There seems be a misconception among the public when it comes to minimum sentencing on DUI convictions. All criminal cases carry minimum sentencing (as well as maximum sentencing), but minimum means just that: it is the least sentence the judge can impose. The judge can (and often does), however, impose a higher sentence, and this is the area which causes confusion among some DUI defendants.
In Georgia, the minimum and maximum sentences depend on the number of DUI convictions the defendant has had in the past ten years. The current minimum sentences for DUIs in Georgia include:
1st DUI: 12 months of probation, $300 fine, 24 hours in jail, 40 hours of community service, and DUI School.
2nd DUI: 12 months of probation, $600 fine, 72 hours in jail, 240 hours of community service, DUI School, and alcohol and drug evaluation as well as treatment if recommended.
3rd DUI: 12 months of probation, $1000 fine, 15 days in jail, 240 hours of community service, DUI school, alcohol and drug evaluation and treatment if recommended, forfeiture of vehicle tags, and ignition interlock device.
The judge can impose a sentence of anything between the legal minimum and maximum, and this is a much larger range than most defendants realize. For example, the maximum sentence on a 1st or 2nd DUI includes 12 months in jail and a fine of $1000, and the maximum sentence on a 3rd DUI includes 12 months in jail and a fine of $5000.
Clearly, there is a degree of subjectivity in DUI sentencing. What the law doesn’t say, and what some inexperienced lawyers won’t tell you, is that most courts now look back at an entire lifetime, and the more DUI convictions you have, the more likely you are to receive a sentence that is closer to the maximum amount allowed by law. Most DUI defendants in Gwinnett County, for instance, receive MORE than 72 hours of incarceration on a 2nd DUI, and if you have multiple lifetime DUIs (even if NOT in the 10 year look-back period), you are more likely to serve between 30 and 180 days in jail. The same goes for most counties in the metro Atlanta area.
By correcting the assumption that DUI defendants should expect the minimum sentence, I hope to help Georgia drivers be more knowledgeable about their rights and to demonstrate that a DUI charge must be taken seriously. This is why it is important to hire a qualified, experienced DUI attorney, whether this is your first DUI arrest or the most recent of many—because the outcome of your case will impact you for years to come.