Georgia Criminal Lawyers
If you need one of the best criminal lawyers in Georgia, give us a call.
If you need a lawyer who has been consistently ranked as one of the best criminal defense lawyers in Atlanta and across Georgia, you are in the right place. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Pate, Johnson & Church have been winning serious criminal cases in Atlanta, Brunswick, Savannah, Macon, and in dozens of other cities in Georgia for well over 25 years.
Our firm’s success comes through hard work, creativity and diligence. We are often able to find legal and factual defenses that less experienced lawyers may miss. Many times, our effort leads to a pretrial dismissal or very favorable resolution of the case. In cases where a pretrial dismissal is not possible, our lawyers prepare our clients for trial with unmatched diligence and focus. This trial preparation often leads to a dismissal right before trial, a “not guilty” verdict at trial, or a very favorable negotiated resolution of the case. That’s how the best criminal lawyers in Georgia get results.
Our founding partner, Page Pate, is consistently ranked as one of the best criminal lawyers in Georgia.
In this video, Page Pate explains the basics of Georgia criminal law and procedures, and what someone should expect if they are arrested in Georgia and charged with a serious crime
I’ve been representing people in serious criminal cases in Georgia for well over 20 years now, and when someone comes to us and they’ve just been charged with a crime, especially if it’s their first offense, they wanna know what to expect. How do I get out of jail? What’s gonna happen when I go to court? What kinda time am I facing for this offense? So I thought it might be helpful to walk through the basic steps, so that you know what to expect if you’ve been charged with a crime in Georgia.
Now, the first issue, the first consideration for almost everyone is, how do I get a bond? How do I get out of jail? Just because I’ve been charged doesn’t mean I did anything wrong and I need to go back home, take care of the kids, go to work, whatever. I need to get a bond and be released so I’m not sitting in jail waiting for my court day. Well, fortunately, in most cases in Georgia, it’s not that hard to get a bond. If it’s a low-level offense, say a DUI, a misdemeanor possession of marijuana, there’s gonna be a schedule of bail amounts there at the jail. So the person’s arrested by the police, they’re taken to jail, they’re told what the bond amount is. They can get it posted and then they can be released, usually within the same day.
Now for some more serious offenses, felony offenses, you may have to see a judge before you can go home. And in most counties around Georgia, that judge will actually come to the jail. Many jails have court rooms there at the jail where they bring in folks who’ve just been arrested to see a judge, the judge will tell them what they’re charged with, what their rights are, and then hopefully, set a bond. And again, once that bond is posted, once the money is paid to either a bonding company or to the jail, the sheriff’s office, then the person can be released.
Many times that bond will be a property bond, where someone’s simply putting up their property guaranteeing that the person will come back to court. But there are a few exceptions to that rule. There are some very serious crimes in Georgia where that magistrate judge, the judge, the person sees the first time at the jail doesn’t have the jurisdiction to set a bond, just can’t do it even if he or she wanted to. And those crimes include things like murder, kidnapping, aggravated child molestation, drug trafficking, very serious offenses, and under Georgia law, the only way a person can get a bond in one of those cases, is to go in front of a superior court judge. That’s a higher level court. And so to do that, the lawyer has to request a hearing in superior court, try to convince that judge to grant a bond. And we’ve done that many times. Just because you’re charged with a serious crime doesn’t mean you can’t get a bond. You can get a bond even if for a murder case in Georgia, but you have to convince a superior court judge to set one. That process is certainly gonna take more time than simply getting a bond at the jail.
Now, the next time you’re gonna go back to court or even hear about your case perhaps, is when there’s been an accusation or an indictment filed. So let’s say you’ve been arrested, you’ve been released, you’re out on bond, you’re at home, you’re working, you’re living your life. It may take several months, many months in some cases, for you to get a notice saying, “It’s time to go back to court.” That notice will usually come after you’ve been accused or indicted, and that’s the formal charge. An accusation is basically a document filed by the prosecutor with the court, charging you with a particular offense. And for most crimes in Georgia, that’s okay.
