You’ve been charged with a crime in Georgia. Are you facing jail time? Are you off the hook if the police violated your constitutional rights? If you get convicted, can you apply to have your criminal record expunged? Do you have less to worry about if you are facing a misdemeanor charge?
Defending yourself during a criminal case requires a clear understanding of the law as it applies to your factual circumstances. Unfortunately, while there is a lot of reliable information available on the Internet, many common myths and misconceptions also get perpetuated online. If you need to fight for your freedom, how can you distinguish fact from fiction? Here is the truth behind seven common myths about facing criminal charges in Georgia:
Myth #1: If You are Convicted, You Will Serve Time in Jail.
Reality: While jail time is a potential sentence for all misdemeanors and felonies in Georgia, it may be possible to serve probation and a suspended sentence in lieu of jail time.
Under Georgia law, all crimes carry the potential for incarceration. However, this does not necessarily mean that you will serve time in jail if you are convicted. Depending on the severity of the offense and the circumstances involved in your case, it may be possible to avoid jail time – potentially by seeking probation and a suspended sentence. If you meet all of the terms of your probation, you will not have to serve time in jail. However, if you violate the terms of your probation, you can be sent to jail to serve the time that was “suspended” during your probationary period.
Myth #2: If the Police Violated Your Rights, You Can’t Be Convicted.
Reality: A violation of your rights can provide a defense under some circumstances if you know how to assert it effectively.
As a criminal suspect or defendant in Georgia, you have certain fundamental rights. However, if the police violate your rights, this does not automatically serve as a “get out of jail free” card. Rather, in order to use the violation as a defense, you (or your attorney) must raise the issue in court and successfully argue that the violation was substantial enough to entitle you to a legal remedy. Even then, raising the issue may only result in certain evidence being excluded from your case – but prosecutors could still have enough other evidence to convict you.
Myth #3: If You Get Convicted, You Can Apply to Have Your Record Expunged.
Reality: Expungement isn’t an option in Georgia, but some convictions are eligible for “record restriction.”
You read that correctly. In Georgia, state-level criminal offenses are not eligible for expungement. The concept of expungement simply does not exist under Georgia law.
In some cases, it will be possible to have your criminal record “restricted.” However, the grounds to apply for record restriction are very limited, and not all criminal offenses are eligible. Furthermore, record restriction does not afford the same benefits that expungement affords in other states. Record restriction is also charge-specific, meaning that, even if you file a successful petition, your criminal record may not be restricted in its entirety.
Myth #4: A Misdemeanor Isn’t a Serious Crime.
Reality: In Georgia, a misdemeanor conviction can carry up to 12 months of jail time and a fine of up to $5,000.
While misdemeanor offenses are generally considered to be less serious than felony offenses, facing a misdemeanor charge in Georgia is still an extremely serious matter. All misdemeanors carry a maximum potential jail sentence of 12 months (though it will be possible to avoid jail time in some cases, as discussed above), and the maximum fines start at $1,000. If you are convicted of a “misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature,” you could face fines of up to $5,000.
Myth #5: A DUI a Traffic Offense, Not a Crime.
Reality: A DUI is a traffic offense in some states, but not in Georgia. In Georgia, most DUIs are misdemeanors, but it is possible to be charged with a felony DUI.
In Georgia, driving under the influence (DUI) is a crime. If you are a first-time or second-time offender, you are likely facing a misdemeanor charge, although this is not necessarily the case. A standard third-time DUI offense is a“misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.” Four-time offenders, offenders who cause serious accidents, and certain other defendants can be charged with a felony DUI and potentially face years behind bars.
Myth #6: If You Committed a Crime, a Defense Lawyer Can’t Help You.
Reality: Even if you think you committed a crime, there are still numerous reasons to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
There are several potential defenses to criminal charges under Georgia law. While many of these defenses focus on disproving the factual allegations against you (or at least raising questions in the minds of the jury), there are also defenses that can be used to avoid a conviction even when the evidence is clearly not on your side. For example, if the police conducted an unlawful search or seizure, then the evidence that is available to prove your guilt may be inadmissible at trial.
Myth #7: If You are Innocent, Justice Will Prevail.
Reality: Wrongful convictions are alarmingly common, and making mistakes during your case can increase your chances of an unjust conviction.
Despite its virtues and the fundamental role it serves in our society, the criminal justice system is far from perfect. Defendants are wrongfully convicted at alarming rates, and many convicts are forced to serve sentences that are severely disproportionate to the crimes for which they were convicted. As a result, when facing criminal charges, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is assuming that you are not at risk. You need to protect yourself, and this starts with hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Arrested in Georgia? Contact Our Augusta Criminal Law Offices for a Case Evaluation
Have you been arrested for a misdemeanor or felony in Georgia? If so, we encourage you to contact us promptly to discuss your case. To speak with criminal defense lawyers at our Augusta, GA law offices in confidence, call 706-200-1578 or request an appointment online now.