A Georgia criminal offense is categorized into two (2) different classes. A misdemeanor is a lesser crime like first offense DUI, harassment, or shoplifting. Felony DUI is a greater offense, is more serious than a misdemeanor DUI, and carries stiffer penalties like more jail time, longer probation, and longer driver’s license loss.
For both misdemeanor DUI and felony DUI offenses, the process from initial arrest to a potential trial is very much the same. One big difference is that not all GA courts have jurisdiction over DUI felony cases. This means that in general, misdemeanor drunk driving cases are resolved in a Georgia Municipal Court, while felony cases are conducted in a State Court or Superior Court. If you want to go to trial, your DUI misdemeanor case will be moved to a State Court or Superior Court.
After an Arraignment
An arraignment is always your first appearance in court after your arrest. At the arraignment, the charges against you will be read out loud, and you must enter your plea. Your choices are guilty, not guilty, and under special circumstances, nolo contendere (no contest).
You do not have to physically be in court for your arraignment. We will go in your place and enter a plea of not guilty. This begins our tenacious fight against the prosecution’s case.
While we are at the court building, we will file pre-trial motions to obtain as much of the police evidence as we can, including your breath test results, a copy of the police video, and eyewitness testimony. Most courts do not allow us to watch a copy of the arrest video in our office. We have to watch it on court premises.
If you want to attend your arraignment and also watch the video with us, we more than welcome you to do so. An engaged client is always our most successful client. As we watch the video together, we will ask you questions and write down any police errors made.
Both Misdemeanor and Felony Cases Involve Preliminary Hearings
Preliminary hearings come after the arraignment, for both misdemeanor and felony DUI cases. Depending on which court we are in, these sessions are called pre-trial motions hearings, or preliminary conference hearings. The judge, the prosecutor, your DUI lawyer, and your arresting officer are usually present for these hearings.
Our desired outcome is for the judge to grant any motion we filed with the court clerk. These include motions to exclude evidence because of a police procedural error, or a motion to dismiss your case entirely.
The State prosecutor will present oral arguments to the judge in an attempt to deny our motion, and we will counter with our own arguments for granting the motion. Usually the judge will not decide to grant or deny while everyone is gathered. It may take weeks for the judge to reach a final, binding decision. We will let you know immediately of any decisions made.
At this stage we map out our next move just like in a chess match. This is where decades of successful DUI defense experience is leveraged in your favor.
Requesting a Trial
It is usually in your best interest to avoid a trial and try to get the prosecutor to offer a plea deal. This means the State offers you a reduction in charges from DUI to reckless driving for example. Your Georgia DUI attorney is in constant negotiation with the prosecutor in an effort to reduce the charges and therefore the impending penalties you face upon a conviction.
Most of our clients never go to trial, but we have won many cases at trial by convincing a jury that the State has not proved your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Deep trial experience is a must-have for any drunk driving lawyer you interview.
One of our attorneys is a former Cobb County police officer, and he knows how to cross-examine your arresting officer and uncover any errors the officer made during your arrest.
You can opt to be tried by a jury of your peers. In a misdemeanor case, the jury is made up of six jurors. In a felony case, twelve jurors are chosen. We interview each potential juror and eliminate anyone who we determine will not be fair in their judgment.
Municipal courts in Georgia do not conduct jury trials. Only State Courts or Superior Courts are allowed to hold jury trials. So while your case may begin in Marietta Municipal Court for example, if you want a jury trial your case will be bound over to State Court of Cobb County.
Another type of trial is called a bench trial. This is where only a judge will decide your guilt or innocence. As your case progresses, we will recommend which type of trial to pursue. This is where our knowledge of each judge’s background and judicial record is critical.
Sentencing is Decided by the Judge
The severity and length of your DUI penalties upon conviction are for the judge to decide for both misdemeanor DUI and felony DUI convictions. In Georgia, a judge cannot mete out punishments that fall below mandated minimum sentencing guidelines.
For a misdemeanor conviction in Georgia, jail time is usually 24 hours, with credit for time served the night of your arrest. Felony jail time can extend up to 12 months and beyond. You can be sent to jail immediately after your trial ends, or if you have arranged a supersedeas bond, your incarceration can be delayed.
A Georgia DUI Lawyer Must Specialize in Drunk Driving Law
Georgia DUI laws for both misdemeanor and felony cases are complex and they change all the time. You must have a veteran DUI lawyer on your side who keeps up with the latest court rulings around the country, and maneuvers your case to the best possible outcome for you and your family.