But there are some serious crimes again, that are treated a little bit differently, and for those crimes, the prosecutor has to go to a grand jury and get an indictment, has to convince the grand jury to vote to bring you back to court. And that’s usually easy for a prosecutor to do because it’s their show, you know, you don’t get to present evidence in front of the grand jury. Your lawyer doesn’t know when it’s happening, usually, cannot appear in there, cannot ask questions. So it’s really not a fair shot. So, usually, if they want an indictment, they’re gonna get an indictment. Either way, accusation or an indictment, that’s the formal charge that brings you back to court.
And when you come back to court, it’s usually for your arraignment. Now, that’s just a formality in most counties. All you’re doing is coming to court, signing a piece of paper or appearing in front of a judge and saying, “I’m not guilty.” Some county, some judges will allow you to do that by signing a piece of paper. You may not even have to go to court. You can waive that arraignment. And again, this arraignment may take several months after you are initially arrested and released from jail. But the date is important because the arraignment date sets the clock or starts the clock ticking from when your lawyer has to file motions in the court.
Now, hopefully after the arraignment, sometimes at the arraignment and in a few cases, before, your lawyer will receive information from the prosecutor, what we call “discovery.” And that’s the package of stuff that the state’s gonna use to try to convict you in this case. It’s the evidence they have against you. Could be police reports, say there was a traffic stop, you may have a copy of the video of the traffic stop, witness statements, crime lab reports, all kinds of information that the state has that they’re gonna use against you in their case. They have to give that information to your lawyer. That’s the discovery.
But that’s not the end of the case because they’re not going to try to give you information that’s helpful to you in all cases. Your lawyer needs to go out and do an independent investigation, talk to the witnesses, visit the so called crime scene, consult with experts, hire investigators, do everything you can to develop the evidence that you will need to defend the case in court. You cannot simply rely on the discovery material that’s produced by the prosecutor. There’s usually a lot more out there to help you win the case.
Now, as you’re getting the evidence in, your lawyer should be considering pretrial motions. Motions that can be filed challenging certain aspects of the case. Now, in Georgia criminal cases, we’ll almost always see a motion to suppress evidence when there’s been any kind of search. It can be as simple as a traffic stop where you get pulled over for speeding and they searched the car. Maybe they say they had your consent to search, but they really didn’t. Maybe they had no reasonable basis to stop the car to begin with. That can be challenged in a motion to suppress, and we’ve won many of those motions. And usually, if you can win a motion to suppress, especially in a drug case where the police find something in your car or find something in your house, or a computer case, where there’s an allegation of fraud or possession of contraband images. If you can successfully challenge the search of that computer, the case is usually over with. So very important to consider pretrial motions to suppress. But there are many other pretrial motions and it all depends on the facts of the case as to what sort of issues your lawyer can raise before trial.
There are also demands. You can demand evidence be produced to you. And in some cases, your lawyer should consider filing what’s called a speedy trial demand. In Georgia, you really don’t get a right to a speedy trial unless you ask for one. So, if your lawyer’s gonna be prepared to try the case and you really wanna get that kinda leverage, or especially somebody’s still in jail, didn’t get a bond, you always wanna consider filing that speedy trial demand.
Now, you’re gonna go to court probably more than you realize. These cases, especially a serious felony case in Georgia, it may take multiple court appearances before it’s resolved and certainly, if you wanna go to trial, you’re probably gonna be going to court month after month for trial calendars, status conferences, pretrial hearings. And really, that’s just the court’s attempt to try to get your lawyer and the state to resolve the case, to focus on the case. So you’ll get a notice, maybe it’s every month to show back up into court. You’ll walk in there, there’ll be a bunch of other people, a bunch of other cases. You’ll simply make an announcement, “I’m here and our case is still pending,” but expect that. Don’t expect the case to be resolved within a month or two unless your lawyer has already arranged a negotiated resolution or a dismissal of the case. If you’re gonna go to trial, it may take a few court appearances before you get there.
And of course, all during this process, your lawyer’s likely talking to the prosecutor about a potential plea. You know, what can you do for us? In Georgia, there are a lot of options. The case can be resolved by a dismissal. And many times, if your lawyer has done his or her job and discovered good solid evidence that can help you, that the prosecutor may not have been aware of, you can convince the prosecutor to dismiss the case. If you have a good pretrial motion that either a judge has looked favorably upon or it’s a very solid issue, you can convince the prosecutor to dismiss the case.
