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.
In this recent case, M.G. was arrested on suspicion of a DUI after he ran into a telephone pole while driving home. He called his brother-in-law at the time of the accident, who called his insurance company to summon a tow truck. When the tow truck driver arrived and saw the state of the telephone pole, he called 911 to report the accident to the police. When the police arrived, M.G. tried to explain that he had hit the pole after swerving to avoid a deer, but the police could not find any evidence of the car having swerved. Instead, the officers noticed alcohol on M.G.’s breath, conducted an HGN test, and noted that he had six out of a possible six clues. The officers then asked him to submit to a breathalyzer test, and M.G. refused. He also refused to agree to a blood test under Georgia’s implied consent law following his arrest for DUI. The entire encounter was recorded on video.
M.G. was charged with a DUI. Prior to the trial, the State announced that it would introduce evidence of M.G.’s prior DUI. M.G.’s attorney at the time did not object, and the evidence was introduced. M.G. was ultimately found guilty. He moved for a new trial on the basis that the court should not have admitted the prior DUI and that his counsel was ineffective because he did not object to the introduction of the prior DUI. The motion was denied, and M.G. appealed.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals immediately rejected the argument that the prior DUI should not have been admitted because M.G. had waived the argument by not objecting during trial. It then turned to the question of whether M.G.’s counsel’s failure to object constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The court noted that under Georgia law, M.G. was required to show that he was prejudiced by his counsel’s failure to object. As an initial matter, the court determined that the State was permitted to introduce evidence of a prior DUI when a defendant like M.G. refused to agree to a state-administered chemical test. Thus, the only basis for excluding the evidence was if M.G. could show that he was unfairly prejudiced by the introduction of the evidence.
Here, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that M.G.’s prior DUI was fairly introduced to show knowledge and awareness by M.G. in committing a second DUI, including awareness of the effect of his alcohol consumption as it related to impairment, rather than for the prejudicial impact. Accordingly, the court concluded that even if M.G.’s counsel had objected to the introduction of the prior DUI, the objection would very likely have failed. On this basis, it also concluded that the failure of M.G.’s counsel to object to the introduction of the prior DUI did not fundamentally prejudice M.G.’s defense or change the likely outcome of the trial. Thus, in conclusion, the court determined that M.G.’s conviction should not be overturned based on ineffective assistance of counsel and rejected the appeal.
Criminal defendants who have a history of DUIs may find the state trying to introduce prior DUIs against them at a trial. For more information about your options when facing the introduction of a prior DUI, the DUI defense attorneys at Baker & Slider, LLC, can assist you in evaluating whether the State is attempting to properly introduce such evidence. For more information or to set up an initial consultation, contact our office at 706-208-1514.