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A Criminal Defense Law Firm

Archive for the ‘Traffic’ Category

Hands Free Law

Since 2011, Georgia has seen the highest increase in auto insurance rates in the nation. Along with an increasing population in Metro Atlanta, traffic accidents and fatalities have drastically increased over the last few years. According to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, Cobb County alone saw an increase of over 10,000 traffic accidents from 2014 to 2016. In an effort to make our roads safer, the Georgia Hands-Free Law was put into effect on July 1st of this year.

Georgia’s Hands-Free Law follows in the footsteps of similar laws that are currently in effect in 16 other states, as well as Washington, D.C. According to the US Department of Transportation, states with similar laws have shown an average of a 16% reduction in motor vehicle accidents within the first two years, followed by an even greater reduction the following years.

While it is too soon to tell what the net effect of the Hands-Free Law will be, a recent study by AAA shows that 98% of Georgia drivers surveyed knew about the new law, but 75% had seen another driver holding their phone while driving since the law went into effect.

Under the new Hands-Free Law, drivers cannot hold their phones or have it supported by any part of the body while driving. Drivers may use Bluetooth or speakerphone to talk on the phone while driving, and are also able to use their phone’s voice-to-text function to send messages while driving, as long as they are not touching their phones. Streaming music is allowed, as long as it is set up before driving. Watching or recording videos is not allowed, with the exception of using GPS navigation. Touching your phone to do anything other than accept a call is not permitted, even if stopped at a red light.
Violations of the Hands-Free Law carry the following penalties:
• 1st offense–$50 fine and 1 point on license
• 2nd offense–$100 fine and 2 points on license
• 3rd and subsequent offenses–$150 fine and 3 points on license

A quick search of the Georgia Department of Driver Services website will tell you how many points you have on your license. Drivers who have 15 or more points on their license in a two year period will have their license suspended. While this may seem like there is a lot of room to make mistakes, a single speeding ticket can carry up to 6 points. Thankfully, Georgia allows for a reduction of up to 7 points every five years with completion of an approved Defensive Driving course.

If you receive a citation for violating the Hands Free law, there is hope. If you can show the court that you purchased a phone mount or other acceptable Bluetooth device after receiving the citation, your charge may be dropped. However, drivers are only permitted to use this “Get Out of Jail Free” card once.

Our attorneys have years of experience in local traffic courts and are often able to get the charges or points reduced for our clients. If you have any questions about the new law, or need help with a traffic citation please give us a call at (770) 795-7751 or email info@semraulawfirm.com to schedule a free consultation.

For a full description of the law, please visit http://www.headsupgeorgia.com/handsfree-law/.

Georgia’s Move Over Law carries stiff penalties

WSB-TV Channel 2 recently covered a driver who is fighting a ticket he received for violating Georgia’s “Move Over” law. Here’s a link to the story:

http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/local/driver-challenges-move-over-law-ticket/ng8w9/

Georgia’s “Move Over” law requires drivers approaching a stopped police or emergency vehicle to move over at least one lane. If drivers cannot move over due to traffic conditions the law requires them to slow down to a speed below the posted speed limit.

We get a lot of calls from people charged with violating this law and most of them have never heard of it. Courts prosecute these cases aggressively, usually requiring fines in excess of $700, defensive driving school and even probation. A conviction for violating this law will also put points on your driver’s license which will likely result in higher car insurance premiums.

The news story suggests that the State maybe changing the law to add clarification to the speed element, but it appears this law is here to stay so drivers need to be aware of it and be extra careful when approaching a stopped police or emergency vehicle.

If you receive a ticket for violating this law or any other moving violation it’s important that you contact an attorney to discuss the effects it could have on your license and minimize and negative impact.

Michael A. Burns, Jr.

We Stand in 0 to 100 Degree Weather So You Don’t Have To

With the temperature starting to hit 90 degrees on a regular basis, no one wants to stand in court lines long enough to surround the entire building. No one wants to wake up early just to sweat like a pig and waste a day in traffic court, so in most cases we can go to court for you, get your ticket reduced, and pay your fine. Give us your information by e-mail (scottsemrau@semraulawfirm.com or mburnsjr@semrauawfirm.com) or telephone (770-795-7751) and we will do the rest. To see a few frequently asked questions and there answers visit our “Don’t Go To Court” website page.

Many of you may be thinking well even if I do have to get up early and sweat a bit at least it will be cheaper to just pay the ticket than to hire a lawyer. Let me explain to you a little math and show you how we will actually save you hundreds of dollars. Our minor traffic ticket legal services are almost always less than $300. If you just pay the ticket without using our services, the total cost of just one ticket could be well over $1,000. The ticket fine may only cost you $140, but if you add the cost of increased car insurance and lost time at work then it is easy to see the value of using our firm. Make it easy on yourself. Call our law firm once, and in most traffic cases you’re done.

Take notice when it comes to mandatory court appearance. Many people think that traffic violations have insignificant consequences. This assumption is incorrect. A few possible consequences include probation, fines, suspended license, community service, and even jail time. You should immediately contact our office if you have received a citation or been arrested for aggressive driving, hit and run, driving with a suspended license or expired registration, no insurance, reckless driving, racing, or high speeding tickets. Georgia traffic ticket laws are aggressively enforced and will remain on your record forever. It makes sense to fight a traffic ticket to keep your driving record as clean as possible.

