Georgia’s DUI Laws
Georgia’s DUI laws are far from lenient. The state ledgers treat the terms “DUI” and “DWI” as roughly synonymous: both terms refer to driving a vehicle while impaired by a chemical substance.
As with other states, DUI penalties in Georgia are determined by the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC). Penalties are charged depending on your BAC and the number of previous DUI convictions, and range from fines to jail time, community service and education – but all offenders can be assured of a suspended driver license.
A driver’s BAC is normally measured by a standard breath test, but can also be determined and verified through a urine or blood sample. Drivers with a tested BAC of 0.08% automatically receive a DUI, but a BAC of less does not save you from evaluation. If the officer determines through observation that your ability to drive is impaired by alcohol, that is reason enough for a DUI arrest.
What if you refuse to consent to a BAC test? A refusal is within your rights, but it is not recommended. Refusing a BAC test only likely to make matters worse. In order to encourage citizens to comply with the collection of chemical evidence of intoxication, Georgia’s law of implied consent (known as the Administrative License Suspension Law) states that refusal of the BAC test can result in suspension of your driver license for a period of one year.
Driving under the influence isn’t just about driving drunk or high on illegal substances. Legally prescribed substances such as pain medications and medicines that can cause drowsiness or euphoria, can impair your driving ability. These are also subject to testing. Again, if the officer determines that your ability to drive is impaired by use of any chemical substance, you could be arrested.
Penalties imposed by Georgia courts depend on both the level of intoxication and the number of previous convictions, particularly DUI convictions. If your BAC was lower than the maximum 0.08%, the judge may suspend or probate part of the required penalty (usually jail time or community service time), but this is always dependent on the circumstances of the particular offense, and even the most lenient determination will result in at least 24 hours in jail.
If you’ve never been convicted of a DUI before, you will be charged with a misdemeanor and your license will be revoked for a period of one year. In addition, you will receive a fine of at least $300 and up to $1,000, as well as imprisonment of no less than 10 days and up to 12 months. (People who registered a BAC of less than 0.08% may see less jail time depending on the leniency of the judge and the circumstances and nature of the arrest). First offenders can further expect the following penalties:
- Completion of the Risk Reduction Program: a state substance abuse intervention program.
- A minimum of 40 hours’ community service.
- Up to 12 months’ probation, less time served.
If you have received your second conviction within five years it also counts as a misdemeanor, but your fine amount rises, as does your driving penalty. You will be fined a minimum of $600 and a suspension of your license for a period of three years. Prison time will be a minimum of 90 days up to 12 months and you will also have to complete the Risk Reduction Program. In addition, you can expect the following penalties:
- Medical observation and evaluation, with the intent of determining whether you need to be enrolled in an alcohol treatment program. After the evaluation, if it is determined that you require treatment, you will have to complete the treatment program.
- 12 months’ probation, less time served.
Your third DUI counts as a misdemeanor but is upgraded to a more severe conviction known as a “high and aggravated misdemeanor.” The fine amount is increased to at least $1,000 and up to $5,000, and your license will be revoked for no less than five years. As with first and second-time sentences, you will have to complete the Risk Reduction Program. Your minimum prison time increases to at least 15 days, with a minimum of 120 days to 12 months. You are not likely to get any breaks for a third DUI offense. The following penalties also apply:
- At least 30 days of community service
- Completion of a substance abuse treatment program depending on clinical evaluation.
- 12 months’ probation – exclusive of time served.
It’s a good idea not to drive drunk in any state, and Georgia’s tough DUI laws are on their way to becoming even tougher. In April, 2013, the Georgia senate passed a bill that requires second-time DUI offenders to complete a mandatory substance abuse program, as well as installing an ignition/interlock device in their vehicles. Being smart and spending the extra money on a taxi or relying on a friend is the best way to go when you’ve had a few too many in Georgia.