Things would be much, much easier for everyone if all of the different courts in the state of Georgia did cases in the same way. Unfortunately, they don't. Even the types of cases that they see often, like DUI (also known as drunk driving, or driving under the influence), are handled in a variety of ways by the different courts in the area. This makes it confusing, and frustrating if you've never been arrested before.
Let me walk you through what you can expect, if you get arrested for DUI and your case is set to go before the Atlanta Municipal Court.
DUI charges are the only thing that starts out the same, not just across the state of Georgia, but across the country. You'll be driving along, when you see flashing lights, and get pulled over by a policeman. They'll request that you take a sobriety or a breath test. If you refuse or fail the tests, then you'll get arrested and brought to the police station.
This is how a DUI case nearly always begins. Understandably, many people consider this the most trying time of their life, because getting arrested is embarrassing, and scary.
10-Day Window to Request an Administrative Hearing
Your arrest marks the beginning of your DUI case, and starts the time ticking for you to request an Administrative License Suspension Hearing to protect your driver's license. While this is an administrative part of a DUI charge, and therefore has nothing to do with the courts, it's still a very important of the DUI process, because it can be the difference between losing your license, and keeping it.
The Georgia Department of Driver Services wants to take your license away, if you get arrested for DUI. Unfortunately, they don't care whether you end up getting found guilty or innocent by the court – they automatically take it away after your get arrested. Requesting this Hearing within ten days is the one way to challenge them.
While the window to request an Administrative Hearing is ticking down, you will also go through the arraignment process. It's a lot to keep track of!
If your arrest for DUI included being held overnight in jail, then your arraignment should happen soon thereafter. Often, it happens within a few days. However, if you were not held in jail overnight, then there will likely be more time between the arrest and your arraignment.
The arraignment is where you'll be officially told, by the judge, that you're being charged for DUI. You'll be asked whether you want to plead guilty, or not guilty. You should always plead not guilty, to make the prosecutor prove that you actually did the crime.
Because it's little more than a formality, you might not even need to be present at your arraignment. By planning with your attorney beforehand, you can stay at home and avoid the whole court appearance.
After your arraignment, the prosecutor puts together evidence that you're guilty of DUI. Your defense attorney, on the other hand, finds all the evidence out there that you're not guilty. In the Atlanta Municipal Court, this is a frantic process, because this court has a strict policy of resolving cases, or at least transferring them to the Fulton County State Court, within 60 days.
As the evidence is gathered, it often becomes obvious what the outcome would be, if the case went to trial. If this is the case, plea bargains start to get offered by the prosecution, as they try to get what they can without taking the case all the way to trial. Your attorney will also negotiate on your behalf, to make these offers better suited for your interests. If one of plea bargain works, for you, then you can elect to take it, and the case would end.
If no acceptable plea bargain is made or negotiated for, then your DUI case will push forward for a trial. Unfortunately, this is where things get complex.
The Atlanta Municipal Court can't conduct a jury trial. While you can take a DUI case to trial there, it would have to be in front of a judge only. This is called a bench trial. If you want to invoke your right to a jury trial, however, we would have to transfer the case to the Fulton County State Court.
Once transferred to the Fulton County State Court, the case starts over, and you have to get arraigned, once again. The Fulton County State Court is also impressively slow. In can take several months just to have your arraignment, and another six to twelve months for your next court date to come up.
Additionally, prosecutors at the Fulton County State Court are not allowed to negotiate or offer plea deals. This means that, once your case gets transferred out of the Atlanta Municipal Court, you're in it for the long haul, all the way to trial. This is a long journey. If you elect to take a DUI case all the way to jury trial by transferring it to the Fulton County State Court, you can expect the entire process to take an entire three years.
While the timeframe for what seems like a simple DUI case seems extreme, there are numerous ways for it to help you. Evidence gets old, or lost, with witnesses moving away and becoming unavailable to the prosecution. Because it's up to the prosecutor to prove that you're guilty, these can help you.
All told, it's unfortunate that the DUI process in the Atlanta Municipal Court takes so long. You have a life to lead, after all, and these court appearances and the stress is making things difficult. However, the process also opens up lots of options, as well. As an experienced DUI defense attorney, I'm very familiar with the best ways to make the most of this unfortunate situation. Call my law office at (404) 816-4440.