So you never thought you'd be in this position, but after you get arrested for driving under the influence in Georgia, you may not know who to call. Do you call a lawyer? Do you need a lawyer? Can you just get a public defender to handle your case? Before you make these decisions, there are some important things to consider.
Public Defender for Georgia DUI
The police may have said you have the right to an attorney, but you may not have the right to a public defender (PD). An attorney will be appointed to you only if you cannot afford an attorney. In Georgia that means you have to be considered indigent as according to the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Getting a public defender involves more than just telling a judge that you can't afford an attorney. You have to fill out an affidavit listing the vehicles, property, and money you have. You have to give information about your job, salary, and family details. Then of all things, you may have to pay $50 to apply for a public defender. Only then will a judge decide whether you are eligible for a PD for your DUI case.
If you aren't eligible for a public defender, you'll have to hire a lawyer, or represent yourself. Hiring a lawyer may seem expensive, but when you compare it to all the costs associated with a DUI conviction, it may start to seem more like a bargain. A DUI conviction even for a first-time DUI can include:
- Suspended Georgia Driver's License for up to a year;
- Mandatory 40 hours of community service;
- Mandatory DUI school;
- Mandatory substance abuse evaluation;
- Jail time from 1 day to one year;
- Fines and fees up to $1,000; and
- Higher insurance premiums for about 3 years.
All those costs start to add up. Imaging asking for rides, or taking taxis or buses anywhere you need to go. Even after you qualify for getting your license back, you'll have to pay about $200 to get it reinstated. All that time spent in community service, DUI school, and at counseling sessions is time that you won't be able to work, and you may even have to take time off of work. On top of that, you'll be responsible for paying for all those programs. Finally, higher insurance premiums will kick in when your insurance company sees that you got a DUI. This can last for years, and can add up to thousands of dollars.
What is a Public Defender?
A public defender is a lawyer. They have to go to law school, pass the bar exam, and keep up to date with their eligibility like other lawyers. However, your PD for a DUI case may have little specialized training in handling DUI cases. Public defenders can handle all kinds of cases. On the same day they are standing before the judge in a DUI case, they may have a domestic violence case later that day. While many PDs are decent lawyers, they may be handling lots of cases at once, and they may be difficult to get ahold of if you have a question.
Alternatively, an Atlanta DUI lawyer who handles only DUI-related cases will be up to date on the latest developments in DUI law. The law changes all the time, based on new cases and new court decisions, and with new laws going into effect. Even the technology behind DUI cases is changing all the time. There are advancements in the types of chemical detecting devices used by the police that DUI lawyers need to be fully aware of. DUI lawyers often undergo the same types of training in field sobriety testing that the police do, so that they'll know how to challenge the police officer's testimony.
Public Defenders Don't Handle Your Administrative License Suspension Hearing
A public defender may be able to represent you for your criminal trial, but they won't deal with the license suspension. A DUI will result in two types of proceedings: criminal and administrative. The administrative process is handled through the Department of Driver Services (DDS). The DDS will only give you 30 days after your arrest to challenge your license suspension. They won't even wait until after the court finds you guilty or innocent, and if you want your license back after a suspension, you'll have to pay for it.
A private DUI lawyer will not only be able to defend you at an Administrative License Suspension (ALS) hearing, but they will also file the 30-day hearing letter so that your license suspension doesn't automatically happen. They can fight for you to keep your license at the hearing, so that your entire life doesn't have to be disrupted while you are waiting to take care of your DUI.
Exclusively DUI Defense Lawyer
Now that you have the information about the differences between a public defender and a DUI lawyer who exclusively defends their clients facing DUI charges, carefully consider your options. Unfortunately, you don't have the benefit of time on your side. The Georgia DDS only gives you 30 days after your DUI to try and keep your driver's license. If there is still time, you can fight your license suspension and keep your full driving privileges. Your Georgia DUI lawyer will file for a hearing, and represent you at both the ALS hearing, and during the criminal trial. If you have been charged with a DUI anywhere in Georgia, give the office of Lawson and Berryy a call, so you can keep your license to drive, and stay out of jail.