For many years, a drug conviction in Georgia triggered an automatic driver’s license suspension. There have been and still are techniques that can be implemented in a case to prevent a suspension. Two examples are the conditional discharge and first offender treatment. A conditional discharge plea consists of entering a plea in a drug case without actually being convicted of that offense. First offender treatment works the same way. The only major difference is that the conditional discharge can only be used in drug cases.
In both cases, a person who has disposed of his or her case using these provisions cannot do so for a second time. A common problem that I see in my practice is dealing with clients with multiple drug offenses.
Until now, there was no way to prevent a 12 month license suspension if the defendant had used a conditional discharge and a first offender plea in the past.
However, Governor Deal’s Criminal Justice Reform Panel identified driver’s license suspensions as an area in which courts could use the possibility of driving as a motivator or reward for a client’s efforts toward sobriety. Senate Bill 365 (2014) allows the Court that convicted a defendant of a violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act that also triggered a driver’s license suspension under O.C.G.A. §40-5-75 to order reinstatement of that driver’s license suspension or issue a limited driving permit so long as the offense that triggered the license suspension “did not directly relate to the operation of a motor vehicle.” (Such as a DUI – drugs offense).
A good example of a person who could take advantage of the new licensing law would be when someone is caught possessing less than 1 oz. of marijuana on his or her person. However, this new law applies to felony drug charges such as possession of cocaine as well.
The Court can also set fees to be paid by the defendant to the Department of Driver’s Services (DDS). A suspension that is lifted by order of the Court can be placed back into effect if the defendant violates his or her probation. The same applies to limited driving permits granted under this law.
Senate Bill 365 is effective on July 1, 2014. The new law also allows drug court programs and mental health court programs to authorize the reinstatement of a drug suspension or the issuance of a limited permit on a drug suspension imposed under O.C.G.A§40-5-75.
It is important to remember that people with multiple driver’s license suspensions may not be eligible for immediate license reinstatement or permit issuance based solely upon the new law. Driver’s license suspensions triggered by drug convictions run consecutively to suspensions already in effect. Therefore, a defendant may have more time to serve on another license suspension or other reinstatement requirements to pursue before resuming driving.
This is solid, common sense legislation at its best. It is entirely logical for a person’s driver’s license to be suspended for a drug or alcohol related driving offense. However, I have wondered for years why someone who is walking down the road and is arresting for possession of a small amount of a drug needs to lose his or her driver’s license.
As you can see from prior columns on criminal justice reform, Gov. Deal and his team know what they are doing. They are saving us tax dollars, treating addicts instead of automatically incarcerating them, and now allowing many people have the ability to drive a vehicle to their jobs, homes, and businesses.
This stimulates our economy, encourages parental responsibility, and puts people back to work. Pretty good idea.