The Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department takes DUI seriously. Georgia's second largest county, Gwinnett ranks in the top five in the state with over 2,000 drunk driving arrests per year. A big reason for Gwinnett County's success in apprehending drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs is the Gwinnett County DUI Task Force. The DUI Task Force's main responsibility is to prevent serious injury or fatal vehicle accidents by identifying and arresting drivers who choose to operate their vehicles under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The Gwinnett County DUI Task Force was lauded for its efforts by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), who awarded the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department "State Agency of the Year" in 2010.
Gwinnett County Nighthawks
In addition to the Gwinnett County DUI Task Force, the Georgia Department of Public Safety's Nighthawks DUI Task Force also patrols Gwinnett County in an effort to locate and detain drunk drivers. The Nighthawks Task Force is funded by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety. The Nighthawks are the self-proclaimed most highly trained DUI law enforcement officers.
Police Officers, Deputy Sheriff's & State Troopers: Gwinnett County Roads Are Patrolled Heavily
Whether you are passing through downtown Lawrenceville, are on your way back from Atlanta on I-285, or are in Lilburn on the Ronald Reagan Parkway, you should always be aware that well-trained, highly motivated police officers all over Gwinnett County are trying to identify "less safe" drivers who are operating their vehicles under the influence of drugs (illegal and/or prescription) or alcohol. They want to make DUI arrests.
What Determines Whether Or Not A Gwinnett County Deputy or Police Officer Will Stop A Motorist?
In order to stop a vehicle, a Gwinnett County Sheriff's deputy (or any police officer, for that matter) must identify a moving violation committed by the driver. If a driver is driving above the posted speed limit, is driving too slowly, has failed to maintain his or her lane, has made an illegal U-turn, or has violated Georgia traffic law in any way, the police officer has probable cause to stop the vehicle.
While many drivers think that they have a five to ten mile per hour cushion above the speed limit, or that they won't get pulled over if they change lanes without signaling -- and for the most part they are right -- driving one mile over the posted speed limit or simply touching the center line or fog line can get a driver pulled over and questioned.
Probable Cause: The Reason for the Stop
The United States Constitution requires that the officer have an articulable reason to make a traffic stop. If a police officer makes a stop without a clear reason for doing so, a judge can rule the stop invalid. For this reason, the police officer's pursuit of the driver, along with his or her interaction with the motorist are often recorded on video.
What Happens During a Typical Traffic Stop?
Step One: Visual Assessment
Once a police officer has stopped the motorist for an alleged moving violation, he or she will approach the vehicle and conduct a visual assessment of the vehicle and its content. Before even speaking to the driver, the officer will likely look through the windows of the vehicle to determine how many passengers are in the car, and if there are any potential threats to his or her safety. The officer will also look for any potentially illegal items in plain view.
Items that often get drivers into trouble before they have even spoken to an officer include:
- Open containers of alcohol
- Prescription pill bottles (especially if they are not prescribed to the driver)
- Marijuana or other illegal drugs
- Rolling papers
- Spilled liquids
- Beer cans or bottles
Although the officer does not have the right under the United States Constitution to conduct an unreasonable search of the vehicle, any evidence that the officer may encounter in his or her plain view is admissible and will likely be used against a driver in court.
Step 2: Brief Conversation: Watch What You Say
Once the police officer has approached the driver's side door, he or she will likely conduct a brief conversation with the driver. The officer will probably lead off with the reason for the traffic stop. As discussed, the officer needs a reason to stop a vehicle, so he or she will articulate that reason to the driver in an effort to a) inform the driver that they have committed a specific moving violation, and b) cover themselves from any potential accusations for not following protocol.
It is common for the audio and video evidence from the stop to be recorded by the police officer, so what he or she says to a motorist is as much for the officer's own benefit as it is the driver's.
The next step will be for the officer to ask for the driver's license and proof of insurance documents. At this point, he or she may return to the patrol vehicle to communicate with the dispatch operator. If, however, the officer suspects that a driver may have been drinking, he or she may try to engage the driver in a prolonged conversation.
The officer may make it seem as though he or she is trying to make polite conversation, but there is a motive behind the methods. Questions like "Where are you coming from?" or "Where are you going?" are made in an effort to allow the driver to make potentially incriminating statements against himself or herself.
Statements Can Cause Suspicion
While answers like "coming from happy hour" or "headed to a craft beer event" are not in and of themselves incriminating statements, they do arouse suspicion in the officer. Of course, many officers will simply ask, "have you been drinking tonight, sir?" or some sort of variant like, "how much have you had to drink tonight?"
