by: Richard Elliot Updated:
Repeat DUI offenders may soon be able to get their licenses back much quicker, as long as they are able to prove to a judge they are in a treatment program.
Changes to Georgia's existing DUI laws are set to go into effect Jan. 1. DUI attorney William Head said the changes clean up what is currently a patchwork quilt of statutes designed to punish rather than encourage rehabilitation.
"The law, as it exists now, has many holes," said Head.
The biggest changes involve two-time DUI offenders. Currently, a two-time offender cannot apply for a driving permit until a year after the last conviction. Under the new law, they will be able to apply after just 120 days, but only if they can prove they have completed or are enrolled in a court-approved treatment program.
They must also agree to install an ignition interlock, a device that checks to see if a driver has had any alcohol before it allows them to start their car. The hardship or limited permit will only allow them to drive themselves or non-driving family members to work, school, treatment programs, medical care, court or to perform community service.
Georgia Mothers Against Drunk Driving Executive Director Barry Martin supports the changes, but thinks they should also apply to first-time DUI offenders, too.
"We are in support of the changes made this year, but do not think they go far enough," said Martin. "We know from other studies that 80 percent of first time offenders have alcohol abuse issues or are full blown alcoholics. We need to make sure that first-time offenders are interlocked, so that they do not repeat offend."
Head wrote the book on how to defend DUI cases. He supports these changes, too.
"This basically puts a premium on you getting your life straightened out," said Head. "If you do, and if you're in that type of program, you can get your driving privileges reinstated much earlier."
Another change coming Jan. 1 is that DUI offenders 21 and under will face the same sentencing as those 21 and older. Currently, they are sentenced differently.
Head credits Athens Judge Kent Lawrence and Georgia Department of Driver Services Attorney Jennifer Ammons with cleaning up the law.