What To Do If You Get Pulled Over For DUI
An Interview with Jim Yeargan, Atlanta DUI Attorney
Jim Yeargan is a DUI attorney in Atlanta with Yeargan and Kert, LLC. He helps business owners, executives, and other licensed professionals stop criminal charges from destroying their lives. DUI is a serious offense that carries severe life-altering penalties if convicted. His clients fear their lives will spiral out of control if they get a DUI conviction on their record. A DUI attorney for 15 years, Mr. Yeargan has put prior experience as a DUI prosecutor in Atlanta to work for his clients. Prior to working for the defense, he not only prosecuted DUI cases, but he also trained prosecutors in DUI cases, and he taught at police academies. Now he uses that knowledge and experience to his clients’ advantage.
Conversation with Jim Yeargan
Give us a little bit about your background, and how you became a DUI lawyer, and how long Yeargan and Kert has been in business.
Jim Yeargan: I’ve been a DUI attorney for 15 years. And this actually isn’t what I first thought I’d go into, but I’m thankful that I found it. It’s a very interesting field, and you get to work with a lot of great people, and help them out, and stop these things from ruining and devastating their lives. I began my career as a DUI prosecutor and did that for three years in the city of Atlanta. And that’s really where I cut my teeth and learned everything. And it was a great opportunity, because I got to work with the police and the taskforce officers. I got to know all the prosecutors and the judges. And then after I’d been there for a while, I was able to start training people. So I’d train the prosecutors, and I would go to the police academy and teach them how to testify in court, and write police reports, and things like that. So I had a very strong foundation on that side.
Jim Yeargan: And then when I was able to start doing defense work, I was able to use all of that, of course, to my advantage and my clients’ advantage. So it was a really great way to start my career.
What kind of clients is it that you tend to help?
Jim Yeargan: I really enjoy working with people who … Of course, everyone wants to beat their charges … but who basically have, I hate to phrase it this way, but something to lose. It’s nice working with professionals, doctors, lawyers, accountants, pilots, people like that, who really care about the outcome of their case and really don’t want their lives disrupted by it. You know mainly, when people first get this charge, they kind of go into a downward spiral of thinking that their life is over, and it’s going to cost them their career, their family, their driver’s license, their ability to earn a living, everything. And it’s nice to be able to help them out of that spiral and show them that that’s not going to happen.
Jim Yeargan: Some people, they amaze me, some people get a DUI, and not just DUIs, but criminal charges in general, and they just don’t care. They’re like, “Oh, I’ll just go plead guilty to it,” or you know, they have a long record, it doesn’t matter to them. But I enjoy working with people who don’t want this to interrupt their lives, or disrupt their lives, and want to get everything back on track, and get this behind them. So basically, when I say people with something to lose, they’re wanting to keep their life as it is, keep their family intact, keep their job, their ability to work, all of that.
So talk to me about some of those consequences if there is a DUI on record. What does that mean to a professional?
Jim Yeargan: It really varies by profession, and that’s why when you’re looking for a DUI lawyer, you need someone who knows the ins and outs, because many times, you’re dealing with more than just the actual criminal charges. You’re dealing with what’s going to happen to the job, the driver’s license, insurance rates, things like that. But for instance, if a pilot gets a DUI and they’re convicted, they’ll never fly again. They’re grounded for life. So you definitely, when you have those cases, need to be very careful. And they need to hire someone who knows what they’re doing. Lawyers, it used not to be such a big deal, but especially the State Bar of Georgia, they take more of an interest now if an attorney gets a DUI, because they’re worried about attorneys going into downward spirals or using alcohol as a crutch. And they don’t want that to impact their practice.
Jim Yeargan: Nursing, many times nurses will have to jump through many hoops, go through appeal processes to have their nursing licenses renewed, because the board is afraid that with alcohol, there might be a drug problem. Nurses have, you know, many nurses have unfettered access to drugs. So a lot of times, you’ll have to go through the appeal process with them to make, to let the board understand that it was just DUI alcohol, there’s not a drug problem there, and that they can still be around medications. So it really varies on each, how the person’s employed, basically.
