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Georgia uses the terms DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while intoxicated) interchangeably, but the trend is shifting to exclusive use of DUI because that term encompasses drugs as well as alcohol. Either term means that the driver was operating a vehicle while impaired by some type of chemical.

Blood alcohol content (BAC), tested by a breath, urine, or blood sample, will determine the penalties to be charged for an alcohol-related DUI offense. In Georgia, a BAC of 0.08% or higher automatically counts as a DUI.

Note, however, that you can get a DUI with a BAC of lower than 0.08%. All the officer has to do is observe that your ability to drive is impaired, and on go the handcuffs.

Also, while alcohol and illegal drugs are clearly grounds for a DUI, legitimately prescribed or over-the counter medications can also get you in trouble. If they affect your ability to drive―and a lot of them do―you could be arrested.

Of course, it helps the state's case if the officer collects chemical evidence that your BAC was over 0.08%. To make it easier for the police to do this, Georgia (like most other states) has a law that punishes drivers who refuse to take a chemical test.

Called the Administrative License Suspension Law, it works like this: If you are pulled over and a police officer asks you to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test to determine your BAC, and if you refuse, your license may be suspended for one year.

Consequences and Programs

During the 1980s, Georgia counties began testing pilot programs to help reduce drinking and driving. This program proved that intervention can save lives, so the programs were instituted statewide.

Now judges are required to order the completion of the state's Risk Reduction Program for all DUI offenders. The goal of this program is to help those snagged by a DUI conviction avoid letting alcohol or drugs have a continued adverse affect in their lives. A multiple DUI offender can also be ordered to complete a substance abuse treatment program as part of their court sentence.

Court-imposed Penalties

First offense: A person convicted of DUI for the first time will be charged with a misdemeanor and will be given the following punishment:

  • A fine of $300 to $1,000.
  • Imprisonment of 10 days to 12 months, which the judge may suspend, stay, or probate (unless your BAC registered 0.08 or more). Then, you'd have to serve a minimum of 24 hours in jail.
  • At least 40 hours of community service, unless your BAC registered under 0.08, in which case the judge may be lenient and order 20 to 40 hours.
  • Probation period of up to 12 months, including time served.

Second offense: A second DUI conviction within five years will also be a misdemeanor and will earn you the following:

  • A fine of $600 to $1,000.
  • Ninety days to 12 months in prison, with no less than 72 hours actually behind bars.
  • A minimum of 30 days of community service.
  • A clinical evaluation to determine whether an alcohol or treatment program is necessary. If it is, then completion of that program will be ordered as part of the sentence.
  • Probation period of 12 months, including time served.

Third offense: A third DUI conviction raises the charge to a "high and aggravated" misdemeanor, with the following penalties:

  • Fine of $1,000 to $5,000.
  • Mandatory prison sentence of 120 days to 12 months, with no less than 15 days of actual incarceration time.
  • Minimum 30 days of community service.
  • Clinical evaluation, and then completion of a subtance abuse treatment program.
  • Probation of 12 months, minus time served.

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