About Me

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Tifton, Georgia, United States
Joe Kunes is a Personal Injury and Criminal DUI/DWI defense Attorney in Tifton, Georgia. He has been practicing law in Tifton and the surrounding counties since 1972. He is a graduate of Tift County Schools, the University of Georgia, 1969, B.A., and University of Georgia Law School J.D., 1972. In 40 years of practice in Tifton he has handled all areas of the law, but now restricts his practice to criminal defense and personal injury work. The majority of his criminal practice relates to the defense of drinking drivers, not only in Tifton, but all over South Georgia. His personal injury practice includes representing plaintiffs injured in automobile accidents and medical malpractice cases in Tifton and surrounding counties. He is a member of Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (Vice President in 2000), American Trial Lawyers Association (sustaining member), National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD), and the Georgia Defense of DUI Drivers (D.O.D.D.).

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Audit: Georgia driver records system flawed

    Georgia is at risk of losing $30 million in federal highway funds and jeopardizing public safety because of erroneous or incomplete information in its driver records, a new state audit shows.
Among the problems is that dozens of courts either don’t report traffic, drug and stolen vehicle convictions to the Department of Driver Services or are slow in reporting them. As a result, dangerous drivers may be able to stay on the roads.
    Georgia also allows license suspensions for DUI offenses to be wiped off of driver records, if the charge does not result in a conviction. That is contrary to federal law, which considers deleting such license suspensions as “masking.” A federal law enacted this past summer requires this issue to be resolved by 2015, auditors reported this week.“At current funding levels, approximately $30 million could be at risk,” the audit says.

Among the audit’s other findings are:

• Officials from 28 courts told state auditors they had reportable convictions that had not been forwarded to DDS. Many indicated they were unaware of the reporting requirements.

• State law requires courts to report offenses within 10 days of the conviction date. About 300,000 of the million convictions processed last year did not meet this requirement. As a result, state driver records are not up to date with convictions, points and license suspensions.

• When DDS detects errors in conviction records, it returns them to the courts for corrections. Last year, state officials identified 58,650 such records that needed corrections. As of August of this year, 53,449 had not been resolved and resubmitted.

• Auditors also were concerned DDS does not have policies about which of its employees can change or delete information on driver records. “Without sufficient access and regular monitoring, the database is vulnerable to unauthorized changes, such as personnel inactivating a conviction or license suspension from the driver records,” the audit states. Other states conduct periodic reviews of employee activities to investigate potential fraud, the report said.

• Driver records also are marred by some inaccurate addresses, missing and inaccurate case numbers for convictions and missing blood alcohol levels, used to determine the length of license suspension for first-time DUI offenders under age 21. Omissions of critical driving violations from states where Georgia drivers previously lived also hamper identification of problem drivers, the report says.

• About 9,500 “super speeder” fine notices were returned as undeliverable between 2010 and 2011. Of those motorists, about 5,700 had not paid their fines as of April of this year, causing more than $1.1 million in fees to go uncollected.

     In its response, the department said it has worked the last five years to improve the validity, accuracy and completeness of driving records. For example, this summer it began requiring residents to provide proof of their mailing address, and it received a grant for a judicial liaison who worked with the courts on conviction reporting.
    The department told the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts the cost of implementing one recommendation – that critical violations in prior states be included on driver histories – would outweigh the expected benefits.
    “DDS noted that there is currently no mechanism for the 50 states to exchange a non-commercial driver’s history among the state jurisdictions, so that DDS could import a new Georgia resident’s driving record from the resident’s prior state,” the report said.
    DDS Commissioner Rob Mikell issued a statement Thursday, saying his agency “will continue our efforts to improve the integrity and security of our records management processes.”
    “We look forward to studying the additional recommendations in-depth as we strive to better serve the citizens of Georgia,” he said. 
    A spokesman for Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said his office is reviewing the audit and “will ask the appropriate legislative committee to review it as well in order to determine the necessary legislative action to address these findings when the General Assembly convenes in 2013.”
     Gov. Nathan Deal’s office referred questions to Mikell. An aide to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and an official with the Georgia Municipal Court Clerks Council did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.
     An official with the state Administrative Office of the Courts said his agency was not involved in the audit and “has no authority over any individual court across the state and does not have the power to compel the reporting of caseload data by the courts.”
     Superior Courts handle more serious traffic offenses and drug crimes. Mike Holiman, executive director of the Council of Superior Court Clerks of Georgia, said superior courts represent a small fraction of the roughly 1,100 courts in Georgia. Superior Courts, he added, routinely report information to the Georgia Crime Information Center and state Corrections Department.
“I believe our members do report correctly,” Holiman said.

