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Is Jail Time Required on a First DUI in Georgia?


Whether or not more jail time is required on a first DUI in Georgia is by far and away the biggest concern most people have. Speak to 5 lawyers about your situation and chances are a few of them will tell you something like, “well, you are facing up to a year in jail on this.” So, is that just a scare tactic, or are you really facing a year in jail on a first DUI??

You can breathe- the overwhelming chances are that you are NOT facing a year in jail over a DUI charge, especially if you case is handled the right way. But, let’s discuss why.

In Georgia, all traffic offenses, from speeding to DUI, are technically misdemeanor crimes. This does not mean that a speeding ticket appears on your background report or criminal record, but it does mean that under Georgia law the offenses all carry up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 base fine. This technical definition is how so many cons lawyers get away with telling a prospective client that they could be facing a year in jail on their charge. Without hesitation, I can say I’ve never seen someone go away for a year on a first DUI conviction in the State of Georgia.

How Much Jail is Required for my DUI, Then?

The reality is that on a first DUI, the Court has the power to do away with all but 24-hours of jail time. This is where having an attorney who knows your local court system comes into play, because there is all sorts of fancy math that can be done here. Ideally, courts- that is judges and prosecutors- will simply agree to “time served” as to the jail portion of the sentence. This just means that whatever time you did when you were originally arrested for DUI will count as, and satisfy, the 24 hour requirement. However, some courts want 24 hours fresh, usually giving you credit for whatever time you did upon your arrest. Even still, some courts say 48 hours, in order to account for the jail giving you 2 for 1, or goodtime credit. And finally, some courts will hold you to every minute of the minimum 24 (or 12) hour requirement. The reality is this can leave some people going back in for what amounts to less than 5 hours. Usually, in this situation, the jail will not even take you beyond their intake and processing area, from what I have been told.

Does COVID Change Jail Time in DUIs?

Since the COVID pandemic got rolling in early 2020, we have seen Courts more willing to credit people with the required minimum jail time, without actually requiring their return to the jail. Obviously, this is mostly to mitigate the risk that people turning themselves back in for a relatively short amount of time don’t infect a whole area of the jail with COVID. So, yes, discuss whether or not resolving your case as expeditiously as possible may make the court more willing to credit you with “time served” in light of the pandemic. (As of the time of this article’s publication, August 2021, Georgia ICUs and ER Depts. are again approaching full capacity due to the Delta variants increasing numbers…)  OCTOBER 2022 UPDATE: Many court systems are still more willing than pre-COVID to honor time-served calculations to avoid a first DUI offender returning to jail- as long as it is agreed to by the prosecuting attorney.

Is there a Jail Penalty for Trial in My DUI?

Another very valid concern is whether or not you would be punished for taking your DUI case to trial. This phenomenon, often called a “trial tax” or “rent” is a reality. Courts justify it by often claiming (a) if you go to trial, then (by definition) you did not accept any responsibility and (b) the Court is given a more whole picture of the case and this can sway their decision on whether or not, and how much, jail is appropriate. In DUI cases, some judges also claim a trial simply takes away their power to suspend all but the 24 hours, therefore leaving you with a 10-day required jail sentence. So, is there a jail penalty? The answer is KNOW YOUR JUDGE. Even then, judges, their opinions, and sentencing practices do change. But, making an informed decision about the chances of success and balancing that with any jail time risk after trial will certainly help you understand and reach the best outcome for your particular situation. In Forsyth and surrounding counties, we’ve seen anything from no jail to 10 days on a first DUI, after trial. While this shouldn’t be at the forefront of your mind if you’re not about to walk into a trial, it’s worth having this conversation with your lawyer early on.

Do I Have to Plead Guilty to DUI?

No. Not at all. Defending a DUI case successfully requires a multifaced, informed approach. No two cases are alike, and with some exceptions, courts will analyze each case individually and on the merits, as much as anything else. Our home office is in Forsyth County and without hesitancy, we can say that there is no “policy” or standard procedure for a first DUI to be reduced to reckless driving, or otherwise. Each case takes a team effort between attorney and client, as well as a dissection of their case, and realistic goals and expectations by all parties. People ask about our success rate; the answer is: define what is successful in your situation. Is accepting guilt to reckless driving successful? Is going to trial and going all or nothing success? Is pleading to DUI, without further jail and at least keeping some driving privileges success? No 2 situations are the same- and we will work with you to achieve true success in your case.

Why Zeliff | Watson for my DUI Defense?

Both Peter and Evan devote a vast majority of their practice to defending DUI charges in Forsyth County and surrounding courts like Johns Creek, Cumming, Milton and Alpharetta, amongst others. They know the ins and outs of lawful stops and how to attack the basis for your detention, field sobriety testing, your Constitutional Rights throughout these steps, implied consent law and appeals, and finally- the local court system.

If you are sick of speaking to attorneys telling you that you face “a year in jail” and fail to give you any real roadmap to success, call us. We are here 24/7.

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