The Walk of Shame: What You Must Do If You Hit a Parked Car

“If a tree falls in the forest, but there is no one around to hear, does it make a sound?” Ask any person, and the answers might differ.

“If you hit a parked car, and there is no one there to see you leave the scene, can you be charged with a criminal offense?” Ask any police officer, and the answer will be an automatic “yes.”

Hitting an Unattended Vehicle – Duty to Notify the Owner

It can happen to anyone. One minute you are coasting through the parking lot, hoping to find a spot and make a quick in-and-out trip into the grocery story. With a million things on your mind, you miscalculate the distance between two cars. Next thing you know, you’ve placed a dent in the car beside you.

In a state of embarrassment and panic, many drivers are tempted to flee the scene – particularly when the damage seems negligible or they are in a rush. Although the temptation to flee might be great, the legal consequences could be much greater.

Leaving the Scene – A Misdemeanor

What seems like a nothing more than an unfortunate error in judgment can actually be charged as a misdemeanor offense. According to Georgia traffic law, a driver who collides with an unattended vehicle is required to notify the owner or operator of the damaged car. The offending driver is required to immediately stop and either locate the owner/operator of the stricken vehicle, or to leave a note in an obvious place on the vehicle that provides his or her name, contact information, and car information. Failure to do so constitutes a misdemeanor offense called a “leaving the scene of an accident.”

Even if the damage is imperceptible or might go unnoticed at first, the duty to notify still exists. Not to mention, in today’s technology-driven society, the likelihood of getting caught is higher than you might think. Many neighborhoods and commercial areas have surveillance systems that increase the chance that a driver might be caught in the act. Plus, the fact that seemingly everyone owns a phone with a camera also heightens the likelihood that someone can snap a picture or video before you leave the scene. Shared videos on Facebook have solved less pressing mysteries than a dinged door, after all.

We’ve all made embarrassing driving errors; we’ve also all noticed mysterious scratches on our cars that no one owned up to causing. The car owner/operator may use her discretion when deciding whether or not to get police or insurance companies involved. Humility might soften the blow. It might not protect your pocket, but it may very well protect your criminal record.  The cost of repairing a dent may very well be cheaper than the cost of court fees, fines, and hiring an attorney.

Best advice? Bite the bullet. Be honest, and follow the law.

Owners/Operators of Unattended Vehicles – Protecting Yourself

If you are fortunate enough to see the accident take place, gather as much information about the offending vehicle as you can. A description of the vehicle’s make, model, color, license plate number, and identifying features (such as bumper stickers or scratches) can help police identify the car that hit you. Details about the driver’s physical description are also helpful if you have them.

Unfortunately, many owners never see their car get hit. The next best step is to search for witnesses. Ask individuals in the parking lot or nearby stores/restaurants if they saw anyone hit your car or behave suspiciously around your vehicle. Ask them for details about the car, driver, and time that they watched it occur. Make sure to ask the witnesses for their contact information, as well. You can also ask nearby shop owners what surveillance systems are in place. They might be willing to review footage to see if it shows any details about the incident or driver. Whether you leave or not, take pictures of the accident scene. Photographic evidence can help corroborate a claim submitted to your insurance company, should you choose to file one.

Most importantly, call the police as soon as possible. It might seem like a hassle, but your insurance company might require that damage be reported to policy within 24 hours to be considered “not at fault” damage. Filing an accident report can speed up the insurance claims process, even if police are not able to locate the driver.

Contact –

If you have been charged with one of these violations or any other traffic accident lawyers, be sure to give us a call at Sam McRae Law, LLC.

The Cameras on the Bus Go Click, Click, Click:

Consequences of Passing a School Bus in Gwinnett County

Some of the most frustrating hours spent on the road are those shared with stop-and-go traffic caused by local school buses. The constant halts can be frazzling, as can be the increased attentiveness required when driving nearby. Under Georgia traffic law, passing a stopped school bus while its stop sign (“stop-arm”) is out constitutes a serious misdemeanor traffic offense. If cited by a law enforcement official, unlawful passing of a school bus can result in a fine up to $1,000, a mandatory court appearance, and six points added to a driver’s license.

When there are no police visible, however, many drivers are tempted to pass a stopped bus and shave a few minutes off of their commute. If you are driving in Gwinnett County, however, police officers aren’t the only eyes you need to watch out for:  it’s the buses themselves.

