In some instances, officers may pull over a driver on suspicion of drunk driving because they observe the driver engaging in actions that suggest they are intoxicated, such as swerving across the road, or blowing through stop signs. In other circumstances, officers may pull over a driver based on a separate traffic violation, such as a failure to use a turn signal, and then realize, after meeting the driver, that the driver is intoxicated. In either situation, officers may only use evidence of a driver’s intoxication against the driver in court if the stop that led to the evidence was a lawful one. If an officer’s stop of a vehicle is not lawful, defendants may file a motion to suppress to keep evidence from the stop out of court. At the law firm of Baker & Slider, we often times use these types of motions to challenge the stop of a vehicle. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals discusses some of these issues.
Like many states throughout the country, Georgia has implemented an implied consent law for use in DUI investigations and arrests. This means that individuals who drive on Georgia’s roads are presumed to consent to the “search” of their blood alcohol levels through blood alcohol testing. Upon reasonable suspicion of a DUI, Georgia law enforcement officers may read drivers an implied consent notice and request consent for a state-administered blood test. Individuals who refuse consent may be punished for their refusal through measures such as the suspension of their driver’s license. Georgia’s implied consent law also provides that drivers may request their own independent blood alcohol test, conducted by a third party, if they so wish. In a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals, the court considered, for the first time, whether drivers who wish to have an independent test conducted must first submit to the state-administered test or if they can insist that only an independent test be administered.
Recent national headlines involving a well-known pro golfer have opened up public discussion about DUIs stemming from prescribed medication. In Georgia, a driver can be charged with a DUI if they are under the influence of a drug that makes them less safe to drive or “incapable of driving safely”. A driver can be charged with DUI if there is suspected illegal drug use of substances like heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. A driver can also be charged with the less safe subsection of the statute even if she or he was taking medication as prescribed. The state of Georgia must show that the driver had a controlled substance in their system and that the drug impaired the driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle. A drug DUI may also be combined with an alcohol DUI charge.
It is possible to provide a strong defense to an arresting officer’s assertion that the driver was unable to safely operate a motor vehicle. “Less safe” means the arresting officer has determined the driver to be less efficient, coherent, able, proficient, skillful, and qualified to drive than if he or she had driven sober. Police officers are trained to determine impairment by using a series of tests that include field sobriety evaluations, breath, and blood. The mere presence of some drugs, like cocaine, is enough for impairment to be inferred, but others must be accompanied by proof that the driver was impaired at the time the car was operated for a conviction of a Drug DUI. At trial, an arresting officer must describe why she thought the driver was unable to safely operate a car. The state may also call in an expert witness, often times from the GBI, to analyze the amount of the drug found in the system and extrapolate whether or not impairment was likely at the time the motor vehicle was operated.
Under Georgia law, when several crimes arise from the same conduct and are brought as different charges even if by different agencies, they must be prosecuted in one criminal proceeding, unless certain specific requirements are met. If they are not prosecuted in one criminal proceeding, and the government attempts to bring different charges in different proceedings, a criminal defendant can object on the ground that this violates prohibitions against double jeopardy. In a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals, the court looked at the requirements of double jeopardy and denied a criminal defendant’s request for relief on this ground.
When individuals are stopped on suspicion of a DUI, they will often find that they are asked if their car may be searched for any evidence of alcohol or drugs. In addition to searching a vehicle, police may also attempt to search the individual themselves, including engaging in a pat-down, checking pockets or purses, or otherwise ensuring that there is no illegal substance or proof of intoxication on the person at the time. Depending on the context of the stop and the information known to the officer at the time, these searches may be legal or illegal under the Fourth Amendment’s right to protection from unlawful searches and seizures. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals considered whether evidence collected from a person at the time of a traffic stop could be suppressed on this basis at trial.
Under Georgia law, evidence of prior DUIs is generally admissible in a DUI proceeding when a criminal defendant has refused to take a state-administered alcohol test, if the prior DUI will be used to show knowledge, plan, or absence of a mistake. Although such evidence is generally admissible, it can sometimes be excluded if a defendant can show that the prejudicial impact of such evidence outweighs any helpful value it may provide to the jury. In a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals, one defendant argued that his prior DUI should have been excluded and that, as a result, his counsel’s failure to object to the introduction of such evidence was ineffective assistance of counsel.
Despite the best efforts of criminal defendants and their attorneys, sometimes judges and juries get it wrong. They may miss a key piece of evidence, find themselves overly swayed by the opinions of certain experts, or simply have a bias against the defendant in the case. When this happens, they can end up finding a defendant guilty when the state did not meet their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Thankfully, our justice system understands that these types of errors occur and allows defendants an opportunity to appeal a trial court decision to a higher court of appeals. While the appellate process can ultimately remedy any errors that were made, it takes time and can leave criminal defendants in limbo while they wait. A recent case before the Court of Appeals of Georgia looked at whether defendants may be entitled to bond while they await the outcome of their appeal.
When evidence is obtained in a manner that may violate a criminal defendant’s rights, the defendant can move to have the evidence suppressed. If a court grants a motion to suppress, the evidence cannot be used during a DUI trial. Additionally, the state may not make references to the evidence at trial either, since it could prejudice the jury by suggesting to them that there is incriminating evidence out there that they are not being allowed to see. While mistakes sometimes happen, courts take a hard line against parties who attempt to reference inadmissible evidence at trial. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals considers just such a circumstance.
The state of Georgia permits law enforcement officers to conduct police roadblocks for the purpose of preventing drunk driving, but it requires that the officers abide by very specific requirements when doing so. Since an unjustified stop of a vehicle can constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection from search and seizure, police can conduct checkpoints only in limited circumstances, and they must show that they have done so in a manner that does not single out, or discriminate against, any certain group of individuals. Roadblocks must also be conducted pursuant to state procedures and must use officers who are clearly trained on procedures for dealing with potentially intoxicated drivers.
In Georgia, when a driver is stopped on suspicion of possible drunk driving, one of the first things that police officers may do is conduct a field sobriety test with the driver to determine whether there are any initial indications of intoxication. Field sobriety tests can include such things as walking in a straight line or standing on one foot. If the driver fails these exams, it can lead to an arrest and further testing, including breath and blood alcohol testing. In a DUI prosecution, the State will frequently seek to introduce evidence from field sobriety tests as proof of intoxication, but in order to do so, the tests used must be sufficiently valid to be admitted into court. A recent case before the Court of Appeals of Georgia evaluated the validity of field sobriety exams.