It is fairly common knowledge that the legal blood alcohol content ("BAC") for drivers in most states is .08 grams. If a driver is found to be operating a motor vehicle with a BAC at or above this level, that driver can be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. What is not as well known is that a driver can be charged with a DUI even if he or she has a BAC of less than .08 grams. This is called a DUI Less Safe in Georgia. It is every bit as serious as any other DUI charge and a conviction for this offense can have a significant impact on your life.
What Is A DUI Less Safe?
Under Georgia law, "[a] person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any moving vehicle while . . . [u]nder the influence of alcohol to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive." O.C.G.A. §40-6-391(a)(1). The statutory language in this section does not provide a specific BAC level that must be met in order for a driver to be considered impaired. In order to determine if an individual is under the influence when he or she has a BAC under the legal limit, a law enforcement officer will look for other signs of impairment to decide if the individual is too intoxicated to be operating his or her motor vehicle.
How Do Police Determine Impairment?
There are several methods that a police officer can use in order to determine impairment. One of the first signs to law enforcement that an individual may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol is if that individual is not following the rules of the road. If a person is weaving, speeding, or otherwise fails to obey the traffic laws, then this could be an indication that the person should not be driving.
Field Sobriety Tests
Once the police officer has pulled a person over for a traffic violation, the officer may look for other signs that an individual is intoxicated including things like slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or the odor of alcohol on the person's breath. If the officer suspects intoxication, he or she may ask the driver to step out of the vehicle in order to have that person perform some field sobriety tests. If the driver cannot stand up without leaning on the vehicle or walk without wobbling, these are also signs that the driver is too impaired to be behind the wheel.
In addition, if the driver fails the field sobriety tests that the officer administers, this is also an indication that the individual is not in full control of his or her faculties. There are a number of different kinds of field sobriety tests that an officer may choose to have a suspected drunk driver perform including:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a horizontal gaze nystagmus "is an involuntary jerking of the eyes that occurs as the eyes move to the side." If a person has consumed alcohol, the nystagmus "is exaggerated and may occur at lesser angles depending on the degree of impairment." During this test, the police officer looks for the presence of these jerking movements in the driver's eyes.
- Walk And Turn Test: Another test that may be used to determine impairment is the walk and turn test. During this test, the driver will be asked to take nine heel to toe steps, then turn around and do the same thing again.
- One Leg Stand: Like the walk and turn test, this field sobriety test is exactly what it sounds like. A driver must stand on one foot for 30 seconds with their arms at their side.
It is important to be aware that things other than impairment may make these tests difficult for an individual to perform or cause an individual to fail. For example, a nystagmus can occur naturally in some people. Likewise, a person who is elderly or overweight may have difficulty performing the walk and turn test or the one leg stand. In addition,a field sobriety test may be invalid if it was not administered correctly by the law enforcement officer. Environmental conditions, such as bad lighting, hills, or rain, can also have an impact on the test result.
Can I Get A DUI Less Safe For Being On Drugs?
Yes, a DUI Less Safe applies to drugs as well as alcohol. The law in Georgia states that "[a] person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any moving vehicle while . . . [u]nder the influence of any drug to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive." O.C.G.A. §40-6-391(a)(2). Even if the drugs are legally prescribed, a person can still be charged with a DUI if they are not operating their motor vehicle in a safe manner. A police officer who suspects a driver is under the influence of drugs may call in a Drug Recognition Expert who will go through a 12 step process to determine if the individual is impaired.
What Is The Penalty For A DUI Less Safe?
A first DUI is a misdemeanor offense in Georgia. The penalties that may be imposed for a conviction or plea of nolo contendere can include a fine ranging from $300 to $1,000 and a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail. Other penalties may include community service, attending a DUI program, and a clinical evaluation. O.C.G.A. §40-6-391(c)(1)(A)-(E). In addition to these criminal penalties, a conviction of driving under the influence can result in that driver's license being suspended for up to one year.
Contact A DUI Defense Attorney
If you have been arrested and charged with a DUI in Hall County, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Richard Lawson. As a DUI conviction can have a serious impact on your life, you will want a skilled and knowledgeable Hall County DUI Attorney on your side. Richard Lawson has devoted his career to defending those charged with driving under the influence and has over two decades of experience practicing law in Georgia. Do not face the criminal justice system alone, contact the Law Offices of Richard Lawson today by calling (404) 816-4440 or clicking here to fill out the online contact form.