As a college town, Athens has a lot of great places to meet with friends and have a few drinks. Unfortunately, Athens-Clarke County law enforcement is on the lookout for driving under the influence (DUI) offenses; and because it is difficult to determine how many drinks will put you over the limit, even one mistake could result in criminal charges.

One of the scariest things about a DUI arrest is the uncertainty. If you are facing a drunk-driving charge, read on so you know exactly what to expect throughout the process.

Your First Court Date: Arraignment

After you are released from jail, you will be scheduled to appear in court to answer to your charges. This first court session, known as arraignment, is where the judge will read the charges against you and ask how you plea. If you plead “guilty,” your case ends here and you will be convicted. Pleading “not guilty” will begin the legal process of fighting your charges.

An attorney can attend arraignment on your behalf—you just have to sign some paperwork beforehand. This would allow you to attend classes or go to work without disrupting your schedule.

Criminal and Civil Hearings in Athens

The veteran criminal defense attorney who appears for you in criminal court can also handle your civil administrative license suspension (ALS) hearing. This will either be for a refusal, or for taking the breathalyzer and being over the legal BAC limit.

These ALS hearings are heard by a different administrative law judge at the Council Chambers in the Athens-Clarke City Hall located at 301 College Avenue.

This historic building is only about 500 yards from the Athens-Clarke County Courthouse, a block down East Washington St., just west of where the misdemeanor criminal cases are handled. The ALS hearing is scheduled separately by a judge from the Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH), based out of Atlanta.

This is an entirely different non-criminal license action, different from the criminal charges made by Athens-Clarke Police, the Georgia State Patrol, or UGA Police.

10-Day Rule: Appealing Your Administrative License Suspension

If you don’t move fast after a DUI charge, you may have to memorize the Athens Transit System schedule—or ask your friends for rides. After being arrested by the Athens-Clarke County police, an officer will confiscate your license and hand you a 1205 form, which serves as your temporary driving permit and explains that your right to drive will be suspended.

Your license can be suspended for refusing to take the breathalyzer when asked by police or blowing over the legal limit (.08% for drivers over 21, .02% for drivers under 21 and .04% for individuals operating a commercial vehicle).

You must submit a hearing request to the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) within 10 business days—or your license will automatically be suspended 30 days after your initial arrest.

Our law firm handles administrative license suspension appeals on a regular basis, and can submit a 10-day letter on your behalf so you can fight for your continued ability to drive.

Choosing an Attorney: Public Defender or Private Counsel?

Because a DUI conviction carries the possibility of jail time, Athens-Clarke County municipal court allows individuals facing a DUI offense to work with a public defender when fighting their charges. However, to be eligible for representation by a public defender, your income must fall below a certain level.

To apply for representation by the public defender, you must submit an application to the Office of the Public Defender at 440 College Avenue, Suite 220, Athens, GA 30601 and pay a $50 application fee.

While you may have that option available for you, many public defenders are busy juggling hundreds of cases at one time. This means they may not have the time or resources necessary to investigate your case and uncover evidence favorable to your defense. A private law firm will have the time to deliver personalized attention and devote their resources to preparing your case for trial.

Completing a Clinical Evaluation

A clinical evaluation is often required as part of the sentence for a DUI conviction; however, you can undergo this evaluation after being charged with drunk driving. Completing this early shows the judge and prosecution that you are taking your case seriously (if found guilty or if your case is reduced to a lesser offense), and could help when negotiating a plea deal.

During the clinical evaluation, a certified professional will ask you a number of questions regarding your relationship with alcohol and usage. Generally, this assessment will take an hour. Once it is complete, the counselor will determine whether or not you can benefit from alcohol treatment.

Attend DUI School

Another proactive step you can take to help your case is to attend DUI School. During your classes, you will learn about the consequences of driving under the influence as well as the impact it has on the community. This is a 20-hour course, which may be completed over a weekend or a few days.

Completing DUI School while fighting your charges is not an admission of guilt by any means. Much like undergoing the clinical evaluation, this allows you to demonstrate to the court that you are doing something about your case in the event of conviction or charge reduction.

Athens-Clarke County Information

If you are arrested for DUI within Athens, you may be sent to either the Municipal Court of Athens-Clarke County or the State Court, depending on your charges and location of the offense.

The Municipal Court is located at 325 E. Washington St, Suite 170, Athens, GA 30601 and is presided over by Judge Leslie Spornberger Jones.

The State Court is located at 325 E. Washington St, Suite 425, Athens, GA 30601 and is presided over by Judge Charles E. Auslander, III and Chief Judge Ethelyn N. Simpson.

Athens also has a DUI Court, for individuals charged with a second DUI in 10 years or third in their lifetime. Defendants in this court will be placed on the “fast track” calendar, which means the case is prioritized.

To graduate, participants are required to go through five phases, consisting of an orientation, extended assessment, treatment, relapse prevention and continuation of case. Those who successfully complete the requirements can have mandatory conditions, such as jail, greatly reduced.

Contact an Athens DUI Attorney Today

DUI cases involve a great deal of evidence, including the police officer’s observations, your performance on the field sobriety tests and the results of the breathalyzer or blood testing.

While some lawyers may not have the background to know that there are many known issues with all of these forms of evidence, our legal team has undergone extensive training on how these tests are conducted and the arguments that can be used to challenge the officer’s observations.

For example, most arrests in Athens-Clarke County are video taped from the police car. We know how to get copies of these tapes that may contain crucial evidence to support you in court.

When asked about the secret to our track record of securing the reduction, dismissal or acquittal of our clients’ charges, the answer is easy: preparation.

Your Athens DUI Lawyer will investigate and prepare each case as though it is going to trial. This allows us to uncover facts that can be used to get the case dismissed, or to negotiate a successful plea bargain with the prosecution.