But beyond dismissal, there are very favorable resolutions like pretrial diversion, first offender act treatment, all kinds of things that will allow a person to avoid prison, even in a serious felony case. And when it is a prison case, of course, plea negotiations can involve getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences, all types of different favorable treatment, just depending upon your lawyer’s ability to negotiate that with the prosecutor.
But ultimately, if plea negotiations are not successful, you have to consider taking the case to trial. And in many situations, and I know this from experience, we usually get the best results when we’re prepared to take the case to trial. When we’ve done all of this work to get to that point, I’ve had prosecutors come to me literally the night before, call me on the phone, “Hey, how can we resolve this? I’ll give you what you want now.” And I suppose that’s because in many cases, the defense lawyer never prepared for trial, but the prosecutors know that we do, and so many times, they’ll just say, “Okay, well, we thought we’d call your bluff. We can’t do it. Here’s our best offer.” And many times, it’s something that’s reasonable to us or even a dismissal, in the right case. But also don’t be afraid of going to trial. Any good defense lawyer likes a trial. I’ve been surprised at some cases I thought where sure cases that needed to be resolved by a plea, but we ended up taking the case to trial because we did not get a reasonable offer and we won because the state was not properly prepared to win the case at trial.
So this is basically what happens and what you should expect in a Georgia criminal case from start to finish. Again, this process can take a long time and you may have questions during the process. If you or someone you know is going through this, feel free to give us a call. I’ve been representing people in cases like this for 23 years now and I can certainly answer questions and hopefully, help you through the process.
The best criminal lawyers in Georgia get great results:
RICO CHARGES AGAINST BUSINESS OWNER – DISMISSED
Convinced prosecutors to dismiss a RICO indictment after we filed a Motion to Dismiss with the court. The case involved allegations of theft by deception and racketeering.
(State v. S.F.)
AGGRAVATED CHILD MOLESTATION – NOT GUILTY
Won a criminal jury trial for a client falsely accused of multiple aggravated child molestation charges in Gainesville, Georgia. The client was facing 25 years to life in prison if convicted. He was acquitted on all 6 counts.
(State v. A.C.)
DRUG CHARGES AGAINST DOCTOR – NOT GUILTY
Won a criminal jury trial for a doctor charged in Northeast Georgia with the unlawful distribution of controlled substances. He was facing up to 100 years in prison if convicted.
(State v. P.R.)
DRUG TRAFFICKING CHARGES – DISMISSED
Successfully resolved a marijuana trafficking case by convincing prosecutors that the search was unlawful. The State dismissed all charges and returned the money and property they had seized from our client.
(State v. Y.P.)
CHILD MOLESTATION – DISMISSED
Convinced North Georgia prosecutors to dismiss multiple sex offense charges against our client by reinvestigating the case, interviewing witnesses, and obtaining conclusive evidence that the charges against our client were false.
(State v. J.J.)
ARMED ROBBERY AND KIDNAPPING – NOT GUILTY
Won a criminal jury trial for a client charged with armed robbery and kidnapping in Marietta (Cobb County), Georgia. The judge granted our motion and dismissed all charges after we questioned the state’s key witnesses. Our client was facing life in prison.
(State v. D.P.)
AGGRAVATED CHILD MOLESTATION – NOT GUILTY
Won a criminal jury trial for our client who was falsely accused of multiple counts of aggravated child molestation in North Georgia. If convicted, our client would have died in prison. After a lengthy trial, the jury found him not guilty on all counts.
(State v. B.H.)
DRUG TRAFFICKING – EVIDENCE SUPPRESSED, CASE DISMISSED
Won a major drug conspiracy case in Savannah, Georgia when we convinced the prosecutors to dismiss the case the day before trial. The judge had granted our pretrial motions to suppress wiretaps and statements made by our client.
(State v. V.L.)
AGGRAVATED CHILD MOLESTATION – CONVICTION REVERSED
Won a new trial for a client who had been convicted of rape, child molestation and related charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison after the client’s prior lawyer had been ineffective in representing him at the first trial.
