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Georgia Legislators Take On Street Racing

HB 534 is the Georgia legislature's attempt to deal with an epidemic of street racing in the Atlanta area and elsewhere.  It creates several new criminal offenses and sets punishments for those offenses.

New Offenses

Organizing or Promoting Illegal Driving Exhibitions

Section 1 creates a new offense of promoting or organizing an exhibition of illegal drag racing or laying drags.  This is a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.  Let us take a minute though and consider.  Illegal drag racing is already criminalized under OCGA §  40-6-186, and laying drags is made illegal by OCGA §  40-6-251.  A party to a crime can be charged as if that person themselves committed the crime alleged.  So, under existing law, it was already possible to charge an organizer or promoter of these activities.  But, I guess this way, we get to add a new statute to our ever growing criminal and motor vehicles codes, OCGA §  40-6-186.  Under either approach though, there are still obstacles to prosecution in terms of what evidence is needed to establish organizing or promoting of the activity, as neither is defined by the statute.

Reckless Stunt Driving

Section 6 creates the new offense of reckless stunt driving.  Again, there is a reasonable argument that the prohibited behavior was already covered by existing law.  In fact, in order to charge someone with reckless stunt driving, it must be established that the person is in the act of either drag racing or laying drags.  In addition, it must be proven that the person is doing so in reckless disregard for the safety of persons on a highway or upon private property without the express authorization of the owner of such property.  So, the offense is basically a combination of drag racing or laying drags and reckless driving.  What this statute adds to the mix is that it has mandatory minimum punishments. 

A first offense within ten years carries a minimum of 10 days in jail with a maximum of 6 months in jail, and a base fine between $300 and $750.

A second offense within ten years carries a minimum of 90 days in jail up to 12 months in jail and a base fine of between $600 and $1,000.

A third offense within ten years carries a minimum of 120 days in jail up to 12 months in jail and a base fine of between $1,000 and $5,000. 

A fourth or subsequent offense within ten years becomes a felony punishable by 1-5 years in prison and a fine between $1,000 and $5,000.

Notwithstanding those mandatory minimums, it appears that those jail times are subject to being probated or suspended.

Vehicle Forfeiture

Reckless stunt driving can also carry the possibility of forfeiture of the vehicle being operated.  This only applies in a very narrow set of circumstances.  The vehicle must be being operated in violation of the reckless stunt driving statute by a person declared to be a habitual violator for three violations of the reckless stunt driving statute.  In those limited circumstances where the forfeiture provision does apply, there is a way to avoid that consequence if the vehicle is the only family vehicle and the financial hardship of forfeiture to the family outweighs the benefit to the state.

Collateral Consequences of Reckless Stunt Driving

Sections 7, 8, and 9  provide that reckless stunt driving can serve as the predicate offense to first degree homicide by vehicle, feticide by vehicle, and serious injury by vehicle.

Section 10 provides that reckless stunt driving can also be a predicate offense for aggressive driving.

Section 2 provides that reckless stunt driving is among those offenses which can be counted toward a habitual violator revocation.

Section 3 provides that a conviction for reckless stunt driving carries with it license suspension consequences.

A first offense within five years is a 12 months suspension, provided that the license may be early reinstated after 120 days upon payment of a restoration fee of $200.

A second offense within five years is a three year suspension, provided that the license may be early reinstated after 18 months upon payment of a restoration fee of $300.

A third or subsequent offense within five years causes a habitual violator revocation.  Such a revocation is for five years.  However, the person may apply for a probationary license under OCGA §  40-5-58 after two years.

Strangely, the offense has its own suspended license provisions instead of just being under the general suspended license statute, OCGA §  40-5-121.   If a person has been suspended for reckless stunt driving and has not yet reinstated or obtained a permit or probationary license and is convicted of driving while so suspended, they can be sentenced up to 12 months imprisonment with a fine between $750 and $5,000.

Felony Violation of Probationary License by Reckless Stunt Driving

Section 4 makes it a felony offense to commit a violation of a probationary license by committing reckless stunt driving.  This offense is punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison and a fine of at least $1,000 and will have their license revoked.

Sean A. Black

Sean A. Black is a 1992 graduate of the Emory University School of Law. He has been in private practice in Toccoa, Georgia since June 1, 1992.

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