 By Lois Norder/ Atlanta Journal Constitution

Monday, December 10, 2012

GA Rep. to Introduce Legislation to Protect Against Exploitation of Headshots for Profit

Georgia Representative Roger Bruce has recently caught the attention of national media with talks on introducing legislation in 2013 to protect individuals who have headshots for police records, commonly known as “mugshots.”

These headshots are visible to the public on the sheriff’s county website and there are no guidelines on the usage of the headshots. This allows third-parties to post the headshots on a personal website and request a fee to have photograph removed.

The proposal will make it illegal to ask for money to remove the headshot from the website. It will also require the sheriff’s department to copyright all mug shots posted on their website. Including a copyright on the mug shot will remove the incentive to exploit “mugshots” for a profit. Lastly, Representative Bruce hopes this will provide victims a legal platform to rightfully have their headshots removed and sue for any damages caused by the improper use of their photo.

“When someone is arrested, your political party is not a concern. This is not about Democrats or Republicans. This is a non- partisan issue, and anyone can be victimized in this situation,” said Rep. Roger Bruce. “No one deserves to be subjected to this kind of scrutiny and abuse for money when they have not been convicted of a crime. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”

Rep. Roger Bruce filmed a segment with ABC explaining the importance of this proposal. His segment will air on Tuesday December 11, 2012 on World News with Diane Sawyer at 6:30PM  and Nightline at 11:30PM.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

McCrae Officer Arrests Man for Video Recording Him During Traffic Stop


A Georgia police officer arrested a citizen who was video recording him during a traffic stop last week.  Andrew Ogiba, 19, was charged with obstruction or hindering law enforcement officers, by officer B. Wyatt of the McCrae Police Department.  As a result, Ogiba spent two hours in jail before paying a $500 bond to be released. He had to pay an additional $150 because his 1995 Camaro had been impounded.

But now Ogiba is already planning to file a lawsuit.  “I’ve already emailed the ACLU and will be talking to a lawyer tomorrow,” he said in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime Sunday evening. Ogiba, who has been in the U.S. Army for two years, is worried the arrest will affect his ROTC scholarship.

The incident took place Wednesday when Ogiba was driving back home to Mcrae from Augusta after spotting two officers parked at the side of the road.  Having received a citation for loud music earlier this year, he instinctively turned the music down, which he had been listening to during the three-hour drive.

As Wyatt was writing the citation from his patrol vehicle, Ogiba was narrating into the camera about how the ACLU believes noise citations are unconstitutional and how he plans to fight the citation.
At 3:42, Wyatt steps out of his vehicle and begins walking towards Ogiba’s car. Ogiba asks the officer is he had used a measuring device to determine the noise decibels from his car. Officer Wyatt ignores the question, ordering him to sign the citation, informing him that the music could be heard from 200 yards away. Ogiba signs the citation but continues to ask if a measuring device had been used to determine the distance that the music could be heard. At this point, both men are remaining civil and professional. Ogiba makes no secret that he is recording and Wyatt takes no issue with the camera. Wyatt even tells him to “have a nice day” before walking back to his car and Ogiba responds by saying, “OK, you too.”

As Wyatt was walking back to his car, Ogiba speaks into his camera, saying, “he’s going back to his car, he refused to answer any of my questions.” That caused Wyatt to stop in his tracks and turn around. “Excuse me, sir,” Wyatt says as he starts walking back. “I was talking to my camera,” Ogiba responds. “I said you refused to answer any of my questions and you can do that, that’s fine.” That was when Wyatt orders him out of the parking lot, telling him it is private property. Ogiba puts on his seat belt and places the key in his ignition, but then starts questioning whether or not the church parking lot was open to the public despite it being private. He also made the mistake of asking for the officers name. At 5:56, Wyatt opens the door to Ogiba’s car and orders him out, telling him he is being arrested for obstruction of a law enforcement officer.

Friday, September 28, 2012

South Georgia Drug Task Force to Disband

The leader of a south Georgia drug task force says it will disband by the end of this year due to a lack of funding .

   South Georgia Drug Task Force Cmdr. Bahan Rich tells the Valdosta Daily Times that the unit will end on or by Dec. 31.  Rich says the unit's federal funding was cut by 55 percent.  He said the unit isn't dropping any of its current cases, and will have time to complete its investigations before Dec. 31 and forward information to prosecutors.

   The task force was composed of officers from the Cook County Sheriff's Office, Adel Police Department, Lenox Police Department, Berrien County Sheriff's Department, Echols County Sheriff's Office, Lanier County Sheriff's Office, Clinch County Sheriff's Office, Homerville Police Department and several other regional agencies.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Joe Kunes is defending a farmer against civil forfeiture arising out of alleged cock-fighting ring

An alleged cock-fighting operation has put a Norman Park man in jeopardy not only of criminal sanctions but of possibly losing more than 350 acres of land.

