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.” (Read more about the difference between per se and impairment DUIs.) If you’ve previously been convicted of either type of DUI and are facing a new charge, read on to learn about the possible consequences of a conviction.
(Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(a) (2017).)
Getting multiple DUI convictions leads to harsh consequences. And Georgia law considers how far apart in time those convictions occurred when determining the minimum punishment you’ll receive. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys call that stretch of time the “look back” period. The look back period runs from the arrest date of the prior DUI (for which you were convicted) to the arrest date of the most recent offense. Making matters more confusing, Georgia has two look back periods: one for criminal penalties, and another for driver’s license penalties.
For criminal penalties (see below), there’s a ten-year look back period. For example, imagine you were arrested for a DUI (and convicted) in 2006 and then arrested for DUI again in 2017. The 2017 DUI will count as a first DUI for purposes of the criminal punishment (even though it’s technically your second) because the two arrests were more than ten years apart. If you’re arrested for DUI (and convicted) in 2006, 2008, and 2017, your 2017 DUI will be treated as your second in ten years, even though it’s your third lifetime DUI.
Be aware that the criminal look back period dictates only the minimum fines and jail time you’ll face. Judges can still consider how many prior DUIs you’ve had when deciding what punishment you’ll receive (within the range allowed by law). In other words, if you have a history of repeat DUIs, you’ll very likely face stiffer penalties than a true first offender would, regardless of how long ago your priors were.
For driver’s license penalties (see below), the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) uses a five-year look back period. So a DUI conviction will be considered a second, third, or subsequent conviction for license purposes only if you had other DUI arrests (which resulted in convictions) within the previous five years.
(Ga. Code Ann. § § 40-5-63(a), 40-6-391(c) (2017).)
A third DUI within a ten-year period is a “high and aggravated” misdemeanor. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(c) (2017).) A high and aggravated misdemeanor can lead to higher fines and more actual time spent in jail than a regular misdemeanor. (Ga. Code Ann. § 17-10-4 (2017).)
For a third DUI conviction, the judge can sentence you to serve anywhere from 15 days to 12 months in the county jail. You’ll spend part of that time on probation. While on probation, you’ll have 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. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(c)(3)(B) (2017).)
Fines for a third DUI range from $1000 to $5000, rather than being capped at $1000 as would be the case with a regular misdemeanor conviction. (Ga. Code Ann. § § 17-10-3(a)(1), 17-10-4 (2017).) That amount can increase dramatically once the required surcharges are added. Also, 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 DDS.) (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(c)(3) (2017).)
You’ll have to complete 30 days 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)(3) (2017).)
HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL?
A third DUI conviction requires a minimum jail sentence of 15 days. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-391(c)(d) (2017).) Because the sentence is considered high and aggravated, you’ll receive less credit for good behavior while in custody than you would with a regular misdemeanor sentence. Whereas you might be rewarded with two days for every one day actually served for a regular misdemeanor, the law limits good behavior credit on a high and aggravated misdemeanor to four days for every 30 actually served. (Ga. Code Ann. § 17-10-4 (2017).) So if you’re sentenced to 15 days in jail, you’ll be serving all 15 days.
It’s important to remember that sentencing law is complex, and it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. While a statute might list a minimum and maximum sentence, all kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including the severity of the damage at issue, credits for good in-custody behavior (as explained above), 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 third DUI conviction in five years will have a major impact on your driving privileges. Under these circumstances, DDS will declare you a “habitual violator” and revoke—not just suspend—your license for a five-year period. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-5-58(a) (2017).)
After two years of no driving whatsoever, you might be eligible for a probationary license for the final three years of your revocation. You’re ineligible for a probationary license if, in the two years prior to applying, you’ve been convicted of certain offenses like moving violations, underage alcohol possession, or controlled substance violations. And to get this license you need to show that not having it would cause you an extreme hardship—like not being able to get to work, school, or the doctor because you have no other option for transportation. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-5-58(e) (2017).)
If you get a probationary license, DDS can impose conditions that allow you to drive only to and from the places and at the times necessary to avoid the extreme hardship discussed above. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-5-58(e)(4) (2017).) If you violate these conditions, you can be charged with a misdemeanor and lose your probationary license. And if you get a new DUI while driving on a probationary license, you’ll be charged with a felony. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-5-58(e)(6) (2017).)
(Be aware that a license suspension and revocations are 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.)
A third DUI conviction has stiff criminal penalties and serious license ramifications. Make sure you know what to expect by talking to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after you’re arrested.