Habitual violator, etc. Walton Superior Court. Before Judge Benton.
Megan R. Pulsts, for appellant.
Layla H. Zon, District Attorney, W. Cliff Howard, Assistant District Attorney, for appellee.
Following his bench trial on stipulated facts, Sewdatt Munna was found guilty of two counts of habitual impaired driving, driving under the influence and failure to maintain lane. He now appeals from the denial of his motion for new trial, and contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the indictment on constitutional speedy trial grounds. Munna also maintains that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction for habitual impaired driving. Following our review, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support Munna's conviction, but we vacate the denial of Munna's speedy trial motion for discharge and acquittal and remand this case with direction.
The record demonstrates that on April 17, 2010, Munna was stopped by an officer with the Loganville Police Department, and ultimately arrested for driving under the influence to the extent he was a less safe driver and failure to maintain a lane. His driver's license, which the officer confiscated, identified him as Sewdatt Munna, but the police department employee who was downloading his arrest photograph recognized Munna's uncommon first name. She searched and found files of Munna's three previous arrests -- February 3, 2007, December 11, 2008, and January 7, 2010 -- for DUI, but they were filed under the last name " Mathura." Based on [331 Ga.App. 411] this information, on June 3, 2010, Munna was arrested when he appeared in court for the April 17, 2010 DUI and charged with habitual impaired driving. During the subsequent search of his person and car incident to Munna's arrest for habitual impaired driving, police recovered several forms of identification, including two credits cards, one in the " Mathura" name and one in the " Munna" name, and a driver's license in the " Mathura" name. Additionally, an investigator with the Georgia Department of Driver Services testified that on August 20, 2009, " Sewdatt Mathura" had been personally served with notice of his habitual violator status pursuant to OCGA § 40-5-58 (the License Act) and that his driver's license had been revoked
for a minimum of five years. The trial court found him guilty as charged.
1. Munna contends that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction for habitual impaired driving because he possessed a valid driver's license in the name " Sewdatt Munna." According to Munna, even if he was a habitual violator with a revoked license, he was permitted to drive under OCGA § 40-5-58 (c) if he was subsequently issued a valid driver's license, irrespective of whether the license was under a different name. We do not agree.
Except as otherwise provided, " it shall be unlawful for any person to operate any motor vehicle in this state after such person has received notice that his or her driver's license has been revoked as provided in [OCGA § 40-5-58 (b)], if such person has not thereafter obtained a valid driver's license." OCGA § 40-5-58 (c). At the relevant time, OCGA § 40-5-58 (b) provided pertinently that,
[w]hen the records of the department disclose that any person ... is a habitual violator as defined [by statute], the department shall forthwith notify such person that upon the date of notification such person has been declared by the department to be a habitual violator, and that henceforth it shall be unlawful for such habitual violator to operate a motor vehicle in this state unless otherwise provided in this Code section.
Although Munna asserts that at the time he was arrested he possessed a valid driver's license and thus the State failed to prove an [331 Ga.App. 412] essential element of habitual violator,
[t]his Court has repeatedly held that the essence of the offense [of driving while a habitual violator] is driving after being notified that one may not do so because, by doing so, one is flouting the law even if one or more of the underlying convictions is voidable or void. The State is required to prove only that the accused was declared [a] ...