The Colquitt County District Attorney’s office this week filed notice of a civil action seeking to seize 356 acres of land, an ATV, weapons and $10,000 in cash taken during a July 7 raid on the property.

Wallace Hurst, 57, 4391 U.S. 319 N., was one of 32 people arrested at that time and charged with gambling. He also is charged with violating the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a felony, and cruelty to animals.

On Thursday, Tifton attorney Joe Kunes, who is representing Hurst, said that he was unable to comment on the legal case at this time because he is still seeking information gathered by law enforcement.

Hurst is working out of town and has not been served with notice of the attempt to seize the property, Kunes said. He likely will request a hearing on the civil motion.

“I can assure you he’ll be filing a request for that,” he said. “I haven’t seen that complaint yet.”

Hurst will have 30 days from the date he is served notice to give an answer to the complaint, Kunes said.

Any property seized would go the agency that made the legal case, he said. In a drug case, for instance, a car used in the crime can be seized and sold or put into use by the agency.

The other 29 men and two women charged with parties to animal cruelty in the case are scheduled for trial on Monday.


Monday, July 2, 2012

How does Medical Marijuana affect standards used to check impairment of DUI drivers?

   Let’s start by stating that driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol is a crime and must be punished. All 50 U.S. states have clear laws prohibiting this activity. But there is one intoxicant that is trickier than the others: marijuana, especially when used for medical purposes. 

   During the past two years, Colorado and Montana, along with more than a dozen other states, have proposed laws that set a strict threshold for determining when a marijuana user is deemed too impaired to drive. These would consider a concentration of more than 5 nanograms of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana) per milliliter of blood, as hands-down proof of intoxication or impairment. 

   Several states are going further and have either adopted or are considering zero-tolerance laws for THC levels. This means any THC in the blood would result in a conviction. Here’s the problem with these laws: There are questions about how, and at what level, cannabis use impairs driving ability. For a patient in one of the 17 states where marijuana has been legalized for medicinal use, how are you to know when it’s legal to drive? After consuming marijuana, should you wait 12 hours to drive or one day? When will your THC level be below the 5-nanogram threshold? The answer is complicated. 

   Although marijuana is readily detectable in toxicology tests of blood, hair, urine or saliva, what isn’t clear is just how quickly THC passes through the body. We know, for example, that THC may be detected in the blood of occasional users several hours after ingesting. But in some chronic users there may be traces for days after the last use, long after any performance-impairing effects have subsided. 

   This is a very clear contrast with alcohol. There is a firm understanding of the rate at which the body metabolizes alcohol and there are well-known guidelines on how much time must pass after drinking before one is fit to drive. Tests can easily be administered in roadside stops. Those who fail simple benchmarks of sobriety -- not to mention breath tests -- are usually convicted or plead guilty.
The research on how marijuana affects driving is far less conclusive, though. 

   Testing done on drivers under the influence of alcohol often show that drivers display more aggressive behavior behind the wheel, and errors are more pronounced than when sober. The opposite tends to be true when drivers are under the influence of THC; they tend to have heightened awareness -- rather than diminished sensitivity as they do after drinking -- to their surroundings. As a result, they tend to compensate by driving more cautiously. 

   What this means is that we need more research before new DUI marijuana laws are enacted. Setting an absolute impairment standard for THC bloodstream levels is premature. And these laws, which target marijuana use and associated medical marijuana patients, are discriminatory. 


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Failed tests stop GBI from doing handwriting analysis

The Georgia State Crime Lab has stopped providing handwriting comparison analysis for criminal cases until the scientists in that unit pass an assessment required by a national accrediting agency.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation -- which oversees the lab -- told prosecutors and law enforcement agencies throughout the state that the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors had determined that GBI scientists who do handwriting comparisons did not meet the "requirements for our quality system." There are two questions on the handwriting assessment. All three scientists missed one of the questions -- the same one, according to GBI spokesman John Bankhead.
The scientists will undergo more training and retake the test, GBI Director Vernon Keenan said Monday.

Handwriting analysis has dwindled in importance to prosecutors over the years. Tests for DNA and firearms matching and drug and alcohol screenings are far more critical to criminal prosecutions. Handwriting analysis is most often useful in forgery cases.

Accreditation of the lab is not required but enhances the credibility of the testimony of any scientists who do the analysis, according to Bankhead and John Neuner, accreditation program manager with the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.

But Neuner said many labs nationwide are putting fewer resources into handwriting analysis.
"It's dying across the country," Neuner said. "I think the reason it's dying is a matter of resources. There just isn't as much demand in an electronic world. It's dying just because laboratories can better utilize their [staff and financial] resources for other things. The FBI has historically provided services that are specialized that the local labs cannot support. The FBI still has that service if and when it's needed."