January 2016 marks one year since Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) joined nearby school districts in attaching cameras to its school buses in hopes of catching drivers who illegally pass school buses stopped for pedestrians. Local lawmakers enacted the Gwinnett County School Bus Stop-Arm Enforcement Program to deter drivers from passing stopped school buses and endangering the lives of children who enter and exit the buses. Cameras mounted on the buses provide hi-resolution still images, video recording, and information detailing the date, time, and location of each incident.

How do GCPS stop-arm cameras work?

GCPS has contracted with Redflex Traffic Systems to install the cameras, monitor the surveillance, and distribute citation information to offenders. Cameras mounted on the bus begin recording once the yellow lights on a stopping bus stop flashing. If a person runs the stop-arm camera, the footage is immediately downloaded by RedFlex, where employees verify that the image is clear and license number is legible. If so, the file is sent directly to GCPS police, who evaluate the visual. If it meets enforcement criteria, the file is sent back to RedFlex, who sends out the citation with the court date. The alleged offender has the option to pay the fine or contest it in Recorders Court.

Will points be added to my license?

No-shows and non-payers of citations are sent a second notice. Failure to pay after a second notice has been issued will ultimately result in the fine being turned over to a debt collection agency.  Contrary to popular belief, failure to pay is never reported to local law enforcement – meaning the citation never results in points on a license, additional fines, or reporting to your insurance company.

Should I hire a lawyer to defend me?

If you believe you have received a citation from GCPS in error, you are entitled to contest it at a civil hearing on the date scheduled on your citation. It is important to note, however, that it is no more than a civil fine. With fines ranging from $300 for a first-offense to $1,000 for three or more offenses in five years, hiring an attorney to defend you may cause a deeper dent in your pocket than the citation. Additionally, it is less likely that a judge will be sympathetic at a civil hearing. However, if you believe you have wrongfully received a citation, you may contact your local law enforcement for advice.

When is it illegal to pass a school bus in Georgia?

With the heightened risk of punishment, many Gwinnett County citizens are asking, “What does it mean to illegally pass a school bus?” Georgia traffic law requires drivers to halt for a school bus stopped for passengers under the following conditions:

  • When on a two-lane roadway, drivers from both directions must stop.
  • When on a two-lane roadway with a center turning lane, drivers from both directions must stop.
  • When on a four-lane roadway without a median separation, drivers from both directions must stop.
  • When a roadway of four lanes or more with a center turning lane, drivers from both directions must stop.
  • When on a divided highway of four lanes or more and median separation, only drivers following the school bus must stop.

As a rule of thumb, if there isn’t a median separating you and the bus, stop. It can save you more than two extra minutes, some money, and points on your license: It could save the life of a child.

Contact –

If you have a received a traffic citation for Unlawfully Passing a School Bus, contact one of our Gwinnett traffic lawyers for a free consultation with one of our expert Traffic Defense Attorneys.

Goodbye Dekalb Recorders Court!

Dekalb County Recorders Court is no more. The past year has seen the court go through a turbulent period. The court is facing law suits from several different arenas. The court is being challenged by the ACLU over its use of a private for-profit probation service that seemed to imprison those too poor to pay high fines. The court settled a law suit over responses to open record requests, and still battles one over false arrests due to clerical mistakes. The District Atorney’s office – who were prosecuting cases there – abruptly left in the face of a challenge to their jurisdiction. And to cap it all off, the court may not have had jurisdiction over state law traffic violations in the first place.

In response to these challenges, local leaders have begun the process of revamping the court. Dekalb County State Court judges have stepped in to shore up the jurisdictional issues and remove the private probation company. Dekalb County Solicitor General Sherry Boston’s office has stepped in to prosecute the cases – in some instances personally appearing in traffic court to oversee the transition herself. The next step is two pieces of legislation recently passed through the Georgia General Assembly authorizing the creation of a Non-Jury Division of the Dekalb County State Court. This division will essentially replace Dekalb Recorders Court.

This legislation means that Dekalb County will have a chance at the traffic court it deserves. No longer will the judges be appointed (and reappointed) by County Commissioners that were out of touch with the daily operation of the court, but they will actually be up for popular election like almost every other judge in this state. If a judge does a bad job, he or she can be replaced by election. This is important in a court that comes in touch with more of the county’s citizens than any other.

