminal record. While the court does not have to automatically do so, it will look at your criminal history and your performance on probation to see if you are deserving of an expungement. Until your record is sealed, you have to report the felony to your employer or potential employer if asked. Even if your record is sealed, if you are convicted of another DUI it can be used to seek a felony conviction.
DMV/DUI Implications for Felony DUIs
Upon conviction of a felony DUI, your license will be suspended for five years. No work permit will be allowed for you to have the ability to drive to work and back. However, after two (2) years a person can seek a probationary license that is basically a restricted right to drive, which is very similar to a "work" permit.
Felony DUI Defense Options
At your hearing, you can plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest (essentially a guilty plea that you do not admit to). If you plea not guilty, some of the likely defense options will include: pleading to a lesser charge, challenging the results of the sobriety tests based on defect or error, medication effect that results in a false positive, and many others. These defense options are best explained and argued by experienced DUI lawyers.
Getting Help from a Lawyer
If you are charged with a felony DUI, the most important thing to do is to retain an experienced DUI lawyer to handle your matter and ensure that your rights are protected. Without a lawyer to help, you may plea to an agreement that is not in your favor, and jeopardize your chances of getting a lesser sentence and expunge your record at a later date. Having an experienced DUI lawyer may help you beat your DUI charge if the facts and circumstances support a defense possibility.