Licensed drivers in Georgia face a mandatory suspension of their driver licenses if they are arrested or have been in a serious accident if a chemical analysis (such as a Breathalyzer) shows they operated a vehicle above the legal limit for driving under the influence of alcohol, or if they refuse to submit to a chemical test that would determine their blood alcohol level.
Georgia law, however, permits a driver whose license has been suspended for that reason to appeal the suspension at an Administrative License Suspension Hearing (ALS Hearing). In this blog article, we discuss the law governing ALS Hearings and what happens at them.
About Automatic DUI-Related License Suspension in Georgia
Let’s start with the basics of Georgia’s laws on driving under the influence and license suspensions.
Driving under the influence is illegal.
It is illegal in Georgia to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicating substances. The blood alcohol content level at which adult drivers are deemed “under the influence” is 0.08 percent. For minors the level is 0.02 percent, and for an adult operating a commercial vehicle it is 0.04 percent. But Georgia law also provides that no matter what a driver’s blood alcohol content is, it is also a violation of the law to drive under the influence of alcohol “to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive.” In other words, the alcohol levels above establish unsafe operation as a matter of law, but even lesser amounts of alcohol could still subject a person to a conviction for driving under the influence.
Every driver is deemed to have given “implied consent” to a chemical test.
Anyone operating a motor vehicle in the state who has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, or who has been involved in a traffic accident “resulting in serious injuries or fatalities,” is deemed, under Georgia law, to have given implied consent to a chemical test to determine if they drove under the influence. That means that although you can refuse a chemical test in those circumstances, you will face penalties for doing so, as discussed below.
License suspension is automatic and doesn’t wait for a conviction.
Georgia law states that a driver who is arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, or who is in a serious accident, and whose chemical tests results show a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, faces a mandatory suspension of driving privileges. The length of the suspension is one, three, or five years, depending upon how many prior suspensions the person has had within the prior five years. Similarly, if a person in that situation refuses to take a chemical test, then the person’s license is automatically suspended for one year.
These suspensions happen before the person arrested or involved in a serious accident has actually been convicted of driving under the influence. Instead, when it appears that a person qualifies for suspension under the provisions above, a law enforcement officer takes physical possession of the driver’s license, and issues a temporary, 45-day license in its place along with notice of intent to suspend the driver’s license.
The suspended driver may have the right to apply for an ignition interlock device limited driving permit.
A person whose driver license has been suspended for the first time as described above, or for the second time (after that person’s license has been suspended for at least 120 days), and who otherwise meets certain qualifications, may apply for an ignition interlock device limited driving permit. This permit, if issued, restores the person’s ability to drive, but comes with special restrictions. Issuance of an ignition interlock device limited driving permit waives a person’s right to an administrative license suspension hearing. Ask an attorney if applying for an ignition interlock device limited driving permit is advisable in your case.
About Administrative License Suspension Hearings
A person whose driver license has been suspended in Georgia for one of the above reasons, and who has not applied for and received an ignition interlock device limited driving permit, has 30 days from the date of the suspension to request an administrative hearing to appeal. To make the request, the suspended driver should submit this form to the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) along with a $150 fee (no partial fee payments). Upon receipt of the form and fee, as well as the report from the law enforcement officer who seized the person’s license, the DDS will forward the request to the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH), which will schedule a hearing and give the suspender driver notice of its time, date, and place by mail.
The hearing, which is conducted under the provisions of the Georgia Administrative Procedure Act, addresses only four issues:
- Whether (a) the law enforcement officer had reasonable grounds to believe the person operated a moving motor vehicle while under the influence and was lawfully placed under arrest for driving under the influence; or (b) the person was involved in a motor vehicle accident or collision resulting in serious injury or fatality;
- Whether at the time of the request for the test or tests the officer informed the person of the person’s implied consent rights and the consequence of submitting or refusing to submit to such test;
- Whether (a) the person refused the test; or (b) the tests showed the person’s blood alcohol content was above the legal limit; and
- Whether the tests were properly administered by a trained operator using working equipment.
Within five days of the conclusion of the hearing, the hearing officer will issue a decision whether to overturn or sustain the suspension. If the officer sustains the suspension, then the suspended driver has the right to appeal to state court.
Do You Need a Lawyer for a Driver’s License Suspension Hearing?
In a word, YES, for at least two reasons. First, the issues discussed at the hearing may also bear upon your guilt or innocence on the criminal charge of driving under the influence. Having a lawyer by your side when that is the case is essential to protect your rights and to help you avoid making a mistake that could prove costly to your freedom. Second, the hearing is similar in some ways to a court proceeding, and most people need a lawyer to help guide them through that process to make their case as clearly and soundly as possible.
If you face DUI charges, hire a lawyer who knows the ins-and-outs of Georgia’s driver license suspension procedures, and can help protect your rights and freedoms. Contact Schnipper Law, P.C., today at (404) 545-5845 or write to us online.