(State v. J.S.D)
MALICE MURDER CHARGES – DISMISSED
Resolved a murder case in Athens, Georgia when the district attorney dismissed the charges against our client before trial. Our client was facing life in prison, but he was released from prison without ever having to go to trial.
(State v. J.H.)
Learn more about Georgia crimes:
A recent review from avvo.com:
Rating = 5/5
“I don’t know how to begin to express how much I appreciate the team of Pate Law Firm.
From the beginning my family was treated with the extreme most dignity and caring. Despite being one client of many Mr. Pate and his associates always managed to make us feel as though we were the only client he had, with prompt and immediate attention when needed. Aside from the relationship his knowledge of the law in the area where we needed him was unparalleled and his performance in court rivaled the best in the nation! I sincerely believe that GOD led me to his team and I would tell anyone that it would be in their best interest to use the firm of Page Pate. He managed to accomplish the absolute best case scenario and gave my son back his life with NO indictment!”
Charlotte M., mother of former client
What happens if I am arrested in Georgia for a serious crime?
Depending on the nature of the case and specific Georgia criminal law involved, you will either get arrested by a police officer at the scene of a crime, after an arrest warrant has been taken out in your name, or after a grand jury returns an indictment listing the formal charges against you.
Whether you are arrested or indicted in Georgia, the prosecution (referred to as “the State” in Georgia criminal cases) must have “probable cause” to believe that you engaged in a crime. Unlike proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” it doesn’t take much evidence to establish probable cause. If you are charged in an indictment, that means a grand jury has already found that there was probable cause to charge and arrest you with a crime. If you have not yet been indicted, there is usually a “preliminary hearing” or “probable cause hearing” in order to determine whether your arrest was supported by probable cause.
While it is unusual for Georgia criminal charges to be completely dismissed after a preliminary hearing, the hearing is still an important opportunity to find out what kind of evidence the State has against you. It can also be an opportunity to question law enforcement officers and other witnesses while they are under oath in order to lock them into their stories in case they will testify again later at trial.
After being charged with a Georgia crime, you will usually be brought into court for an “arraignment” where you will plead either guilty or not guilty. After this, the prosecution must turn over all of the evidence it has against you, including police reports, video footage, lab results, witness statements, and other evidence. This evidence is called “discovery” and every defendant has a right to access this evidence before the trial.
Can I get a bond in a Georgia criminal case?
After you have been arrested, you will also have an opportunity to request that you be released from jail on bond. A bond is essentially a legal agreement that allows you to be released from jail while your criminal case is pending. The word “bail” is often used interchangeably with “bond.”
Depending on the type of charges you are facing, only certain judges in Georgia have the authority to grant a bond. If the charges fall under a certain class of Georgia crimes, for example, only a superior court judge can grant bond, so you shouldn’t be surprised or give up hope when the first judge you see (usually a magistrate judge) denies your request for bond.
In almost every case, a judge will hold a “bond hearing” in a Georgia criminal case to determine whether or not to grant the defendant a bond. In determining whether to grant a bond, judges apply a four factor test.
Once bond has been granted, the defendant or their family usually have to post money or property as “collateral.” This is meant to make sure the defendant keeps appearing for his scheduled court dates. The more serious the charges, the higher the bond usually is.
What are the potential outcomes for a Georgia criminal case?
Before a case goes to trial in Georgia, several things have to happen. First, the defense must have the opportunity to review the evidence and consider whether to file “pretrial motions.” Through filing pretrial motions, you and your lawyer can request that the judge dismiss some or all of the charges against you, limit the type of evidence that the prosecution can use at trial, or give you access to other evidence the prosecution hasn’t turned over. During this “pretrial” period, the defense and the prosecution can also negotiate a plea agreement.
Every case is different depending on the evidence, the parties involved, the prosecutors, and even the judges. Broadly speaking, however, there are three possible outcomes in most Georgia criminal cases.
