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House_Party_Rule_1.jpgAround the country, local governments are finding ways to confront and tackle the problem of underage drug and alcohol use. It is against the law for everyone to possess and ingest illegal drugs; and of course is already against the law for people under the age of 21 to drink. But over the last two years local governments have been trending towards extending the liability of underage drinking to children’s parents and/or guardians.

Referred to generally as “party ordinances” or “host ordinances,” these laws are designed to impose criminal penalties against the parents or guardians, or owners, or occupiers of residences where alcohol is knowingly supplied and furnished, and children are allowed to drink it. Two Cobb County cities have jumped on this bandwagon, The City of Austell and The City of Kennesaw. Now, when City of Austell and Kennesaw police officers crash a party, they will arrest all minors for being in possession or consuming alcohol, and they will also charge the people chaperoning the party.

Minors who are arrested for the first time might be entitled to participate in a pre-trial intervention or diversion program. If so, they will generally be required to perform such tasks as community service, get drug and alcohol evaluations, provide clean urine drug and alcohol tests, write statements admitting what happened and what they have learned from the experience, and sometimes to write a statement implicating who hosted the party and supplied them with the alcohol. These programs are important, however, because competing one of these types of programs results in a dismissal of the case and eligibility to have criminal records cleaned. Minors who do not qualify for a diversion program face a host of harsh and unforgiving consequences ranging from probation, fines, community service, and suspension of their driver’s license if they have one.

Georgia law does allow alcohol to be furnished to those under the age of 21 in certain narrow circumstances:
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cn_image.size.security-lax-gun-in-bagThe terror attacks of 9/11/2001 resulted in a new era of restrictions and laws concerning airport security. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) continues to develop new and increasingly invasive technologies and procedures to stop people from sneaking dangerous devises onto planes.

Lately, USA Today reported that according to the TSA more than 1500 guns were discovered at airport checkpoints throughout the United States in 2012. In 2011, more than 1300, many of them loaded. Through the end of November 2012, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport confiscated 80 handguns, the most of any other airport. USA Today quoted David Castelveter, spokesman for the TSA, acknowledging that people who probably “didn’t know they couldn’t carry them or were not aware they were in the bag” bring the majority of weapons that come through airports.
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DUI-keys shotglass.jpgNew laws taking effect January 1, 2013 could have a large impact on Georgia drivers convicted of DUI. The changes include new consequences for drivers under the age of 21 convicted of DUI as well as new rules effecting drivers applying for limited use permits during their probationary period. Generally, the new laws encourage convicted drivers to seek treatment and risk evaluation in exchange for increased opportunities to begin driving sooner. The changes are supported by legislators, judges, and criminal defense attorneys alike, and are considered mostly positive developments in the area of Georgia DUI law.
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scales-justice.jpgHave you ever sat on a criminal jury? If so, you have participated in one of our most basic and fundamental civic duties. Your decision will literally impact the defendant on trial for the rest of his or her life. Did the State do its job? Is the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, or not? What if, beyond a reasonable doubt, you believe the defendant is technically guilty but you simply just do not want to vote to convict him or her? Do you have a choice? Do you have to convict this person? Are you required, obligated, and bound to convict?

The answer may surprise you.

The answer is NO. You are not required or obligated to do anything that you do not want to do. If you feel the law that you are asked to apply is unjust, you can vote to acquit the defendant even if you still believe that he or she is technically guilty.

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for shoplifters.jpgThroughout the year, and especially during the holiday season, many people find themselves in desperate financial circumstances. When shopping for themselves or loved ones for food, or clothing, or other items, many people will take risks that they otherwise would not take. From undercover agents posing as shoppers to cameras placed throughout the store, most retail establishments are armed with sophisticated measures to combat and respond to theft. If a person is detected by store security, they can be held and detained for a reasonable time for investigative purposes until police arrive.

Georgia law defines shoplifting as any act by someone who (1) conceals or takes possession of the goods, (2) alters the price tag, (3) transfers the goods from one container to another, (4) interchanges the label or price tag, or (5) wrongfully causes the amount paid to be less than the merchant’s stated price for the merchandise. OCGA 16-8-14(a).

Georgia law changed this year making the theft of an item, or items with a collective value of $500 or more a felony. This is up from $300. If a person is arrested for misdemeanor shoplifting they face up to a year in jail and/or probation, and up to a $1000 fine. Some things, however, make the potential consequences much worse. A second conviction for misdemeanor shoplifting carries a minimum $500 fine; and a third conviction carries a sentence of 30-120 days in jail or house arrest; and a fourth conviction for shoplifting, regardless of the value of the item/s taken, is a felony. A person faces 1-10 years in prison for felony shoplifting.

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turner getting arrested.jpgSeveral months ago Mariano Saynez-Ruiz-Duran, a vice consular with the Mexican Consulate General was pulled over for speeding on Ga. Highway 400 and arrested for DUI. Last night, Michael Turner, running back for the Atlanta Falcons, was pulled over for speeding and arrested for DUI. While one lesson to take from this is to slow down, the other lesson is that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, police officers do not discriminate if they suspect you are driving under the influence of alcohol. It can happen to anyone.

