It is easy to assume that all courts are the same, and that each and every criminal charge will be handled the same way in one court, as it is in another. Unfortunately, this is not the case. All courts have developed their own, particular way of dealing with criminal and civil cases. Charges for driving under the influence (DUI), also known as “drunk driving,” filed at the Atlanta Municipal Court are no exception. In fact, these cases, and those throughout Fulton County, are often more complex, because they start in one of the many municipal courts in the county, only to be transferred to the Fulton County State Court for a trial.
This is important, because while the DUI case is in a municipal court, there is the opportunity for your attorney to negotiate a plea with the prosecutor that protects your interests without having to take you through the stress of a trial. However, municipal courts are not able to hold a jury trial, so if it becomes clear that your case will be going to trial, it will get transferred to the Fulton County State Court, where prosecutors do not have the authority to negotiate pleas or reduce charges.
While there will be some variation in the process for your individual charge, this is what you can expect, if you have been charged for DUI in the Atlanta Municipal Court.
DUI Court Process at Atlanta Municipal Court
For the most part, DUI charges begin in much the same way, not only in the Atlanta Municipal Court and the rest of Fulton County, but also across the country. You will be driving your car when you get pulled over by a policeman, who requests that you go through sobriety and breath testing. If you refuse the tests, or fail them, then you will be arrested for DUI, and brought to the police station.
Sometimes, you will be held in jail overnight after being arrested for DUI. If this is the case, then the next step in the DUI process, the arraignment, happens quickly, often within a few days. If you were not held in jail overnight, then there will likely be more time between your arrest and your arraignment.
Regardless of whether you were held overnight in jail, you will have ten days from the day of your arrest to request an Administrative License Suspension Hearing. If you do not file a letter to request this hearing, your license will automatically be suspended by the Georgia Department of Driver Services. This process is completely independent from the municipal or state courts.
At your arraignment in the Atlanta Municipal Court, you will be officially told, by a judge, of the charges being filed against you, and you will be asked whether you want to plead guilty or not guilty. Pleading guilty skips the rest of the criminal process, and takes you right to the sentencing part. Pleading not guilty makes the prosecutor and law enforcement prove that you did the crime. Because of this, and because you can always switch a plea of not guilty to a guilty one, but not vice-versa, you should always plead not guilty at your arraignment, unless your attorney says otherwise.
After your arraignment, the prosecutor and your defense attorney are in a race to find evidence that you did, or did not, do the crime charged before the trial. This is a short, intense race in the Atlanta Municipal Court, because the court has a strict policy of having all DUI cases either resolved, or transferred to the Fulton County State Court, within 60 days. As both sides put together evidence, it often becomes clear what will likely happen, if the case were to go to trial, so the possibility of negotiating a plea deal to avoid a needless trial opens up.
The Atlanta Municipal Court, however, does not have the ability to conduct a jury trial, so if you request one, then your case will be transferred to the Fulton State County Court. Once your case is transferred, things have to start over. They also slow to a crawl. It often takes several months for the State Court to go through its own arraignment process, and another six to twelve months for your next court date to come.
If no plea deal is made after the arraignment, then the case proceeds to trial, where your defense attorney makes all of the arguments possible to show the jury that there is a reasonable doubt as to whether you committed a DUI crime. If the jury believes your defense attorney, they will acquit you of the crime, find you innocent, and you can go. If the jury does not believe your defense attorney, then they will find you guilty, and your case proceeds to sentencing, to figure out what penalties you will face.
If you get convicted at trial, then the next step is sentencing. This is where the judge, or the jury, weighs the facts that were found at trial in order to determine what penalties you will have to face. Your defense attorney will still make arguments for a lesser sentence, by pointing to mitigating factors, and by saying what penalties will be too harsh on you.
All told, this is a very long process. It can take up to three years for a case to go from arrest to trial in the Fulton County State Court.
If you have been arrested for DUI in the Atlanta area, and are going before the Atlanta Municipal Court, then hiring an experienced, knowledgeable, and local DUI defense attorney can be the best decision that you can make. Because the DUI court process throughout Fulton County is different than many others in the state, it becomes crucial that your DUI attorney be experienced in the area, and aware of the different court customs. Otherwise, you may find yourself accidentally waiving some DUI defenses that could end the harrowing and exhausting process.
Call me at my law office at (404) 816-4440. Unlike many other criminal defense attorneys, who dabble in DUI law, DUI defense is the only thing that I do. I am current on all of the developments in the field, and aware of how all of the different courts operate.