Jim Yeargan: So if you only have one DUI conviction in a five-year period … And this is not taking into account administrative license suspensions, because there are many different suspensions you can deal with. But as far as the actual conviction, it’s 120-day license suspension. And there’s a limited permit for work, school, doctor’s appointments, things of that nature. As far as the actual court punishment goes, you’re generally looking at 40 hours of community service, a fine of anywhere from $300 to $1,000. Again, that varies from court to court. Roughly, you’re looking at, most jurisdictions, $300, maybe a $700 fine. They add surcharges on. You’re not being punished for going to court. Those are just State fines and fees you pay. Even if you pay a speeding ticket, you pay those. But on a DUI, they’re so high they can actually double the fine.
Jim Yeargan: So on a $500 fine, you usually end up paying a total of about $1,000. You have to go to DUI school, which takes a weekend. You usually have to do a drug and alcohol evaluation, which takes about an hour. And then you have to do 12 months of probation. And most judges will let that probation become non-reporting once you complete everything, which means you don’t have to check in with them once a month, but other judges won’t. So you may have to make a trip once a month to the probation officer, just to check in, so they can take a look at you. They may drug test you. Usually, you have to pay about $49 a month while you’re reporting to the probation, so that’s an extra expense.
BIM: Certainly not something that anybody would want to go through.
Jim Yeargan: So the next look back period is a 10-year look back period. And this is different from the suspensions, but if you have more than one DUI in Georgia within a 10-year period, the fines and penalties really increase. The fines go up several hundred dollars, but the community service goes up from 40 hours to 240 hours. There’s a minimum requirement of three days in jail, and that’s if you can get the minimum. Some judges like to give 10, some even like to give 30 days in jail. And then you still have to do the DUI school, drug and alcohol evaluation. A lot of judges will make you do a MADD Victim Impact Panel, which is a two-hour lecture put on by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, you go to one time. Some judges require AA, depending on how many DUIs you have in that 10-year period.
Jim Yeargan: And then, of course, if you have more than one DUI in the five-year period, if you’re really cramming them in there, you start getting into ignition interlock devices put on your car. That’s the device you have to blow into before your vehicle will start. So when people start getting them within the 5 and 10-year look back period, the punishments skyrocket. They build up exponentially. And then the final look back period is over a lifetime. And so if you had a DUI 20 years ago, the prosecutor, the judge can still take that into account. Now, that’s not as serious. There are no, basically, mandatory minimums on lifetime look backs. So once you’re outside of that 10-year period, there’s not a minimum sentence that the court has to give you, such as the three days in jail and the 240 hours of community service. Older DUIs, they usually don’t up the punishment, but some jurisdictions do. Some judges will. So you have to be careful, even if you have a DUI that’s 15, 25 years old.
BIM: Well, you know, it’s an extremely serious thing to do, to drink and drive. And many lives are lost because people have chosen to do that. But you know, there are the cases where, you know, one drink or one little mistake really can put an interruption in somebody’s life. So what can you do to prevent some of these things going on the record?
Jim Yeargan: Absolutely. Again, it’s a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, we get the charges totally dismissed. We’ve done that many, many times, where even the moving violation gets thrown out. And I say even the moving violation because usually, when you take these cases to trial, you may beat the DUI charge, but the individual is usually convicted of speeding or failure to maintain lane, which is on the video. You know, those are usually hard to beat because the proof is right there. It did happen. But many times, we have been able to get the whole case dismissed. Sometimes, we’re able to get the DUI reduced to a lesser charge; usually reckless driving, which sounds worse than it is, but in Georgia, that’s just like a fast speeding ticket. It’s just a regular moving violation.
Jim Yeargan: And in those cases, you still pay a fine, and do community service, go to DUI school. You basically get a DUI sentence. But the trade-off is, you don’t get your license suspended. You don’t get the DUI on your driving history. And the big part is, you can tell future employers or your current employer that you are not convicted of a DUI. And in some instances, we can even get it lower than reckless driving, just get it to the moving violation; sometimes, you know, running a stop sign or speeding. So it really depends on a case-by-case basis, but if we can’t get the case totally dismissed, we do always try to get it reduced.
BIM: And as far as somebody being caught and having some foreknowledge of what to do or what not to do, is there anything that they can say or prevent from saying that’s going to help our their case?
Jim Yeargan: Sure. Again, I tell everyone that they have to make this decision for themselves when it happens. But then I say, if I were in the position where I’d been drinking, and I get pulled over, I would refuse the field sobriety test. They’re voluntary. They can’t force you to follow their finger with your eyes, or to walk the line, or to stand on one leg. I would not take any breath, blood, or any chemical test. Just refuse them. Don’t admit to drinking. Be polite. Just say, “Yes, sir. No, sir. Yes, ma’am. No, ma’am.” Don’t talk too much. Just answer their questions shortly. And again, if they ask, you know, “Why don’t you want to do these tests,” you can say, “Well, I met a lawyer once, and he said it’s best not to do this.”