Don't Admit To Drinking and Driving
We would never recommend that a driver admit that he or she has been drinking. Oftentimes, however, even if a driver denies drinking, the officer will claim to "smell the strong odor of alcohol" coming from the person's breath or from the car. The Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department seems to employ officers with particularly well-trained noses. If the officer brings up that he or she suspects that a driver has been drinking, or if a driver admits to drinking that night, the driver should expect to be asked to submit to field sobriety tests.
Step 3: DUI Field Sobriety Tests
Gwinnett County police officers want suspects for DUI to take field sobriety tests because, in a sense, they are designed to induce failure. Field sobriety tests are scored based on a series of clues that a driver presents while executing the assigned tasks. Since there is really no way to grade the tests in a completely objective way, it is up to the officer's discretion to grade the tests as he or she sees fit. Since officers are encouraged, and sometimes even pressured, to make drunk driving arrests, it could be argued that the officer might be biased in his or her determinations of a person's passing or failing the field sobriety tests.
Three field sobriety tests are recognized as admissible in court. They are:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) -- tests for involuntary eye movements
- Walk and Turn -- tests the driver's ability to walk a straight line
- One Leg Stand -- Tests a person's ability to balance on one foot
These physical tests have been designed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be administered to driver's suspected to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drivers with certain physical ailments are at a distinct disadvantage with regards to the field sobriety tests. People with bad knees or ankles, aching backs, and neck issues (just to name a few) will always have difficulty standing on one foot or walking heel to toe. These issues can lead to false positive results, which can be detrimental to a DUI defense.
Don't Take the Field Sobriety Tests
If you have an injury, you should certainly avoid field sobriety tests, but even if you are not injured, we would suggest that you strongly consider not taking them. Field sobriety tests are not required, so you cannot be punished for refusing to submit to them. We believe that the tests are not reliable because they are testing a driver's coordination and physical ability, either of which could be hindered by something other than alcohol or drugs. The tests are designed to make participants look drunk as a way to corroborate police officers' accounts of the events.
Upon issuing a driver's license, the state of Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) requires residents to sign a document called the "implied consent" stipulation. This document specifies that anyone who is issued a license by the state of Georgia agrees to allow law enforcement to request a test of the driver's blood, breath, or urine if a motorist is arrested for DUI. If a driver refuses to agree to these tests, their Georgia driver's license can be suspended.
How Can a Gwinnett County DUI Affect My Driver's License?
Whether you are a Georgia resident or not, a DUI will impact your driver's license. A DUI charge may result in a license suspension for up to one full year. If you have prior DUIs, the suspension can be for much longer.
If you are charged with DUI and your blood alcohol content (BAC) registers over .08 within three hours of driving, or you refuse a state administered chemical test of your blood, breath or urine, Georgia law requires the police to issue a Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) Form 1205 to the driver.
The 1205 issuance triggers certain events:
- the form becomes your de facto Georgia driver's license
- it notifies the driver of the officer's intention to suspend his or her privileges
- the document affirms that the officer had valid grounds to arrest you for DUI
Out-of-State Driver's License
If you have an out-of-state driver's license, the 1205 becomes your valid driver's license. If, for example, your driver's license was issued by the state of Massachusetts, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas or California, the 1205 remains your driver's license, even when you return to your home state. Depending on the circumstances, however, your home state may issue you a new driver's license.
If you were issued a 1205 and you have a non-Georgia driver's license, you should ask the proper authorities in your home state (usually the Department of Motor Vehicles -- DMV) how it will treat a Georgia suspension. Every state has its own protocol for treating out-of-state suspensions for a DUI charge.
The 10-Day Letter
A driver must submit an administrative appeal with the Georgia Department of Driver Services, commonly known as a “10-day letter,” in order to maintain his or her driving privileges. Even non-Georgia license holders must submit their appeal with the Georgia Department of Driver Services. In the appeal, the defendant must request an administrative hearing and allege that the arresting officer made certain procedural errors during the traffic stop and arrest.
Follow our warning: failure to submit a 10-day letter can result in a one year license suspension. Failure to send in the appeal can also keep a driving permit from being issued. Many drivers, unfortunately, fail to file the appeal and receive a license suspension. That suspension is then reported by the state of Georgia to the motor vehicles departments around the country so that the other states are aware of the suspension and can act accordingly.
The ALS Hearing
The ALS hearing is one of the most important steps toward protecting your driving privileges. The hearings are conducted by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who is employed by the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings. An ALS hearing differs from other legal proceedings in that the ALJ makes all legal and factual decisions, as opposed to factual determinations being made by a jury.
Use the ALS Hearing to Negotiate with the Arresting Officer
An ALS hearing often affords the attorney an opportunity to speak with the arresting officer about the traffic stop. Frequently, this valuable information can be used as leverage in negotiations with the prosecutor.
Gwinnett County, GA Basic DUI Information -- Who are the Prosecutors?