Some criminal charges in Georgia are dismissed by the prosecutor or the court before the case gets to trial. Most commonly, prosecutors in Georgia will often dismiss charges if the defense wins important pretrial motions, such as a motion to suppress the evidence the prosecution is relying on to convict the defendant. Under Georgia law and the U.S. Constitution, the prosecution cannot use evidence that was seized during an “unlawful” search and seizure, such as a traffic stop or the search of a home without a warrant. If the prosecution cannot establish that law enforcement seized the evidence lawfully, the defense can move to exclude all of that evidence from trial, often gutting the State’s case.
In other Georgia criminal cases, the court may dismiss the charges if the defense files a pretrial motion showing that there was a defect in the indictment or if the prosecution has failed to properly charge you with committing a crime. For example, a Georgia criminal defense lawyer can file a motion to dismiss the charges by arguing that the indictment does not allege an actual violation of the law or that the prosecution took too long to bring charges and the statute of limitations has expired.
In recent years, Georgia criminal law has changed in many ways that make it harder for accused people to defend themselves against serious charges. As a result of these changes, most Georgia criminal cases today end with the defense and the prosecution entering a plea deal in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for some kind of benefit. For example, you may agree to plead guilty to a more minor offense than the original charge, or you may agree to plead guilty in exchange for the prosecution’s promise to recommend a lighter sentence.
It is important to know that agreeing to a plea deal often means giving up a lot of your rights. Besides the right to a trial by a jury and the presumption of innocence, defendants pleading guilty usually waive their right to appeal as well. In some cases, a defendant also has to cooperate with law enforcement in order to gain any benefit from pleading guilty.
Ultimately, the decision whether to plead guilty in a Georgia criminal case is a decision only the accused person can make. If you are considering pleading guilty, however, it is important to consult an experienced attorney who you trust and who has reviewed the evidence against you. That way you can be sure that you understand the risks and the benefits of a plea agreement, what rights you are giving up, and what kind of sentence you can expect.
Of course, some cases cannot be resolved by winning pretrial motions or negotiating plea agreements. In these situations, the prosecution and defense will each have an opportunity at trial to make arguments in front of a jury who will determine whether to convict or acquit the defendant.
A criminal trial in Georgia usually begins with jury selection, and jury selection is arguably the most important phase of a trial. During jury selection, lawyers for the defense and the prosecution can “strike” potential jurors, that is remove them from being a member of the jury, if they are biased towards or against the State or the defendant or if there is a good reason justifying the juror’s exclusion from the trial.
The rest of the trial is not so different from what you see on TV, though usually not as dramatic. There are opening statements, witnesses testify, objections are raised and argued, and each side gives closing arguments. After closing arguments, the judge instructs the jury on the applicable Georgia criminal laws and asks them to apply the law to the evidence they heard during trial.
There are three possible endings once the jury begins its deliberations—a conviction, an acquittal, or a mistrial. If the jury is deadlocked and cannot come to a unanimous agreement on the verdict, the court will declare a mistrial due to a “hung jury.” If there is a conviction, the court will usually hold a sentencing hearing at a later date, during which it will consider evidence and arguments from the defense and the prosecution as to what would constitute a fair sentence. Of course, if the jury comes back with a “Not Guilty” verdict, the defendant can go home free.
How do I know I have the best Georgia criminal lawyer?
Hiring the right lawyer is the most important choice you will need to make if you or a loved one has been charged with a serious crime. But what makes someone a good criminal defense lawyer? How do you know if you or your loved one is in good hands?
At Pate & Johnson, we have been winning serious criminal cases in Georgia and surrounding states for over 25 years. Our work has resulted in numerous “not guilty” verdicts, pretrial dismissals, and, in some cases, helping clients avoid criminal charges in the first place. For clients who want to resolve their cases with a favorable plea agreement, we are often able to maximize our clients’ leverage and fight for a lesser charge, a reduced sentence, and in some cases, no prison time. We do this by preparing every case as if it was going to go to trial and showing the prosecution that we mean business.
Our firm also has an important advantage over other Georgia criminal defense firms because we only take on a limited number of cases at a time. This lets us dedicate as much time as possible to each client and their case so we can focus on identifying the key evidence and possible defenses, maintaining open communication with clients and their family, and getting the best result possible for each client.
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