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Have you ever had a couple of cocktails and felt “okay” enough to drive yourself home? You could still open yourself up to drunk driving charges. In every state, including Georgia, DUI laws are complex. Know the drunk driving laws in Georgia to keep yourself and others on the road safe. Of course, the best course of action if you’ve been drinking is to stay out of the driver’s seat.
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Elements Of DUI In Georgia
There are two main elements of a driving under the influence (DUI) charge in Georgia: You’re in control of a vehicle, and you’re found to be under the influence. There is more to both elements than you may think.
In Control Of The Vehicle
This generally means you must have the keys to your car and be in the driver’s seat, but not necessarily driving, at the time a police officer shows up. You can be considered “in control of your vehicle” if you’re parked or if there is other evidence that you’ve driven, such as a warm hood or if you’re not in a designated parking space. This may require witness statements or traffic camera footage.
Under The Influence
There are three ways you can be found to be “under the influence” as defined by Georgia DUI laws:
- You are found impaired by field sobriety tests, with or without blood alcohol tests
- You have any amount of marijuana or illegal drugs in your blood
- You are found to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) above the legal limit (known as a “per se” DUI)
The legal BAC limit for drivers can be determined by breathalyzer, blood, or urine tests. For drivers over the age of 21, the legal limit is .08 percent. For drivers under the age of 21, Georgia’s zero tolerance laws set the limit at .02. For commercial drivers, including school bus drivers, the limit is .04. Even if you are over 21 and are found to have a BAC of .03, for example, you can still be charged with a DUI if a field sobriety test shows you’re impaired.
Penalties For Drunk Driving In Georgia
There are two categories of penalties for driving drunk under Georgia DUI laws: administrative and judicial. Administrative penalties involve your license suspension and are handled by the Georgia Department of Driver Services. Judicial penalties are handled by the courts.
DUI charges come with varying durations of driver’s license suspension, depending on whether it’s a first or later offense:
- First offense. Your license can be suspended for 12 months
- Second offense. Your license can be suspended for 36 months
- Third or fourth offense. Your license can be revoked for 5 years
For each offense, your license can be reinstated early if you meet certain conditions. If you’re underaged, you can’t have your license reinstated early. For a second offense, you can have it reinstated early if you have an ‘ignition interlock device’ installed in your car. You will also have to pay a fee of $210 to have your license reinstated.
Georgia DUI laws include an ’implied consent’ law stipulating that when you obtain a driver’s license, you give your consent to having your BAC tested if you’re lawfully pulled over for drunk driving. If you refuse a BAC test, your license is automatically suspended for one year.
DUIs are usually considered misdemeanors in Georgia. However, there are four ways a DUI can become a felony:
- If you’ve been charged with a fourth DUI in ten years
- If you were operating a “high risk” vehicle such as a school bus
- If you attempted to flee from the police officer
- If you’ve caused an accident resulting in serious injury or death
Judicial penalties take the form of jail time, fines, or community service (or a combination of the three). The court may also suggest or require counseling or drunk driving courses.
DUI cases are criminal cases, meaning they are decided by a judge who determines what your jail sentence is based on the following guidelines:
- First offense. Minimum 24 hours for per se DUI, up to 1 year
- Second offense. Minimum mandatory 48 hours, up to 1 year
- Third offense. Minimum mandatory 15 days, up to 1 year
- Fourth offense. Minimum mandatory 90 days, up to 5 years
You could be fined $300-$1,000 for a first offense, $600-$1,000 for a second offense, $1,000-$5,000 for a third offense, and $2,500-$5,000 for a fourth or later offense. If you cannot afford to pay the fine, the judge can use discretion to allow you to pay in installments or only pay half.
You may have to serve 40 hours of community service for a first offense (down to 20 hours for a lower BAC), 240 hours for a second or third offense, and 480 hours for a fourth offense. Again, the judge determines the appropriate obligation.
After conviction of a DUI, Georgia requires attendance at a DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program within 120 days of a conviction or within 90 days of being released from incarceration.
Other Things To Know About Georgia DUI Laws
Besides putting yourself and others at risk, drunk driving is expensive. Other than fines and license reinstatement fees, you can get hit with bail bond fees, attorney fees, surcharges, car towing fees, paying for transportation while your license is suspended, and alcohol abuse prevention program fees. Car insurance will be more expensive, too.
To fight a DUI, contact a lawyer. You may be able to argue evidence against you was obtained illegally–for example, you may be able to prove that you were pulled over for an invalid reason. You could also argue the BAC test administered was inaccurate.
Get Further Guidance On DUI Laws in GA
If you’ve found yourself on the wrong end of the Georgia DUI laws, an experienced attorney can steer you to the best result possible.
Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information, but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation and should not be interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions, you should seek the advice of an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.