How Long After an Accident Could I Still Be Charged With a DUI?

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious charge in Georgia. Being convicted of a DUI can lead to fines, jail time, public service, and/or the suspension or revocation of your driver’s license.

Often a person that drives under the influence is charged with the violation at the time of the traffic stop or accident. However, depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be charged at a later date. You may also face a civil suit from the victims involved in the accident or their families.

DUI Statute of Limitations

Now, Georgia has what is known as a two-year statute of limitations for a misdemeanor DUI charge, and a four-year period for felony DUI charges. The clock starts ticking from the date you drove under the influence.

If the prosecutor fails to file the charges against you before this deadline passes, you cannot be convicted of the crime. But, bear in mind that the trial does not need to be resolved within this time frame, the law only looks at when the case against you was filed.

Generally, the first three DUI offenses are classified as misdemeanors. The fourth offense is a felony. However, note that if a child was in the car at the time of the accident, you may also face child endangerment charges. The first two of these offenses are considered misdemeanors, with the third offense being classified as a felony.

Keep in mind that if someone was killed in the accident, you may be charged with first-degree vehicular homicide. This is a felony in Georgia even if you do not have any prior convictions on your record.

Proving You Were Driving Under the Influence

Georgia law provides two ways that you can be found to be in violation of the DUI laws. The first is if you had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. This is typically determined with a breathalyzer during a traffic stop or at the scene of the accident. However, you may also be charged if an officer has reason to believe that you were not safe to drive due to intoxication.

It’s important to note that an officer’s determination that you were unsafe to drive means that you could be prosecuted for a DUI even if your BAC was under the legal limit. Often this is due to your failure to pass a field sobriety test. Note that if you were under 21 years of age at the time of the accident, you may be charged with a DUI if your BAC was under 0.02%.

But, note that with all criminal charges, the prosecution must prove that you were guilty of the DUI beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high standard and it requires strong evidence. So, if you were not given a breathalyzer or a field sobriety test at the time of the accident, it would be very difficult for the prosecution to prove its case.

Personal Injury Lawsuit

Keep in mind that you may face a civil lawsuit if you were driving under the influence and caused a car accident. This is brought by the other driver or passenger and will ask the court to order you to pay compensation for things like medical expenses, pain and suffering, vehicle repair or replacement, and lost wages.

Note that if the accident caused the death of someone, his or her relatives can bring a case against you. These are known as wrongful death claims, and seek to compensate the victim’s family for funeral/burial expenses, lost wages, and loss of companionship. Keep in mind that if you were convicted of a DUI, this can be used as evidence of fault in the civil suit.

Now, Georgia law also allows for what is known as punitive damages. These amounts go above and beyond the money used to compensate a victim or his family, and are meant to punish the wrongdoer. Depending on the circumstances of your case, these numbers can get quite large.

In Georgia, civil cases have a lower burden of proof than criminal matters. Here, the plaintiff need only show that you were more likely than not responsible for the accident. This means that you may face a lawsuit even if the prosecutor declined to bring charges against you or lost the case at trial.

Bear in mind that the deadline for filing these personal injury and wrongful death cases is two years from the date of the injury/accident. Failure to file within this time frame will bar the claim.