Dekalb County’s traffic court will now be an extension of the very well managed State Court. State Court probation services will manage those who need to go on payment plans to pay their fines. No longer will a for-profit company be able to imprison drivers who fail to pay fines and probation fees.

State Court clerks will manage records – hopefully cutting down on the numerous errors of the past that resulted in license suspensions and sometimes false arrests. The oversight of State Court should produce a more efficient and well managed court system.

The Dekalb County Solicitors are already in place prosecuting traffic ticket cases in Dekalb County. This has been a night to day shift from the previous tenure of the District Attorneys office in the same role. In the past month, I have not seen a single recommendation that included jail time on an offense where it was not mandatory- which was common with the district attorneys. Gone are the 40 day jail sentences for speeding tickets. In fact, most of the base fines have been lowered or cut in half. Court efficiency has increased as less defendants find it necessary to bindover their cases to State Court.

While there is still much work to be done, as a Dekalb County traffic lawyer I optimistically believe the demise of Dekalb County Recorders Court in favor of the (somewhat awkwardly named) Non-Jury Division of State Court will ultimately result in a better court. We are moving closer to the traffic court that Dekalb County deserves.

What do traffic lawyers charge?

“Hello, this is the traffic lawyer speaking. How may I help you?”

“What’s your rate?”

“I’m going to need more information than that.”

The above is a snippet of an almost daily occurrence at my Georgia traffic attorney law office. Potential clients (most well meaning) call the office and demand to know our rate. This type of question seems to imply that every traffic ticket case is the same. That every client is the same. And that every lawyer is the same. We are boiled down to a rate, a fee, or a retainer. My service as an attorney is perceived as a mere commodity. The assumption is that the potential client will call every law office on the list, demand their rates, and then make their decision to hire the cheapest attorney.

While this may seem like a logical approach to some people, the practice of law (even traffic law) is a little more complicated than that. My rate will vary on what you are charged with, which court your case will be heard in, and the client’s goal. A simple case that can be placed in diversion without much court time will get the lowest rate. A serious traffic offense in a difficult court that will require litigation will get a much higher fee. My rate will almost certainly vary by court. Some courts are just plain difficult to do business in. Others are out of the way, and not many lawyers service them. Other courts we do a high volume practice in, so we are almost always there – so adding one more case to the load isn’t a big deal.

An attorney’s fee is not a one size fits all proposition, but is carefully considered by the individual’s needs. Most clients are okay with a reduced charge to keep their driving history clean. They are okay paying an attorney fee and a court fine to maintain a good driving record. Their main goal is convenience and long term savings on their insurance premiums. These clients will get the lowest fees. Other clients want to fight their cases aggressively. They will want to subpoena dash cam video from police cars, or have a jury trial on the merits of their case. These clients will necessarily be quoted higher fees.

There are additional elements to consider when deciding who to hire. How well do you get along with the attorney? Do you believe the attorney will get the job done? What is his or her familiarity with the traffic court your case is being heard in? Will he or she return your phone calls, or are you okay with less customer service for a cheaper rate?

When deciding what rate to quote for a traffic ticket case, I will take many factors into consideration. What other attorney’s are quoting is not a big one. I have been told that I am neither the cheapest, or the most expensive traffic lawyer in Georgia. I’m somewhere in the middle. For me, that works. I do enough volume to keep myself familiar with the Georgia traffic courts and laws, but not so cheap that I am overwhelmed with a massive caseload and unable to find time to talk to my clients.

For me, it’s about finding the right spot. For a potential client, it should also be about finding the right attorney for them. So, give me a call – but don’t ask what my rate is up front – let’s talk about your case first.

Georgia’s Super Speeder Law

Georgia has enacted a Super Speeder law that throws an extra wrinkle into the speeding laws of the state. The law imposes additional penalties on those convicted of speeding at high rates of speed. For example, someone convicted of speeding over 75 miles per hour on a two lane road is considered a Super Speeder. Furthermore, someone speeding over 85 miles per hours on any road or highway – like an interstate – is also considered a super speeder.

