By Emily Keener
In Georgia, drivers who are impaired by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) in two different ways: “DUI-less-safe,” also called “impairment DUI,” and DUI “per se.”
No matter what your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is—and even if you refuse the state’s chemical test—you can be charged with DUI-less-safe if the arresting officer determines that you’re impaired to the point that you’re a less safe driver. And if chemical testing shows your BAC is .08% or more within three hours of driving, you can be charged with DUI per se. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(a) (2016).) (Read more about the difference between per se and impairment DUIs.)
Here are the possible consequences for a first-offense DUI conviction in Georgia.
Generally, a first-offense DUI is a misdemeanor. The judge can sentence you to spend up to 12 months in the county jail. (Prison is reserved for sentences over 12 months.) Some judges may not make you go back to jail after sentencing, giving you credit for the time you served when you were arrested. But if your BAC was .08% or more, the law requires you to serve at least 24 hours in jail. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(c)(1)(B) (2016).)
Your total sentence cannot be shorter than a year, and with a first DUI, you’ll likely spend most of that time on probation instead of in jail. While on probation, you’ll be required to pay a supervision fee, and your probation officer will monitor you to make sure you’re completing all the required terms of your sentence.
DUIs are expensive, even if it’s your first offense. Fines range from $300 to $1000, but that amount can almost double once the required surcharges are added. You must attend the DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program (“Risk Reduction Program”), a 20-hour course that costs over $350. (This course is also one of the requirements for getting your license reinstated by the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS).)
You also have to complete 40 hours of community service work and participate in a clinical evaluation for alcohol or drug dependency. If the clinical evaluator determines that you need treatment, you’ll have to complete the recommended number of counseling sessions as part of your sentence. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(c)(1) (2016).)
HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL?
Generally speaking, sentencing law is complex and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including the severity of the damage at issue, credits for good in-custody behavior, and jail-alternative work programs.
If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.
In addition to the penalties outlined above, a DUI conviction will have an impact on your driver’s license. For a first non-drug-related DUI conviction (for drivers over the age of 21), the DDS will suspend your license for 12 months. Depending on your driving history, you might be eligible for a limited permit to drive to and from work and school and other permissible places.
After 120 days, you can request early reinstatement of your license by submitting to DDS:
(Ga. Code Ann. § 40-5-63(a)(1) (2016).)
Couldn’t you just wait 12 months and have your license automatically reinstated? Georgia law makes it clear that if you want your license back, you’ll have to meet these two requirements, no matter how much time has passed since your conviction. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-5-63(c) (2016).)
(Be aware that a license suspension resulting from a conviction is different from what’s called an “administrative license suspension.” An administrative suspension can be imposed by DDS before you even go to court for your DUI.)
LICENSE PENALTIES FOR DUI-DRUGS CONVICTIONS
If your DUI conviction was drug-related—meaning, you were under the influence of drugs alone or alcohol and drugs combined—you’ll face different rules regarding license suspension.
Drug-related-DUI license suspensions are for a period of 180 days. Not only is there no early reinstatement available, but there is also no limited driving permit allowed for a drug DUI. However, the reinstatement requirements—Risk Reduction Program and payment of a fee—are the same as those for an alcohol-related DUI. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-5-75(d) (2016).)
A first DUI conviction usually doesn’t lead to a significant amount of jail time. But if you fail to complete any part of your sentence, the judge can revoke some or all of your probation and put you in jail. Make sure you understand the penalties you’re facing by talking to an experienced attorney as soon as possible after you’re arrested.