One of the unfortunate facts about the legal system in Georgia is that the different courts have vastly different ways of doing the same thing. Even if it's just something simple, it seems like, if there are 50 courts, there are at least 45 different ways of doing it.
Unfortunately, cases for drunk driving, or driving under the influence, or DUI, are one of the things that different courts handle very differently. And, to make matters worse, DUI cases are not always simple. There are lots of tiny details that different courts can do very differently, and that make cases entirely different.
If you get arrested for DUI and your case is set to go before the Atlanta Municipal Court, then there are some things that you should be aware of.
Think of DUI cases that start in the Atlanta Municipal Court as having a double life. Like Batman and Bruce Wayne, or Superman and Clark Kent, they can get radically different, very quickly. One life of a DUI case that starts in the Atlanta Municipal Court is between arrest and the decision to go to a jury trial. Once the decision has been made to take the case to jury trial, however, the second life takes over, and everything changes.
Like other criminal charges, a DUI case starts with an arrest. You'll be driving, and get pulled over by police, who will request that you take a sobriety or a breath test, or maybe both. If you refuse the tests, or fail them, then you'll get arrested and brought to the police station.
This aspect of DUI cases is pretty universal, not just across Georgia, but across the entire U.S. However, it's one of the only consistencies in the field.
After you've been arrested, you have thirty days to request an Administrative License Suspension Hearing. If you don't make this request, then the Georgia Department of Driver Services automatically suspends your license, so it's very important to make this request. Getting an Administrative Hearing makes the Department of Driver Services show that taking away your license is proper. There are lots of arguments that a good DUI defense attorney can make to prevent this from happening.
The Administrative Hearing, however, is part of the administrative side of a DUI charge, not the criminal side. Therefore, it does not involve the courts, and runs side-by-side with the court process. However, this Hearing is a crucial step in defending against a DUI charge.
While the thirty day window for requesting an Administrative Hearing is ticking, you'll also be going through the arraignment process.
Things can be different, depending on whether you were held in jail after your arrest. If you were, then your arraignment should happen quickly, often in the next few days. If you were not held in jail, then it can take a little longer for your arraignment.
The arraignment is where you're officially told by the judge what the charges are that you'll be facing. You'll have to plead either guilty, or not guilty. You should always plead not guilty, to make the prosecutor prove that you actually were driving under the influence. Even if you later change your mind, and want to plead guilty, you can always switch down the road. You can't switch a guilty plea to a not guilty one, though.
The arraignment is little more than a formality. You might not even need to attend it, if you have an attorney go there, in your place.
Negotiations and Decisions
Following the arraignment, both your attorney and the prosecutor put together their evidence. The Atlanta Municipal Court has a policy to resolve cases or transfer them to the Fulton County State Court within 60 days, so this moves very quickly.
As the evidence gets gathered, negotiations start. The prosecutor will look at his or her case and make a plea deal. Your defense attorney will negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf, to make the deal suit you better. If you think that taking the deal is better than going to trial, you can take the plea deal and the case will end.
If you don't like the plea deals that get put on the table, you can elect to take the case to trial.
This is where DUI cases in the Atlanta Municipal Court morph into their alter-egos.
The Atlanta Municipal Court can't hold jury trials. If you want to take the case to trial, and you want the trial to be held in front of a jury, rather than just a judge, then you'll have to get your case transferred from the Atlanta Municipal Court to the Fulton County State Court.
Once in the Fulton County State Court, your case starts over. Literally. You return to the arraignment process. But that's not all. When the case starts up, again, it goes at a snail's pace. No more of this “resolve or transfer within 60 days” stuff. That's for The Flash. Instead, it can take several months, just to get arraigned, and another six to twelve months for your next court date.
Additionally, once in the Fulton County State Court, there is no possibility for a plea deal. The prosecutors there are not authorized to lower or alter the charges. Once in the State Court, you'll be going all the way to trial. This can take up to three years.
In the end, though, delays are not always a bad thing. Evidence gets lost, witnesses move and become unavailable, and your own circumstances change for the better. Sometimes, you need Batman, but other times, you need Bruce Wayne.
There are a lot of differences between a DUI case that's in front of the Atlanta Municipal Court, and one that's reached the Fulton County State Court. An experienced attorney who handles DUI cases before both of these courts knows how to use them to get the most for you. Call Lawson and Berry today to schedule a free case evaluation.