The fine for super speeding is $200. This is on top of whatever fine was paid in court. This money goes directly to the State of Georgia, and not paying the Super Speeder fine will result in a license suspension. The suspension will still be imposed even if you do not have a Georgia driver’s license. The fine must be paid within 120 days of the conviction date. Paying the ticket online is considered a conviction. So, your penalty might not be over if you decide pay your ticket online or hire a traffic lawyer to represent you.

A super speeder in Georgia is not considered a separate charge from a speeding ticket. It is not a more heinous version of speeding. You will not receive extra points on your license. The super speeder law in Georgia is merely an additional punishment for speeding at a high rate of speed.

As a traffic lawyer in the Atlanta, Georgia area, I can almost always save my clients money when it comes to Super Speeder tickets. If I am able to have the speed reduced below 85, I will save you the $200 super speeder penalty up front. If I am able to keep the speeding ticket completely off your record – or even minimizes the speed reported on your driving history – further savings will be seen by keeping your auto insurance premiums low. In cases of super speeder tickets, hiring a competent traffic lawyer will almost always pay for itself in the short run and long run.

Should traffic court judges be elected?

I have recently been contemplating the role of Traffic Court Judge in our community. In all likelihood, the last judge you came into contact with on an office basis was a traffic court judge. Almost every driver has received a traffic citation at some point – and if you haven’t, you probably aren’t reading this blog anyway. :)

In this regard, a traffic court judge is the ultimate people’s judge. He/She maintains the order and safety of the highways and roads we travel everyday. He/She judges over cases of state law that can result in imprisonment up to 12 months, license suspensions, and $1000 fines.  These are important matters to leave to happenstance.

But oddly enough, even though every other judge in Georgia is elected – traffic court judges do not face elections. Instead, they are appointed by mayors and county commissioners. Once appointed,the same mayors and county commissioners reapoint the same judges…over and over again. The process of job evaluation is almost non-existent. If you are in the club, your friends will continue to protect your judgeship.

For example, the Dekalb County Recorders Court judges are appointed by the Board of Commissioners. This board contains exactly zero licensed attorneys. (I may be wrong here, but a quick check online is my source – correct me if I’m wrong). In Gwinnett County Recorders Court, the judges are elected by the State Court Judges – who are publicly elected into office. This has some semblance of judicial accountability.

Georgia has a long tradition of electing judges. We believe that the judiciary serves the people and should reflect our societies morals. The one good way to keep a judge in line, is to have him face reelection on a regular basis. This keeps the judiciary honest, and true to the goals of serving the public. And trust me, judges are aware of how they are perceived in the public – it goes with the job.

But a part-time traffic court judge in Dekalb Recorders Court who has been appointed by a Chief Judge that was herself appointed by a board of commissioners has no loyalty to the public. His job security is based on keeping the Chief Judge happy with his performance. He doesn’t care what the citizens of Dekalb County think. His job and his loyalty aren’t to the public that he should be serving, but to an non-elected official that decides if he keeps his job. His rulings in court will reflect that, and influence the lives of the many thousands that fall under his powers.

In conclusion,  having traffic court judges publicly elected officials – rather than appointees – makes the most sense. These judges serve the people. They rule over the basic law of the land, and come into contact with more people than any other judge. They should be accountable to the public for their job performance. Traffic Court judges should be electable positions.

 

Atlanta Municipal Court: What’s PTIT mean?

Atlanta Municipal Court is one of the busiest traffic courts in the country. Every week thousands of cases are handled. Remarkably, these cases are processed in a somewhat efficient manner. In large part, this is due to the PTIT program in place in that court. So, what is PTIT?

Spelled out PTIT stands for “Pre-Trial Intervention – Traffic.” This means the traffic case is handled prior to it entering the trial phase. The case is diverted from the typical trial route of arraignment, calendar call, and trial date. Instead, the defendant is asked to complete certain requirements in exchange for a dismissal in his or her case. This will always include a participation fee – that cannot exceed $300 – and is usually cheaper than the original fine amount. It will also typical include completion of a course – such as defensive driving. This meets the requirements of a rehabilitation program, as well as deterring future infractions by a accessing a monetary fee. The end result for you is that your ticket is dismissed.

Who qualifies? Anyone over 21 that has not participated in the program in the past 12 months and the current charges do not involve an accident. Certain charges are also disqualified such as speeding tickets 31 mph over and Suspended License cases. CDL drivers are also disqualified. (If you don’t know what CDL stands for – you don’t have one).

