Juvenile DUI in Georgia

Juvenile DUI in Georgia

In some ways, Georgia Juvenile DUI cases operate similarly to adult DUI cases. In the vast majority of DUI cases, juvenile or adult, the offense is classified as a misdemeanor (although there are some exceptions to this). The science (such as it is) is the same, and investigators rely on the same investigative techniques, such as standardized field sobriety testing. This means that a lawyer who understands Georgia DUI law is, in some ways, qualified to handle a juvenile DUI in Georgia. There are, however, some critical differences in the way that Juvenile DUI cases are handled that make it essential to hire an experienced Georgia attorney who understands not only DUI law but also Georgia juvenile law.

The Biggest Difference Between Georgia Juvenile DUI Cases and Georgia Adult DUI Cases

The most important difference between a Juvenile Court DUI in Georgia and an adult court DUI, and the one that affects the case the most is what is called the per se legal limit. Georgia DUI cases are charged either as per se or less safe. A person is usually charged with DUI per se if he or she submits to chemical testing – generally in the form of a state-administered breath test, but potentially also a blood or urine test. That chemical testing gives an indication (with arguable reliability) of the person's blood alcohol concentration or BAC. For adults, the per se legal limit has been set at 0.08 grams, because that is the limit at which the “average” adult is deemed too impaired to drive (again, this is only moderately scientific). The per se legal limit for individuals under 21 (which would, of course, encompass all individuals in juvenile court) is only 0.02 grams. This means that it is incredibly easy for juveniles to get DUI charges, even if they only had a small amount of alcohol or if they are in no way actually impaired. This difference in the per se legal limit is reflected in the Implied Consent warning that is read to individuals under 21:

“Georgia law requires you to submit to state administered chemical tests of your blood, breath, urine, or other bodily substances for the purpose of determining if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you refuse this testing, your Georgia driver's license or privilege to drive on the highways of this state will be suspended for a minimum period of one year. Your refusal to submit to the required testing may be offered into evidence against you at trial. If you submit to testing and the results indicate an alcohol concentration of 0.02 grams or more, your Georgia driver's license or privilege to drive on the highways of this state may be suspended for a minimum period of one year. After first submitting to the required state tests, you are entitled to additional chemical tests of your blood, breath, urine, or other bodily substances at your own expense and from qualified personnel of your own choosing. Will you submit to the state administered chemical tests of your blood/breath/urine under the implied consent law?”

This is the biggest difference between an adult court DUI case and a juvenile court case. However, it is far from the only one. Other differences exist at the disposition (sentencing) phase and with the license implications of a juvenile court DUI.

Penalties for a Georgia Juvenile Court DUI Adjudication

Similar to the adult system, most DUIs are classified as misdemeanors. There are exceptions for certain recidivists (individuals who have more than 3 DUIs on their records) and for people who injure others while driving under the influence.

If a child is adjudicated delinquent for a misdemeanor DUI, the judge may order any combination of the following:

  • Probation, which may be supervised or unsupervised;
  • Counseling for the child and/or the parents (including drug or alcohol counseling);
  • Completion of a high school diploma or GED program;
  • Defensive driving or Risk Reduction;
  • Restitution (if applicable);
  • A fine of up to $1,000;
  • Community service; and/or
  • Suspension of your child's driver's license, which may last until your child's 18th birthday, or prevention of your child's ability to get a driver's license until his or her 18th birthday.

Judges frequently order probation in conjunction with other conditions on this list. If the child has significant juvenile history, including at least one felony offense, the judge may also order:

  • Placement in an institution, camp, or other facility;
  • Commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice; or
  • Up to 30 days in juvenile detention.

For a juvenile felony DUI in Georgia, the judge may order anything that he or she may order for a juvenile misdemeanor DUI, but may also immediately (regardless of history) order:

  • Placement in an institution, camp, or other facility;
  • Commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice; or
  • Up to 30 days in juvenile detention.

What happens to a child's license after a Georgia Juvenile DUI adjudication?

The license implications for a Georgia Juvenile Court DUI are much more severe than an adjudication for an adult. They are also slightly more complicated.

  • For a First Juvenile DUI in 5 years if BAC was under 0.08 grams, the mandatory period of suspension is 6 months.
  • For a First Juvenile DUI in 5 years if test results were suppressed (were kept out of evidence), the mandatory period of suspension is 6 months.
  • For a First Juvenile DUI in 5 years if there was a prior license suspension resulting from a serious traffic charge, the mandatory period of suspension is 12 months.
  • For a Second Juvenile DUI in 5 years, the mandatory period of suspension is 18 months.
  • For a Third Juvenile DUI in 5 years, the license is revoked.

One important thing to keep in mind: Limited permits are not available for drivers under 21. That means that, once a juvenile's license is suspended pursuant to a DUI adjudication, there is no way to get the juvenile driving again until the suspension period has run.

There are several other requirements that must be completed prior to reinstatement of the license. First, the juvenile must complete a Drug and Alcohol Risk Reduction Program. Frequently, judges will also make this a condition of the child's probation. Second, a reinstatement fee must be paid. For a first DUI, the reinstatement fee is $210 if paid in person and $200 if paid by mail. For a second DUI adjudication, the reinstatement fee goes up to $310 if paid in person (and $300 by mail). 

An Important Note About Record Sealing

Many Georgians know that individuals with a juvenile court record can eventually have those records sealed. What they don't realize is that, in DUI cases, record sealing is not a straightforward or intuitive process.

In general, under Georgia law, juveniles can have their records sealed by the adjudicating court if:

  • Two years must elapse since the final discharge of the person,
  • Since the final discharge of the person, he or she has not been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude or adjudicated for committing a delinquent act or as a child in need of services,
  • There are no charges pending against the person; and
  • The person has been rehabilitated.

O.C.G.A. § 15-11-701. In contrast, an adult's DUI criminal history can never be sealed. It should be noted that sealing is not a perfect process. It only limits the number of people who can access the records; it does not delete the records altogether. Juveniles with sealed records still need to disclose their juvenile history in certain circumstances (for example, when they are attempting to enlist in the military or undergoing an FBI background check).

There is one major caveat to sealed juvenile records:  the record sealing does not apply to records kept by the Department of Driver Services. These are separate from records kept by Georgia Juvenile Courts. This comes into play in recidivist cases. The Georgia Department of Driver Services has a 5-year “lookback” period in determining suspension length for recidivists. This means that a juvenile may age out of the juvenile court system, have his or her records sealed, and still have his or her license suspended as a repeat offender, so long as the second DUI occurred less than five years after the first (sealed) offense.

What To Do If You (Or Your Child) Is Being Charged With a Georgia Juvenile Court DUI

You should not think of a Georgia Juvenile DUI as “only” a juvenile court misdemeanor. For one, juvenile court probation is incredibly time-consuming, invasive, and potentially expensive. It will require you to take time off of work, and your child will have to be periodically pulled out of school. Second, even though juvenile court records can be sealed, this is an imperfect process and even sealed records can have lasting implications for your child. But a DUI arrest isn't a hopeless situation. DUI cases are often winnable, and juveniles are entitled to all of the same rights as adults are, including the right to an attorney. Just make sure you choose the right one. Give your child the best chance of success. Call today.

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