What is the state of mind when somebody first gives you a call? What’s on their mind? What questions, what concerns do they have? And how are you able to help ease some of those concerns right away?
Jim Yeargan: They’re usually in a pretty bad place. They’re usually depressed, sad, scared. A lot of times, they’re beating themselves up. And many times, people aren’t aware that their blood alcohol concentration was as high as it is or was, so they’re very disappointed, because they really didn’t think they were doing something wrong. And then they have all this evidence and alleged proof that something else has happened. So many times, they’re worried about their driver’s license. They think they’re going to lose it for a year and not be able to drive. So they’re worried about getting to and from work, especially if they work in outside sales, or if they’re in any type of pharmaceutical sales; or their job has company insurance, or they drive a company car. They’re worried about getting their kids to school and to other activities. They’re worried about going to the grocery store.
Jim Yeargan: So it really impacts, not just the career, but daily life as well. So all of that comes in on them, and they’re really worried about, basically, how they’re going to do their daily activities and function.
So talk to me about the blood alcohol level. What is the allowable level? How many drinks? Is there a safe amount of alcohol to be drinking before driving?
Jim Yeargan: In Georgia, the legal limit is .08. And what that means is, if they have a test on you … This is, of course, what the prosecutor’s saying … that at .08 or higher, whether you’re feeling it or not, you’re legally drunk. Of course, you know, some people who drink a lot, they can be a .08, a .10, some could be double, even triple that, and not feel the effects because they drink a lot. Georgia also has what’s called their “less safe” statute, so say your blood alcohol concentration is not a .08, say it’s below that. Say you get pulled over, arrested for a DUI, and you’re a .06. Well, they still charge you with what’s called “less safe.”
Jim Yeargan: So in this case, they’re trying to say that while you weren’t .08 or higher, they feel that the alcohol was affecting your ability to drive, to the point that you’re a less safe driver. So even though you blew under the legal limit, they’re still going to charge you with a DUI, and that’s where the numbers come into play. Now of course, the .08 or higher, that’s for drivers, age 21 or older; also drivers who are not commercial driver’s or CDLs. So for the average person on the street driving a car, .08 or higher is the limit.
Is that one drink, two drinks?
Jim Yeargan: Again, that varies quite a bit from person to person. You know, bigger guys, they can drink more. Women, you know, sometimes one drink will do it. That’s what we hear a lot, especially in females, is they’ll go out to dinner, and they’ll just have a glass of wine, maybe two. And they’re smaller, and their blood alcohol concentration will be a .10 or a .12. So it really depends on the person, what they’ve had to eat that day, things like that. That’s why it’s really a wildcard.
Jim Yeargan: A lot of people think, incorrectly, but they think that zero tolerance is the law, where if you have any amount of alcohol in your system, you’re not allowed to drive, legally. And that’s not true in Georgia. In Georgia, you can actually drink and drive as long as you’re not .08 or above, or you’re less safe. Sometimes people get will pulled over, and they’ll say, “Oh, I told the officer I had two or three drinks. I shouldn’t have done that.” Well, that’s fine, because again, you can drink and drive. You just can’t be over the limit or “less safe.” You know, I tell people, in this day and age, don’t drink and drive. It’s just not worth it, because when they pull you over, and they smell the alcohol coming off you, whether you’ve had a drink or two, it’s probably all downhill from there.
Jim Yeargan: The other problem with that is prescription medication, because a lot of times, officers will pull people over, and their blood alcohol concentration will be fairly low. It might even be .04, .03. And then the next question is, “Well, which medicines do you take?” And if you tell them, you know, you take antidepressants, or you take any type of pain medicine, or blood pressure medicine, whether you’ve taken it for 10 or 15 years, then they’re going to say, “Well, now you’re DUI, combination alcohol and medication,” saying that the two are working together to affect your driving.
What is the sentence for somebody that has been drinking and driving and is over the limit?
