A common misunderstanding among many Canadians is viewing impaired driving and “Over 80” charges as something less than “criminal”. These charges are also commonly referred to as “drinking and driving,” “DUI,” or “DWI”.
As defence lawyers who have defended many individuals over the years for these types of charges, we are often asked the question whether it is even “criminal” charge at all. Similarly, it is common for those charged with the offences to minimize it as not as serious as other “real crimes”.
While true that it is not the same type of crime as assault, drug dealing, murder, or sexual assault, impaired driving is still very much a real criminal offence. In many ways, they have far more of an impact upon a person’s life who is convicted of them, then most other criminal offences.
This mistake of note seeing impaired driving offences for what they are, can often lead to a minimizing effect and a false impression one can deal with it quickly and easily in Court.
Not only are impaired driving cases serious, they are also some of the most complicated type of crimes one can defend as a lawyer. Therefore, retaining a lawyer with a high degree of expertise is essential in order to explain the various defences, issues, and other considerations before making decisions that will have lasting consequences on one’s life.
Some might see any criminal offence as “serious” but impaired driving is actually far more serious in many ways that other types of crimes. This is very often the opposite views of people charged with such a crime. Although the incident itself may be less morally blameworthy in the minds of many, the criminal sanctions and penalties imposed upon people for impaired driving is actually far more severe that “true” criminal charges.
This is because impaired driving carries with it special types of sanctions and mandatory penalties. Under Canadian criminal law, the mandatory penalties associated with impaired driving are defined under section 255 of the Criminal Code of Canada:
Mandatory fines and imprisonment (jail):
255 (1) Every one who commits an offence under section 253 or 254 is guilty of an indictable offence or an offence punishable on summary conviction and is liable,
(a) whether the offence is prosecuted by indictment or punishable on summary conviction, to the following minimum punishment, namely,
(i) for a first offence, to a fine of not less than $1,000,
(ii) for a second offence, to imprisonment for not less than 30 days, and
(iii) for each subsequent offence, to imprisonment for not less than 120 days;
(b) where the offence is prosecuted by indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; and
(c) if the offence is punishable on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term of not more than 18 months.
Mandatory driving prohibitions
Further, impaired driving also carries with it mandatory driving prohibitions as set out in 259(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada.
259 (1) When an offender is convicted of an offence committed under section 253 or 254 […] the offender shall, in addition to any other punishment that may be imposed for that offence, make an order prohibiting the offender from operating a motor vehicle on any street, road, highway or other public place, or from operating a vessel or an aircraft or railway equipment, as the case may be,
(a) for a first offence, during a period of not more than three years plus any period to which the offender is sentenced to imprisonment, and not less than one year;
(b) for a second offence, during a period of not more than five years plus any period to which the offender is sentenced to imprisonment, and not less than two years; and
(c) for each subsequent offence, during a period of not less than three years plus any period to which the offender is sentenced to imprisonment.
Provincial driving suspensions and sanctions:
In addition and separate from the Criminal Code of Canada sanctions above, each province has its own way of supplementing the impaired driving legislation and imposing additional measures before people can properly drive in that province again (if at all).
In Ontario for example, they are as follows (taken from this Ministry of Transportation website):
As you can see from above, the consequences are severe, mandatory, and will have a profound impact upon one’s life as it relates to driving, fines, insurance hikes, and even jail in some cases.
The Criminal Code of Canada defines impaired driving as:
253 (1) Every one commits an offence who operates a motor vehicle or vessel or operates or assists in the operation of an aircraft or of railway equipment or has the care or control of a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment, whether it is in motion or not,
(a) while the person’s ability to operate the vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment is impaired by alcohol or a drug; or
(b) having consumed alcohol in such a quantity that the concentration in the person’s blood exceeds eighty milligrams of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood.
(2) For greater certainty, the reference to impairment by alcohol or a drug in paragraph (1)(a) includes impairment by a combination of alcohol and a drug.
Note that this is a very simple explanation and a real analysis of what this definition means, how Courts have interpreted it, and what defences may apply require proper analysis by a lawyer well trained and experienced in this area of law.
Despite the article above offering some information about impaired driving, its definition, how it is a true “criminal” offence, and its potential penalties, there is no substitute for speaking to a lawyer. If you wish to learn more about impaired driving, please cal our firm at (416) 999-8389 and have one of our lawyers sit down with you and explain to you more about impaired driving charges and how we would approach defending such a case.