Jessica Towne, a DUI lawyer based in Gwinnett County, GA, answers readers questions in a monthly series called Ask Jessica. Here's the latest.
I just moved to Georgia from out of state. My current license is suspended because of a DWI arrest in my former state. I only have three months left on suspension. Should I apply for a GA license now or do I need to wait until my license from my home state is restored?
Do you drive on Georgia roads? Then you better know that they’ve just changed the driving laws again. Effective this July 1, it is now illegal to drive in the left hand lane (not the hov lane) and stay there when you are being over taken from the rear by another vehicle traveling faster than you.
In other words, pass on the left and then move back over. Stop hogging the left lane (or as I was taught to call it the passing lane). There are a few common-sense exceptions to this rule, such as when there is:
What happens if you move into the left lane and hang out there, forcing people to go around you on the right? Well, you my friend, are impeding the flow of traffic, justifying a police traffic stop and given a ticket. I always say, you don’t ever want to give cops any reason to stop you. Simple traffic stops have a nasty way of blowing up into something bigger. It’s how I get many cases.
So, be a nice driver, be a safe driver, and be a legal driver and stop hogging the left lane.
The Charleston Post Courier in South Carolina recently reported on the difficulty SC police have in convicting people they've arrested for DUI. The flaw, they think, is in the state's evidence requirement.
It's true that South Carolina has tough requirements before someone charged with DUI can be convicted. South Carolina requires all DUI arrests to be video recorded. That means driving, field tests and breath test all have to be captured on video.
South Carolina is the ONLY state that requires this.
The Georgia Court of Appeals told a defendant* "tough luck" the other day.
The defendant, who was arrested for possession of marijuana, less than an ounce and driving under the influence, thought he should have more time to file various motions in his case because he hadn’t hired a lawyer before his arraignment. The judge noted the defendant had EIGHT MONTHS between his arrest and his arraignment, which is surely enough time to find a lawyer. If you plead "not guilty" without an attorney, you cannot file challenges to your case 10 days after your arraignment, and neither can your future attorney.
A new online software course that allowed officers to jump to the end of a training course has been modified to no longer give credit to those who did not complete the entire training. It is unclear how many officers might have taken the speed courses.
I spend a great deal of time in court, and over the years I’ve heard many officers give testimony. I’ve also given training seminars to law enforcement. In my opinion, a well-trained officer is willing to concede the less-important details and knows how to answer questions using words that jurors are used to hearing every day. I've yet to meet this officer.
A poorly-trained officer isn't so much poorly trained, as much as a poor student. Some of us are better at certain aspects of our jobs, and we prefer some work tasks over others. I can question a poorly trained officer in court to point out that s/he didn't pay attention to details in training class, and how if s/he had been paying better attention, may have drawn a different conclusion.
If the police departments are using badly designed software that allows the officers to take the easy way out, nothing is being learned. It’s not that much different than an officer who doesn’t pay attention in class. Just cheaper and easier to track.
When you take an over the counter drug or a drug that was prescribed to you and then drink alcohol, you could unknowingly compromise your ability to drive.
One reason is due to an enzme. Your liver processes alcohol using a certain enzyme called ADH. It is responsible for breaking down some of the alcohol from a drink even before it is absorbed into the blood stream. Men naturally have more of this enzyme than women, and young men have more of it than older men. Certain drugs reduce this enzyme’s activity so that it can’t break down alcohol as it should. Drugs known to affect the enzyme include Tagamet, acetaminophen (Tylenol), Zantac, Verapamil, and Calan.
Readers of my newsletter, The Georgia Driver, know that I write a regular column, Ask Jessica. Here is the question from June 2014. You can read archived newsletters here or call my office and I'll put you on the mailling list.
Question: I was clocked going 15mph over the speed limit on Buford Highway. Since I was going so fast, do I need a lawyer or can I handle this myself?
Answer: I’m frequently asked if I can help someone with this kind of speeding ticket. I usually turn down such requests unless there are special circumstances. Instead, I tell Georgia* drivers they can save time and hundreds of dollars by handling the ticket themselves. Just:
1. Go to court yourself at the appointed day and time.
2. Say either "not guilty" or "I want to talk to the prosecutor" when your case is called.
3. Talk with the prosecutor once the judge has called all the cases.
This is the moment you’re waiting for. The prosecutor does not want a trial on another day any more than you do. Ask her to drop the speed to below 14 miles over the limit so it's not
reported to Georgia's Department of Driver Services. If she agrees, pay the fine and move on. If she doesn't agree, explain your circumstances in more detail. If she still won't budge, tell her you'd like to come back for trial– at which point you'd probably need to hire a lawyer. Keep in mind that even if the speed is reduced, the county still wants its money, so expect the fine to remain the same.
Of course, you can also hire an attorney and go to trial; but even a good attorney may not win.
*Please note: If you're licensed in another state and got a ticket while visiting Georgia, you should definitely speak to a ticket lawyer in your licensing state. Every state has its own rules when it comes to speeding.
By Jessica Towne
I’m sorry to report that science proves what most of us already suspect: you just can’t keep drinking like you’re 22 when you are 42.
The extent of alcohol's effect depends upon how much is in your blood, and how much blood you have. Alcohol is distributed through the body via the water in your bloodstream: the more water in your blood, the more diluted the alcohol will be.
Tissues rich in water, like muscle, metabolize more alcohol than do tissues rich in fat. A lean person with a greater muscle mass (and less fat) provides a larger volume in which alcohol can be distributed compared with a person who weighs the same but has a higher percentage of body fat.
In your 30s, unless you are a devoted athlete or gym rat, muscle mass starts turning into fat. It doesn't matter that you are still same size as you were 10 years ago. Muscle turning to fat is subtle. You might not even notice the change because your clothes may still fit. But if you find you can’t drink as much as you used to without feeling the effects, this might be the reason.
Incidentally, muscle to fat ratio is one reason why women of any age usually can’t drink as much as their male friends—men on average have more lean muscle mass than women.
By Jessica Towne
When a driver is arrested for the crime of DUI, the arresting officer also seizes the driver’s license and issues an immediate license suspension. The driver then has 10 business days to request an Administrative License Suspension (ALS) hearing, or the suspension becomes permanent. At the hearing, a judge decides if the officer had the right to arrest the driver and suspend the driver’s license. This is separate from the criminal trial, which deals with whether the driver is guilty of committing the crime of DUI.
Up until May 22, 2014, reaching a deal with the arresting officer to plead guilty to the crime of DUI in traffic court meant that a driver could avoid license suspension. The deal was dependent upon the officer agreeing to withdraw the suspension and upon the driver agreeing not to fight the criminal charge. The judge would rubber-stamp the agreement as a “Final Decision.” These Final Decisions were used only in traffic court, never in the criminal case.
All this changed with the new case, Flading v. State, decided May 22, when the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that a prosecutor may show the jury of the criminal trial the “Final Decision” completed at the ALS hearing, even where the driver admitted to DUI just to get his license back.
Every Final Decision states that “a copy of this final decision may be admitted into any subsequent legal proceeding involving the charge as an admission (of guilt)… in exchange for the rescission of the administrative license suspension.”
Past practice was that prosecutors, who do not attend the ALS hearings, didn’t care what happened at those hearings. Now they do.
With this new ruling, any attorney who limits his or her representation of a driver to only the ALS hearing, could actually be doing damage. It may not be worth forfeiting the right to challenge your case in a criminal court by agreeing to plead guilty to get your license back at the ALS hearing.
Unless you understand the consequences, pleading guilty at the ALS hearing is a costly way of getting a license back.