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dawsonville man sentenced in 2010 vehicular homicide

DAWSONVILLE - The Dawson County man convicted earlier this year in the vehicular homicide death of a Gainesville woman has now been sentenced in the case.

The accident happened on June 25, 2010 on Georgia 400. Authorities say Jenna Annette Fitzgerald, 24, fell from a Jeep onto the highway and was struck and killed by another vehicle.

The man driving the Jeep, Colon Loius Hartzler, 45, of Dawsonville, was given a 10-year prison sentence on May 18. Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh said Hartzler will spend four years in prison and serve the remainder of the sentence on probation on the vehicular homicide conviction.

"He was also convicted of the offense of DUI, which was related to it [the accident], and that count merged into the homicide by vehicle count," said Darragh.

Darragh said Hartzler also was fined $3,000, and he was ordered to perform 240 hours in community service time.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Former Dekalb County Prosecutor arrested for DUI refusal "Less Safe"

Attorney Jennifer Little, recently hired by the widow of Dunwoody day care shooting victim Rusty Sneiderman, was arrested early Thursday morning and charged with suspected DUI, speeding and reckless driving.

Little was traveling northbound on I-85 near Buford Highway around 12:30 a.m. when she was stopped by Atlanta police, who clocked her at 91 mph -- 36 mph over the speed limit.

The former DeKalb County prosecutor refused field and chemical sobriety tests, according to an APD spokesman, resulting in a charge of DUI Less Safe. That charge requires the arresting officer to testify he or she noticed unsafe driving patterns that would signal impairment due to alcohol or drug use.

APD spokesman Curtis Davenport said Little presented an expired DeKalb DA’s identification card at the time of stop, saying she had just left the office two months ago.

Little, 33, and law partner Doug Chalmers were hired by Andrea Sneiderman in mid-March during the trial of her former boss, Hemy Neuman, who was sentenced to life in prison for killing the Dunwoody woman's husband.

Sneiderman may soon face criminal charges herself. A DeKalb County grand jury has subpoenaed Channel 2 Action News for the entirety of her testimony given during the Neuman trial. DeKalb D.A. Robert James told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he believes Sneiderman was involved in her husband's death.

Chalmers declined comment Thursday when reached by the AJC.

Little, former president of the DeKalb Bar Association, posted bond and was released early Thursday morning.

The arrest is not expected to affect her standing in the Georgia Bar Association. According to the bar's ethics counsel, Bill Smith, attorneys are typically not sanctioned for misdemeanor DUI charges.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Braves Reliever arrested for DUI in Gwinnett County

Cristhian Martinez was arrested early Monday morning in Gwinnett County on charges of DUI, after allegedly weaving in and out of a lane and traveling at a low speed on I-85. Martinez was pulled over at 2:42 a.m. on I-85 North at Steve Reynolds Boulevard for failure to maintain a single lane by a Gwinnett County police officer who clocked Martinez traveling 40 mph. The officer smelled alcohol on Martinez’s breath, Smith said, and put him through a field sobriety test. Martinez’s blood alcohol registered .13 in a breathalyzer administered at the Gwinnett County jail, Smith said. The legal limit in Georgia is .08.

Martinez has secured a spot in the Braves bullpen this spring after going 0-0 with a 1.38 ERA in eight appearances, allowing two runs in 13 innings, with three walks, 13 strikeouts and a .159 opponents’ batting average.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Student sues Clayton County School District over strip search looking for marijuana

D.H. was in the seventh grade when he was made to strip down naked in front of three other students because another student alleged he had marijuana.  School officials continued the search even after the other student admitted he had been lying.  D.H. claims he still suffers from emotional distress because his classmates taunted him by calling him Superman, the underwear he was wearing when he was strip-searched. The student is suing the Clayton County school district for unspecified punitive and compensatory damages. 


Friday, February 10, 2012

DUI dropped after Deputy falsified Documents

Roderick Tolberts'  DUI charge in Augusta Georgia from March 24, 2011 was dropped because Richmond County Sherrif's Deputy Erik Norman was caught altering the breath test results from prior DUI cases.  Norman resigned in October 2011. District Attorney Ashley Wright estimates that their office still has about a dozen of Norman's DUI cases pending.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal to appear on DUI commercial during Superbowl

Governor Nathan Deal will appear on a commercial during the Superbowl. The "60 - second ad urges Georgia motorists to get a ride home if they've had too much alcohol on Super Sunday.  Of course, there's an App for that.  It's call Drive Sober Georgia, and it lists phone numbers for programs that drive tipsy motorists home for free."



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

DUI record could be erased under proposed Georgia Law

  Rep. Rusty Kidd from Milledgeville has proposed House Bill 799 which would erase a DUI conviction from a person's record after having a clean record for 5 years.  Current DUI law has 5 and 10 year lookback periods which increase penalties for repeat offenders.