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Court Rejects Double Jeopardy Defense in DUI Case

The Court of Appeals of Georgia considered the case of Chandler v. State, A10A0604 (Ga.App. 2010), last week, ruling that the constitutional protections against being prosecuted multiple times for the same offense were not violated if the second prosecutor did not know about the first prosecution. The ruling came a s blow to Chris Chandler, who had been cited and prosecuted for following too closely and had then challenged a later prosecution for DUI.

Mr. Chandler was involved in an accident on February 16, 2009 in which he rear ended the driver in front of him. A local police officer cited Mr. Chandler for following too closely at the scene, but it was not until April (when the blood tests came back from the crime lab with evidence that he had been driving with illegal drugs in his system) that Mr. Chandler was also charged with DUI. He went to a local court to pay the fine for his following too closely citation in April, well before the formal DUI charges were brought in June.

Georgia law prohibits multiple convictions and successive prosecutions for the same conduct if, among other things, “the several crimes arising from the same conduct are known to the proper prosecuting officer at the time of commencing the prosecution and are within the jurisdiction of a single court.” OCGA section 16-1-7(b). Mr. Chandler argued that this statute included him because the DUI charges were a second prosecution for his conduct of February 16th. The court agreed that the DUI charges were a second prosecution for the same conduct and that jurisdiction was proper, but ruled that Mr. Chandler was required to prove that his citation for following too closely was “known to the proper prosecuting officer.” Because he had not done this, the trial court refused to dismiss the charges and ultimately convicted him of DUI.

Mr. Chandler appealed, arguing that the prosecutor should be deemed to know about the citation for following too closely because the prosecutor’s office handles cases in both courts and so someone in the office must have been aware of Mr. Vargas’s citation and the fact that he had dealt with it before being charged with DUI. Mr. Chandler also referred the appellate court to the case of State v. Kennedy, 216 Ga.App. 405 (1995), in which the defendant paid a traffic ticket that was signed by the solicitor of the state court. In that case, the court ordered that the vehicular homicide charges which were brought later by the same solicitor had to be dismissed on double jeopardy grounds.

The appeals court rejected these arguments. This case was unlike Kennedy, the court write, because the two charges were not brought by the same person. The ruled that OCGA section 16-1-7(b) required Mr. Chandler to prove that the prosecutor in the DUI case actually had personal knowledge of the previous citation. Because Mr. Chandler had not done so, the trial court was correct in refusing to dismiss the charges. The Court of Appeals therefore affirmed the ruling of the trial court and upheld Mr. Chandler’s conviction.

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