How do I enter the program? Show up for your court date at the required time and courtroom. Simple as that, the court staff will inform you if you qualify for PTIT and how to proceed if you wish to partake. You’ll be sent to another court room where a solicitor will process your case. After hearing the requirements, if you decide not to participate, simply return to your original courtroom and handle you case from there.

Why should I hire a lawyer to sign me up for PTIT? Well, this Atlanta Traffic Lawyer says you shouldn’t! Go to court yourself and sign up. The process takes a couple of hours at most. Finish the requirements and collect your dismissal. But if you wish to partake in the program, and are unable to attend court, we can appear on your behalf. We take care of the court appearance, and turning in your paperwork. You will never have to appear. Plus we are responsible for things when they occasionally go wrong. My firm charges $350 for the service. This is the smallest fee we will charge on any case, but even still it’s not for everyone. We regularly consult people to go sign themselves up for the program. If you have more questions, please contact us.

Should I bindover my Dekalb County Recorders Court case to State court?

In the past several months, Dekalb County Recorders Court has become an increasingly harsh and inhospitable court to find yourself charged with a traffic violation. Recommended sentences from the District Attorney’s office regularly include jail time for common charges like speeding tickets. A common joke among Dekalb County lawyers is that you are much better off getting arrested for a felony drug charge than a speeding ticket. As you will likely receive probation on a first time felony charge, and a week in jail for the speeding ticket. For the most part, the judges go along with the recommendations and regularly fill the county jail with traffic violators.

However, you don’t have to handle your case in Dekalb Recorders Court. You can have your case moved to State Court simply by demanding a jury trial. In the State of Georgia you are guaranteed your right to a jury trial even on the smallest traffic infraction. By making a jury trial demand, your case will be transferred to the State Court of Dekalb County. The State Court is much more efficient and organized than the Recorders Court. You will be dealing with prosecutors that are typically more seasoned, and have a much more serious caseload consisting of DUIs and Family Violence Battery cases.

Does this mean everyone charged with a traffic violation in Dekalb County should bind their case over by demanding a jury trial? No. If you qualify for the diversion program in Recorder’s Court, you should seriously consider participating in it. If you can manage the requirements involved, that’s an easy way to earn a dismissal. If you have a case that does not come with any points (such as Expired Tag) – you definitely need to keep your case in Recorders Court. If you have an accident case where you don’t believe the other driver will appear at trial – keep it in Recorders Court.

Real sentences that this Dekalb Traffic Lawyer has seen passed out in Dekalb Recorders Court: 10 days in jail and a $1000 fine for a 92mph speeding ticket, 10 days in jail and a $1000 for a Suspended License case, 25 days in jail for drag racing, and on. You can’t expect to get a free pass in Dekalb County on traffic violations anymore. If you find yourself charged with a serious offense in Dekalb County Recorders Court, you should think seriously about your right to a jury trial. If you need help making this decision – please contact a Dekalb County Traffic Attorney for a consultation.

 

The Nolo Contendre Plea: Advantages and Disadvantages

If you have been charged with an traffic offense, you will have three options to choose from when in court with regards to your plea decision: to plead guilty, not guilty or no contest.

The first two are straightforward, while the last one can be a bit confusing for defendants. In light of your case and the potential penalties that may result, understanding the concept of a no contest or nolo contendre plea as well as its pros and cons, is very important.

What “No Contest” Means

In the most basic sense, when you plead no contest, you are telling the court that you do not agree with the charges being brought against you, but also do not have any intentions on disputing them. As such, this is not technically an admission of guilt, but rather a statement of non-defense.

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Georgia’s Move-over Law: Don’t Get a Ticket for Violating It

Georgia recently enacted a Move-Over Law, which is designed to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities to authorized emergency personnel on the side of the road.

This law requires drivers to make a lane change to a lane that isn’t directly beside the emergency vehicle, if possible. If it is not possible, you must slow down your speed to less than the posted speed limit.

Move Over For…

You must move over or reduce your speed for stationary authorized emergency vehicles with flashing lights, stationary towing or recovery vehicles, and stationary highway maintenance vehicles with flashing lights.

The Atlanta traffic lawyers at Sam McRae encourage you to note that the word “stationary” applies to all of the above vehicles—you can proceed as usual if the vehicle is driving on the road or on the shoulder.

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