Just one call and that is all. No waiting or sweating. We go to court so you don’t have to.

“Privacy Comes at a Cost:” Police Search of Cellphones Limited

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor for privacy rights. The Court’s opinion combined two lower cases where police examined data stored on suspects’ cellphones without a warrant, ultimately leading to additional charges. In the end the justices came down on the side of privacy rights. Chief Justice Roberts realized that their decision would “have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime, [but] privacy comes at a cost.” Currently, the law states that police can search whatever physical items are on a person when they make the arrest. However, justices realized that smartphones were different. The Court explains that “a decade ago officers might have occasionally stumbled across a highly personal item such as a diary, but today many of the more than 90% of American adults who own cellphones keep on their person a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives.” This raised new privacy concerns. The legal question in the cases was whether the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches, requires police to get a warrant before searching a cellphone after an arrest. The court decided that the Fourth Amendment does require police to obtain a warrant before searching the data on someone’s cellphone.

Police are still permitted to examine the physical aspects of a phone to make sure it cannot be used as a weapon; however, once a phone is secured, the data can endanger no one and the arrested person is unable to delete incriminating data, so there is no urgent need to search the phone’s data. However, the court explained that under extreme circumstances the police could still search someone’s cellphone without a warrant. A few examples include a suspect texting someone who might detonate a bomb or someone who may have information about a kidnapped child’s location on his phone.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, the ruling appears to be in line with public opinion. This opinion poll found that 60.7 percent of people surveyed believe police should not be allowed to search the data on a person’s cellphone without a warrant. Chief justice Roberts acknowledges that its decision will have an impact on law enforcement’s ability to fight crime, but he believes that warrants are an important part of government that should not be overlooked.

Ticket Fines to Fund Police Pay Raises?

I’m often asked if police have a quota for the number of tickets they give out each month.  I’ve never seen any definitive proof of a quota system, but an email uncovered by the local news suggests that some officers will soon have an ulterior motive for writing tickets.

According to a story from Channel 2 Action News an email was recently sent to officers of the Atlanta Police Department stating that future pay raises would be funded by revenue generated from ticket and court fines.  The email also urged officers to show up for court to keep cases from being dismissed.  Essentially, the more tickets they give out and prosecute, the higher their next pay raise could be.

Of course, police officials are denying they’ve given any directive to their officers, but if true this policy creates a troubling conflict of interest.  By funding pay raises with traffic fines the officer that wrote your ticket now has a personal stake in your case.  Will the police be putting added pressure on prosecutors to negotiate higher fines? If Atlanta officers start getting raises for writing more tickets, won’t other officers demand their cities and counties implement this policy?

This is definitely a story I’ll be keeping my eye on.  The full story from Channel 2 can be found here:

http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/local/apd-email-says-traffic-money-fund-future-pay-raise/nYRF4/

License Suspensions can be Confusing!

Why is my license suspended?   How long will my license be suspended?   How do I get my license back?

We get these questions all the time and often we refer people to these Georgia Department of Driver Services resources.  Check out these two resources:

(1)     This is a link to the Georgia Department of Driver Services website page.  This page outlines all the suspension and their length.  It is one of the best charts that I have seen on suspensions:   http://www.dds.ga.gov/drivers/dldata.aspx?con=1744060376&ty=dl

(2)    This is an automated telephone line at the Georgia Department of Driver Services that can tell you whether your license is suspended.  It also gives you an option to speak with a help center operator:  (404) 657-9300.

(3)    Lastly, if this dosen’t answer your question, call us.  We can call the DDS Legal Department directly (hey, we’re lawyers!).   Usually, we do a conference call with you on the line.

Roadblocks to the Constitution

For a roadblock/sobriety checkpoint to be legal in terms of its Fourth Amendment Constitutionality, the roadblock must be considered “reasonable”, in relation to both its authorization and execution.  The United States Supreme Court has rejected the use of checkpoints for drug interdiction and “has never approved a checkpoint program whose primary purpose was to detect evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing.”

As I watch the video from the recent Hiram/Paulding County roadblock, several issues come to mind.  The first relates to the underlying purposes of these roadblocks.  The “official” answer given is that their purpose was to establish sobriety checkpoints, safety belt and child passenger safety seat checks.  On their own, these are lawful purposes and can be helpful in DUI detection by a properly trained and informed officer.

See for yourself, click this link to watch the video: http://dallas-hiram.patch.com/articles/hiram-road-checks-lead-to-arrests

However, the scope and purpose of this checkpoint seems to shift into a more generalized crime detection operation.  In the video, one officer explains that he had personally searched 4 cars, with 3 of his searches resulting in drug possession charges.  Obviously, a search of a vehicle is not a necessary part of an investigation into seat belt and child seat checks.  Nor is a search of a vehicle, including the lifting of the seats (as seen at the 2:05 mark) part of a typical DUI investigation.  It certainly appears that the stated purpose of this roadblock does not coincide with some of the actual actions taken by the officers on the singled-out drivers.  Consider that 4th driver, the one whose car was searched by the police, but no drugs were found.  How was that driver benefited by the illegal search of his/her car?