Jim Yeargan: For a first offense in Georgia, we have different look back periods. So the first look back period, as far as your license is concerned, is a five-year look back. So you want to see if the person has any other DUI convictions in a five-year period. And that five-year period is measured from date of arrest to date of arrest. It’s not when the case actually closes. In some of the jurisdictions in Georgia, it can take two or three years for a case to close, so that’s why they use the arrest date. That’s as far as license sanctions.
Jim Yeargan: So if you only have one DUI conviction in a five-year period … And this is not taking into account administrative license suspensions, because there are many different suspensions you can deal with. But as far as the actual conviction, it’s 120-day license suspension. And there’s a limited permit for work, school, doctor’s appointments, things of that nature. As far as the actual court punishment goes, you’re generally looking at 40 hours of community service, a fine of anywhere from $300 to $1,000. Again, that varies from court to court. Roughly, you’re looking at, most jurisdictions, $300, maybe a $700 fine. They add surcharges on. You’re not being punished for going to court. Those are just state fines and fees you pay. Even if you pay a speeding ticket, you pay those. But on a DUI, they’re so high they can actually double the fine.
Jim Yeargan: So on a $500 fine, you usually end up paying a total of about $1,000. You have to go to DUI school, which takes a weekend. You usually have to do a drug and alcohol evaluation, which takes about an hour. And then you have to do 12 months of probation. And most judges will let that probation become non-reporting once you complete everything, which means you don’t have to check in with them once a month; but other judges won’t. So you may have to make a trip once a month to the probation officer, just to check in, so they can take a look at you. They may drug test you. Usually, you have to pay about $49 a month while you’re reporting to the probation, so that’s an extra expense.
Jim Yeargan: So the next look back period is a 10-year look back period. And this is different from the suspensions, but if you have more than one DUI in Georgia within a 10-year period, the fines and penalties really increase. The fines go up several hundred dollars, but the community service goes up from 40 hours to 240 hours. There’s a minimum requirement of three days in jail, and that’s if you can get the minimum. Some judges like to give 10, some even like to give 30 days in jail. And then you still have to do the DUI school, drug and alcohol evaluation. A lot of judges will make you do a MADD Victim Impact Panel, which is a two-hour lecture put on by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, you go to one time. Some judges require AA, depending on how many DUIs you have in that 10-year period.
Jim Yeargan: And then, of course, if you have more than one DUI in the five-year period, if you’re really cramming them in there, you start getting into ignition interlock devices put on your car. That’s the device you have to blow into before your vehicle will start. So when people start getting them within the 5 and 10-year look back period, the punishments skyrocket. They build up exponentially. And then the final look back period is over a lifetime. And so if you had a DUI 20 years ago, the prosecutor, the judge can still take that into account. Now, that’s not as serious. There are no, basically, mandatory minimums on lifetime look backs. So once you’re outside of that 10-year period, there’s not a minimum sentence that the court has to give you, such as the three days in jail and the 240 hours of community service. Older DUIs, they usually don’t up the punishment, but some jurisdictions do. Some judges will. So you have to be careful, even if you have a DUI that’s 15, 25 years old.
What can you do to prevent some of these things going on the record?
Jim Yeargan: It’s a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, we get the charges totally dismissed. We’ve done that many, many times, where even the moving violation gets thrown out. And I say even the moving violation because usually, when you take these cases to trial, you may beat the DUI charge, but the individual is usually convicted of speeding or failure to maintain lane, which is on the video. You know, those are usually hard to beat because the proof is right there. It did happen. But many times, we have been able to get the whole case dismissed. Sometimes, we’re able to get the DUI reduced to a lesser charge; usually reckless driving, which sounds worse than it is, but in Georgia, that’s just like a fast speeding ticket. It’s just a regular moving violation.
Jim Yeargan: And in those cases, you still pay a fine, and do community service, go to DUI school. You basically get a DUI sentence. But the trade-off is, you don’t get your license suspended. You don’t get the DUI on your driving history. And the big part is, you can tell future employers or your current employer that you are not convicted of a DUI. And in some instances, we can even get it lower than reckless driving, just get it to the moving violation; sometimes, you know, running a stop sign or speeding. So it really depends on a case-by-case basis, but if we can’t get the case totally dismissed, we do always try to get it reduced.