Under state law, most Gwinnett DUI cases are heard in Gwinnett County Recorder's Court. Located in the Gwinnett County Justice and Administration Center, the court's address is: 75 Langley Drive, Lawrenceville, GA 30046.
The Gwinnett County Solicitor's Office (the Prosecutors)
The Gwinnett County Solicitor's Office, led by Solicitor General Rebecca Szabo, prosecutes DUI cases in Gwinnett Recorder's Court. The Gwinnett Solicitor's Office is a full-time prosecutorial office, which employs prosecutors, investigators and support staff. The Solicitor's Office also handles all State misdemeanor crimes in State Court, as well as all County Ordinance violations in Recorder's Court. The prosecutor will negotiate a plea with the DUI defendant's attorney, and will present evidence to a judge and jury if the case is put to trial.
What Do Prosecutors Look For When They Make Decisions?
DUI cases in Gwinnett County can be assigned to many prosecutors within the Solicitor's office. The prosecutors and their assistants review the police report, watch the incident video (if one exists), and will interview any relevant witnesses. As Gwinnett County DUI lawyers, we know that prosecutors look for some of the following evidence:
- BAC (blood-alcohol content): This is usually measured by a Breathalyzer or blood test.
- Accident: Was there a car accident?
- Prior DUIs: Has the driver been charged with DUI or is this the first offense?
- Driving History: Has the defendant been a responsible driver in the past?
- Criminal Record: Are there other arrests on the defendant's record?
- Driver's Interaction with the Police Officer: Was the driver respectful or disorderly?
Is A DUI A Felony?
Most DUIs are charged as misdemeanors. Some cases, including a fourth DUI offense within ten years can result in a felony conviction, as can a DUI in which a person is seriously injured. Felonies typically command harsher punishments such as, increased incarceration time and steeper fines, because they are considered more serious than misdemeanor crimes.
Gwinnett County DUI Court - An Alternative Option
The Gwinnett County DUI Court program is a three phase intervention program, which lasts for a minimum of twelve months. The program includes vocational and educational training, as well as substance abuse treatment with judicial oversight. The DUI court program is intended as a meaningful alternative to jail time. It aims to improve quality of life and reduce recidivism rates among DUI offenders. The three phases of the program include a) active treatment/early recovery, b) relapse prevention, and c) continuance of care.
The DUI Court makes decisions regarding participation in its program with input from the DUI Court Team, which consists of:
- The Defense Attorney
- DUI Court Coordinator
- Case Manager
- Surveillance Officer
- Treatment Provider
- Probation Officer
The Gwinnett County DUI Court Program Is Not For Everyone
The program is not for everyone, because it has some very strict guidelines that participants must adhere to. Participants must completely abstain from drugs and alcohol, as they are subject to mandatory random drug and alcohol screenings. Defendants in the DUI Court program are also called in for observation on a regular basis, and progress reports are issued based on the participant's ability to follow the DUI Court procedures. One's status in the DUI Court program is contingent upon strict adherence to the DUI court rules. Failure to comply with the guidelines set forth by the court will result in expulsion from the program, along with other serious ramifications, which can include jail time.
The Sherman Law Group – Your Local Gwinnett County DUI Lawyers
At the Sherman Law Group, we are non-judgmental client advocates. We believe in second chances. For many people, a DUI is an embarrassing, devastating experience. We believe that people going through a difficult period do not need lectures about their choices. What they need is straightforward advice and a results-driven approach to get them moving in the right direction. Our aim is for you to come out of the situation with the least possible negative impact. We take very seriously our reputation as "the best DUI lawyers."
William H. Sherman understands how prosecutors think. In addition to over a decade of experience as a defense attorney, Mr. Sherman has also spent time as a Senior Assistant County Attorney and an Assistant Attorney General. Attorney Valerie W. Sherman's experience as a Magistrate Judge and Assistant County Attorney have proven extremely valuable during her time as a defense attorney.
Proud of Our Reputation
Having worked on both sides -- as prosecutors and defense attorneys -- William and Valerie Sherman know how prosecutors think and understand what it takes to get the best possible results for their clients. Their reputation for success and strong relationships with prosecutors, law enforcement, and judges have made them among the most sought after DUI defense attorneys in the Metro Atlanta and North Georgia area.
We Can Help You
We can help you. As experienced Gwinnett County DUI attorneys we understand that experience, knowledge, and relationships are essential when it comes to ensuring the best possible results for our clients. When you, a friend or a loved one needs a Gwinnett County DUI lawyer, we are here for you. Call us immediately at 678-215-4106.
We have handled DUI cases in every part of Gwinnett County, including in these areas:
- Berkeley Lake
- Five Forks
- Hamilton Mill
- Mountain Park
- Peachtree Corners
- Rest Haven
- Stone Mountain
- Sugar Hill