Frequently Asked Questions
If you are like most people, your knowledge of the Savannah criminal justice system is limited. When you or someone you love is accused of a crime, you are forced to learn a great deal in a short period of time. This section by an experienced defense lawyer may help acquaint you with some of the most common concepts and terms in the Savannah, Georgia criminal justice system.
Alford pleas and nolo contendere pleas are both special pleas that defendants can use to resolve their criminal case. When a defendant takes an Alford plea, he does not admit guilt. He simply acknowledges that the State of Georgia has sufficient evidence to convict him of the crime alleged. This resolves the case without forcing a defendant to “admit guilt.”
Court proceeding in which the criminal charges pending against an accused person are read in open court and the defendant pleads “guilty” or “not guilty.” This is often the first court proceeding in a criminal case.
A trial with only a judge, no jury.
The evidence in the case including any police reports, witness statements, audio or video recordings, etc. Defendants are entitled to any evidence that may be exculpatory, or tends to prove his innocence.
First Time Drug Offender:
First time drug offenders in Georgia potentially have alternative sentences available to them. Georgia’s conditional discharge statute or the First Offender Act may be a good options, depending upon the facts of your case.
In Georgia, all crimes that are punished by more than one year in prison are considered felonies. The most severe felony punishment is life in prison or the death penalty. A felony conviction significantly impacts your rights as a citizen, as well. A convicted felon may no longer own or possess a firearm, for instance.
Under Georgia law, misdemeanors carry a sentence of up to 12 months in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. Misdemeanor offenses in Georgia include possession of marijuana for less than an once, theft where the value of the property is less than $500, and most traffic violations.
A formal request made to the judge for an order or judgment. Motions may be oral or written. Frequently filed motions include motions to challenge the constitutionality of a search or seizure.
This is a Latin term that means “will no longer prosecute.” It is a term used when the State no longer wishes to prosecute a case. A motion for Nolle Prosequi or “a Nol Pros motion” must be announced in open Court. Once the Judge grants this motion, the case is considered dismissed. However, Defendants should know the State may re-accuse the case for up to 6 months after the Nol Pros motion is granted.
Nolo contendere plea:
Nolo contendere pleas allow Defendants to resolve their case without admitting or denying their guilt. They are often used to resolve traffic citations in order to avoid points on a person’s driver’s license, but there are a myriad of other reasons why someone may wish to plea nolo contendere.
Probation is an alternative to serving time in jail or prison. Probation is a privilege that can be revoked if the probationer fails to comply with the terms of his/her sentence.
Violating the terms of your probation may result in serious penalties. Probation comes with general conditions such as reporting to your probation officer. Often special conditions apply, as well. If you have been accused of violating your probation, you need an experienced attorney advocating on your behalf. The State will only be required to prove your violation “by a preponderance of the evidence.” This is a very low burden of proof that State can easily meet causing far too many probated sentences to be revoked.
Recidivist Statute in Georgia:
In an effort to deter repeat offenders, The State of Georgia codified O.C.G.A. 17-10-7.
- Pursuant to O.C.G.A. 17-10-7 (a), anyone with a previous felony conviction that is convicted of a second felony must be sentenced to the longest period of time prescribed by law. The trial judge may, at his/her discretion, probate the sentence in whole or in part.
- Pursuant to O.C.G.A. 17-10-7(c), anyone with three previous felony convictions shall, upon the fourth felony conviction, be sentenced to the longest period of time prescribed by law. The trial judge MAY NOT probate or suspend any part of this sentence.
Payment to a victim for any harm caused by the offender’s acts. This is usually only relevant in property crimes or crimes in which a victim has sustained medical bills as a result of the defendant’s conduct.
Serious Violent Offenders:
O.C.G.A. 17-10-6.1 defines serious violent felonies as
- Murder or Felony Murder
- Armed Robbery
- Aggravated Child Molestation
- Aggravated Sodomy
- Aggravated Sexual Battery
No person convicted of a serious violent felony shall be sentenced as a first offender. Further, a first conviction of a serious violent felony in which the accused is sentenced to life imprisonment shall not be eligible for any form of parole or early termination before he/she has served a minimum of 30 years in prison. The sentence may not be reduced by any earned time, early release, work release, or any other sentence-reducing measure. O.C.G.A. 17-10-6.1 (e) does allow the Judge, at his/her discretion, to depart from the mandatory minimum sentence required by law if the prosecuting attorney and the defendant agree to a sentence below the mandatory minimum.
Sex Offender Registry:
Before being released from prison, a sexual offender must provide the sheriff of the county in which they will be living with their information. Furthermore, they must update this information every year on their birthday, for example.