Is there anything that someone who has been pulled over can say or prevent from saying that’s going to help our their case?
Jim Yeargan: I tell everyone that they have to make this decision for themselves when it happens. But then I say, if I were in the position where I’d been drinking, and I get pulled over, I would refuse the field sobriety test. They’re voluntary. They can’t force you to follow their finger with your eyes, or to walk the line, or to stand on one leg. I would not take any breath, blood, or any chemical test. Just refuse them. Don’t admit to drinking. Be polite. Just say, “Yes, sir. No, sir. Yes, ma’am. No, ma’am.” Don’t talk too much. Just answer their questions shortly. And again, if they ask, you know, “Why don’t you want to do these tests,” you can say, “Well, I met a lawyer once, and he said it’s best not to do this.”
Jim Yeargan: But keep in mind, when you refuse to do everything, you are going to get arrested. They’re not going to throw their hands up and say, “Oh, well you’re free to go.” But if you have been drinking, if you are intoxicated, and you don’t do the tests, you’re putting yourself in a better position to fight the charge; because they’re not going to have a whole lot of evidence to hold against you.
If you are arrested, are the police able to do the tests once they get you to the jail?
Jim Yeargan: In Georgia, they request that you take the tests. Now if you refuse, what they can do is, they can go to a judge, and everything’s computerized now, so it’s not like it used to be. They can get a warrant and do what’s called a forced blood draw. And they will take you to the hospital. And you know, if you fight them, you’ll actually be held down, and they’ll put a taser to you and say, “If you kick, we’re going to shock you,” and have a nurse draw your blood.
Jim Yeargan: Now, most jurisdictions don’t do that anymore. Some do, and some officers, any officer can go get this warrant. But they generally don’t, because by the time it takes them to contact the judge, do all the computer work, get the warrant, take you to the hospital, draw the blood, then take you to the jail, they could have been on the road and probably arrested three or four other people in that timeframe.
Jim Yeargan: So some officers will do that, but the majority are not going to actually go get a warrant and take your blood. So it is a possibility that they could force you, but they don’t do it the way they used to. That was very popular a couple of years ago. More officers were doing it. But generally speaking, most do not.
What other fears go through their mind when they are first pulled over?
Jim Yeargan: Many times, they just, they equate it to a speeding ticket, because that’s probably … or a traffic ticket. That’s probably the encounter most people have with the police. So they think, “Well, if I’m cooperative and I do everything the officer says, he’s going to let me go.” So that’s why a lot of people decide to do the field test. They decide to blow. You know, they basically go along to get along. And in a DUI case, it’s not like a speeding ticket, where they may issue you a warning or just charge you with a few miles over the limit. They’re not going to let you go once they smell the alcohol. So a lot of times, people have the misconception that if they’re very friendly, the officer will just release them. Now, it’s always good to be friendly. You know, there’s no need to be rude or fight. And again, be respectful. But that’s why I tell people to refuse everything, because they’re not going to let you go. You’re just going to dig your hole deeper by trying to cooperate and agree with them.
Give me an example of a situation that you’ve come across where you were able to really help somebody out. And what did it mean to them?
Jim Yeargan: Recently, we had a pilot. We were able to get all of his charges reduced. And that meant he could keep his job. And pilots, those are great jobs, and they get paid a lot of money. Had he been convicted, he literally would have lost his ability to work, because they pull your pilot’s license. We’ve helped, recently, another person who was going through a child custody dispute. His wife was trying to use the arrest and everything against him, even though his kids were not in the car. It didn’t have anything to do, directly, with that situation. But of course, her attorney was trying to say, “Oh, he’s been arrested. He has a drug problem, an alcohol problem.” We were able to get all of that dismissed, so that wasn’t able to be used against him. So it’s really interesting how DUI affects so many different areas of a person’s life, depending on what’s going on at that particular moment.