Finally, it’s important to remember that the field sobriety “tests” administered on the side of the road are voluntary.  If you don’t want to do them, then politely refuse.  Understand, however, that the officer won’t go out of his way to inform you that you absolutely don’t have to take his tests.  In fact, he’s likely to intimidate or otherwise try to influence you to take them so that he can better build his case AGAINST you!  These “tests” aren’t designed to “make sure you’re safe to drive home” as we so often hear.  They are specifically used so that a prosecutor has a better shot at convicting you at trial.

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Georgia Speeding Laws:

  1. Radar Guns must be tested Daily
  2. Police can only use State Approved Speed Detection Equipment
  3. Radar Guns must each have a certificate of inspection and calibration
  4. Radar Operators must have a license
  5. Tickets can’t be issued if the road grade is 8% or more
  6. Tickets can’t be issued if the radar operator isn’t clearly visible from 500 feet
  7. Tickets can’t be issued within 300 feet of a speed reduction inside city limits and 600 feet outside city limits
  8. Municipalities and Counties must apply for a FCC radio frequency license to use radar
  9. The radar device operator must be present in court for trial
  10. Laser devices shoot a small beam of light the size of a pinhead (think accuracy)

DIY TRAFFIC COURT – YOU CAN DO IT YOURSELF!!

I love traffic court. It’s like a busy market. In traffic court, the great and small converge. They argue, negotiate, complain, rejoice, win, and lose. Each day a hundred different Perry Mason and Denny Crane hopefuls dream of hearing the judge say, “Case dismissed! That traffic cop is fired, and here’s a bag of money for your trouble.”

That may not be totally realistic, but the reality is that at least in Cobb County, Georgia, our traffic court is a place where everyday people can plead their case to the judge and have their day in court. I have found the judges in Cobb County Traffic Court to be patient and always willing to hear from anyone who sincerely feels they have been wronged. So if you get a ticket and honestly feel that you didn’t deserve it, then go to court and fight it! Paying the ticket may be easy, but with just a little information and few pointers, anyone can be a pretty good traffic-court pro.

First, use some caution. Like any do-it-yourself project there are some situations when you should not try to defend yourself. For instance, if you have a bad driving record or you absolutely cannot afford to lose your case, then do not defend yourself. Also, don’t try to defend yourself if you are charged with a serious driving offense like DUI, Aggressive Driving, Hit and Run, No Insurance, or Suspended License or Registration. You could go to jail and lose your driver’s license. As a general rule, if the judge or prosecutor looks at your case and advises you to get a lawyer, then that means something bad is about to happen to you-take their advice and get a lawyer. But if that’s not your situation, then I say go for it! Go to court and fight your ticket. Here’s what you need to know:

1.  Understand the procedure. Your first court date is your arraignment. This is not your trial date. The police officer who wrote the ticket won’t be in court, and you won’t have a chance to talk to the judge. However, take the opportunity to negotiate with the prosecutor about the charge and the fine. The prosecutor has the authority to reduce your charge and your fine. If that doesn’t work, and you want the judge to hear your case, then you should ask for a trial. Your trial will be scheduled on another day.

2.  Pick a Judge Trial not a Jury Trial. If you are defending yourself on a minor traffic ticket then pick a judge trial. Cobb County traffic judges are wonderful. They are patient to a fault, and I have never seen them act rudely or short-tempered with a person who is polite and honestly telling their side of the story. Jury trial is way, way, way over your head.

3.  Expect the Police Officer to Appear for the Trial. In Cobb County, the police officer will almost always appear for trial.

4.  Be Nice, Be Brief, Be Flexible.  A smile and a few kind words will get you as far as anything else in this life. Also, be brief because prosecutors and judges are very busy. Think of three good reasons why your ticket should be changed and be able to say them in 60 seconds or less. If you have a genuine legal reason, that’s terrific. If not, remember that judges and prosecutors are people too, so try any or all of these if they apply to you:  “The baby was screaming.” “I didn’t see the sign,” or “I have a perfect driving record.” Finally, be flexible and think about what you would like to get and what you really need to get.

5.  Ask for a Zero-Point, Non-Reporting Ticket. Every traffic-court prosecutor and judge knows what that means. A ticket won’t show up on your driving record and it won’t be reported to your insurance company if it is a zero-point, non-reporting ticket.

6.  Speeding Tickets. Any speeding ticket reduced to 14 miles-or-less over the posted speed limit is a zero-point, non-reporting offense. It won’t show up on your record (commercial drivers, out of state drivers, and a few others excluded).

7.  Have Fun at Trial. Take your trial seriously, but not too seriously. Keep your sense of humor. You are the only one who can tell your story, so relax and tell it. Tell your story with photographs or Google Maps, try making a chart, bring toy cars, or draw pictures. Make a video or bring a witness.

Well there you have it. Sharpen your pencil, grab your “power tie,” and go for it. Be yourself. You’ll be great!