Police officers are trained in DUI detection, some certainly better than others. They focus on your manner of driving; they focus on how you stop your vehicle; they focus on your demeanor and your physical appearance when they approach you; they focus on how calm or nervous you act; they take note if you fumble with your wallet or ID; and they even focus on how you get out of your car.
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pleasestandby.jpgDefense attorneys hear these things all the time. Since the invention of the police drama on television, people have been led to believe that they are the ones in charge when they or someone they know is arrested. “I don’t want to press charges;” or “I want to drop the charges;” or “I was arrested but the other person wants to drop the charges;” or “I was arrested but the police didn’t read my rights to me.” When I tell people these are really just terms of art they are, invariably, disappointed. I used to feel a twinge of guilt for potentially ruining the whole genre for them. But it is a useful lesson.

“I don’t want to press charges.” This is common in domestic or family violence cases and other types of cases involving altercations or interactions (battery, property damage, thefts, frauds, etc.) between people who, once things have calmed down, feel like the whole thing was a misunderstanding and wish they could just handle it between themselves without someone being prosecuted. My answer is always the same: that’s too bad; you are not the one “pressing” the charges; and stop watching cop shows to learn how the law works.

As private citizens, we don’t have that power. The representatives, prosecutors, for the State do. Once you get the police involved and they make an arrest, the State is the only one that can decide whether or not to prosecute the case. We can certainly assist them in their decision by telling them our side of the story. But most of the time, that doesn’t matter. Their job is to prosecute the cases that the police investigate. That being said, the first seven to ten seconds of Law And Order is really the only useful part of the show.
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Law Book.jpgThere is that old saying that we have all heard: “the person who choses to represent themselves has a fool for a client.” I see it all the time, though. Most people don’t know this about lawyers, but one of our primary activities in a courtroom is waiting. We wait for our client’s case to be called and then proceed to manage their case. But in the meantime, we can watch and observe everyone else and how they have chosen to handle their case. I would say that about 2% of the people out there have, at a minimum, spoken to an attorney before they ventured into court. If they have not at least consulted with a lawyer, they are well prepared to defend their position understanding that it’s the State’s representative’s job to prove the case.

The other 98% don’t fair as well. This happens more often in lower municipal courts on traffic citations and other state violation that can be prosecuted there. If a person cannot afford an attorney, the State is required to provide one upon request. Some lower courts, like the City of Atlanta Municipal Court, provide public defenders. This gives people access to at least seek advice before proceeding, but it is surprising how many people do not take advantage of the opportunity. Many lower courts in other smaller counties do not have public defenders present. So many people acquiesce to whatever punishment is handed to them by the prosecutor and judge without asking for time to speak with a lawyer.

It’s sad, really.
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warrant.jpegIt is not an easy concept for many people to grasp. Where I think people get hung up is on the misconception and misperception that we, as defense attorneys, condone, or ignore, or tolerate, or even advocate bad behavior and law breaking. Nothing could be further from the truth. Theoretically, defense attorneys and prosecutors are on the same side. Theoretically, we are both in pursuit of the same goal, making sure the constitution is upheld, making sure justice is served, and society is made better by our efforts. Very idealistic, I know. But the theory is made more practical when we start to interact. What makes the relationship, by definition, adversarial is how we go about reaching that goal.

The fundamental question when someone (anyone) is accused of committing a crime is “if the evidence is presented to a rational fact finder, could the State prove it?” That is their job. Our job is not so much to keep them from doing so, but to make sure that, if they can, they do so in accordance with the Constitution. Violation of one person’s rights is a violation of everyone’s rights. Again, very idealistic. But it is hard to rebut, is it not? If something can happen one person, it can happen to all of us.

Take, for instance, the latest potential example of the State acting outside the boundaries of the Constitution.
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1327422100_img0.jpgGetting arrested for the first time probably ranks in the top five most frightening things that can happen to us. But once the initial shock wears off, it is important for people to realize that almost every jurisdiction in the state has, or with the signing of the new Georgia Crime Bill, will soon have programs designed to allow first time offenders an opportunity to prevent their arrest from haunting the rest of their lives. These are called pretrial intervention (PTI) or pretrial diversion programs. These programs literally “intervene” or “divert” away from the prosecution of a person’s case, the end result being, upon successful completion, a dismissal of the charges and an eligibility to expunge your criminal record.

These programs are generally case-specific but most, if not all, jurisdictions with these programs have a list of offenses for which they will offer a first offender PTI. But prosecutors review these instances on a case by case basis, potentially rejecting someone’s participation in a program based on the facts of the case. This can happen, for instance, in simple battery and domestic violence cases. Prosecutors often understand that people in any kind of relationship, from strangers to spouses, can have altercations. If police are called to investigate, they typically make an arrest. If the “victim” is particularly injured or other aspects of the facts are particularly egregious, a prosecutor may not feel that PTI is appropriate and other first offender options will need to be explored, such as resolving the case under Georgia’s First Offender Law.

  • What would I have to do?
  • How long does the program last?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What if I’m really not guilty of what I’m charged with? Why should I have to do anything or participate in any program?

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