Divorce is still very common. If there is a DUI on somebody’s record, what does that mean as far as the custody of children?
Jim Yeargan: Absolutely. That, again, the other side can use that against them and try to say that, you know, they’re not fit to be around children, or they’re not a good parent. Even if it’s just the first arrest, they worry that this is going to develop into a pattern and keep occurring. So divorces are already contentious enough. Adding an arrest and now a criminal record into that doesn’t help. A lot of jurisdictions also post your mugshots online. So when people call, they’re worried about, “Oh, I’m going through a divorce. Is my soon to be ex-wife going to be able to find this?” And even if they’re not going through a divorce, or you know, “Will my employer see my mugshot online? If someone Googles my name, is this going to come up,” things like that.
Jim Yeargan: So in this society, where everything, we have so much technology, that’s a huge downfall, placing those mugshots online.
You mentioned earlier that you’re a specialist in DUI cases. Can any type of lawyer defend a DUI case?
Jim Yeargan: Unfortunately, any type of lawyer can, and a lot of lawyers will take a DUI case. To be honest, there’s a lot of money in it. So a lot of these guys will charge a lot of money and not do anything for you. DUI has actually been declared, by the American Bar Association, to be a subspecialty. So that’s why when you hire a DUI lawyer, you need to ask, you know, not only about their experience, but if they have certain certifications, like if they’re certified in field sobriety testing. Are they certified as a student, or are they certified as an instructor? Have they taken the classes and are certified on the breath testing machines? Have they taken the drug recognition evaluator classes? Have they taken other drugs that impair driving classes, things like that? There are many, many classes and certifications that real DUI lawyers, people that actually do this all the time, have; that lawyers who are just trying to get money and flip the cases with pleas will not have.
What does that look like for the client? How much does a DUI case tend to cost?
Jim Yeargan: It varies quite a bit from lawyer to lawyer. But for good, solid representation, it’s going to run you anywhere from a starting point of $5,000, depending on your record and other factors, up to $10,000 or $15,000.
What holds people back from not getting the right help?
Jim Yeargan: I think it’s they don’t understand. They will talk to a bunch of lawyers, and they’ll get the $5,000 or $10,000 quotes. Then they’ll talk to other lawyers and get the $1,500, or the $2,000 quote, or even lower. And I don’t think they really understand what all goes into fighting one of these cases. In Georgia, a DUI case is actually the hardest case to try because of the science, the ever-changing law. There’s so much involved in it. It’s not just something you can pick up and do. So I don’t think they really understand that specialized lawyers are needed in this case.
Jim Yeargan: Also, people ask for recommendations. And they get lots of recommendations from this friend, or this person knows someone who helped someone else. And of course, they don’t know who that person is, or what their case was, or what the lawyer did. But it’s not like a credential. So they go and talk to this person, and they just don’t realize that the lawyer they’re talking to is not in the best position to help them with their particular set of facts.
What is it about this industry that you really liked? Why do you continue to be in this area of defense?
Jim Yeargan: It’s really a fascinating area, but the main thing is, I get to work with so many interesting people, and just really good people from all different walks of life. You know, you do some areas of criminal defense, and honestly, you’re just dealing with people who just aren’t good people. But with DUIs, it’s professionals, and people who just made a mistake, or didn’t realize maybe they had one too many. And in some cases, they’re going to pick someone else up who was too drunk to drive, so they think they’re doing the right thing. So you get to work with really good people who just made not the best decision one night. And they’re very scared, and you get to help them put their lives back together and get back on track.
What is the best way for people to contact you if they want your help to represent them?
About Jim Yeargan
James Yeargan is one of the most respected and sought after Atlanta DUI Lawyers. His successful defense record and unprecedented devotion to his clients, has earned him this honor. Mr. Yeargan ’s reputation as a tenacious DUI practitioner, coupled with his remarkable trial strategy and indomitable presence in the courtroom, have earned him the moniker “DUI Jim” throughout the Atlanta community, and Georgia at large. It is his dedication to his clients that makes Mr. Yeargan ’s DUI practice so unique and sought after.