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Impaired Driving

by Alcohol or Drugs

The Charge

Notwithstanding the Immediate Roadside Prohibition regime set out in the Motor Vehicle Act, police and prosecutors do continue to charge drivers in BC with Criminal Code impaired driving offences; including driving over .08 and refusal to provide a breath sample. Collectively, these impaired driving offences, sometimes called “DUI’s,” are criminal matters that can have a profoundly serious impact on a person’s life, especially if they require a vehicle for work, school or family purposes. The penalties if convicted are significant. Everyone convicted of an impaired driving offence is sentenced for a minimum $1,000 fine and a minimum 1-year Canada-wide driving prohibition. At the end of the 12-month driving prohibition, RoadSafetyBC requires convicted drivers to enrol in the Responsible Drivers Program and possibly the Ignition Interlock Program as a condition of getting their license reinstated. These programs will cost the driver approximately $1,000 – $3,000. If convicted of an impaired driving offence, the driver will have a criminal record. Parliament has imposed mandatory minimum sentencing rules for impaired driving offences, including a mandatory 30-day minimum jail sentence for a second conviction and a mandatory minimum 4-month jail sentence for any subsequent convictions.

The penalties for refusing to provide a breath sample are even more serious. For a first offence, there is a mandatory minimum $2,000 fine and a one-year driving prohibition. A second conviction has a mandatory minimum punishment of 30 days in jail.

The Investigation

The Criminal Code provides that it is an offence to operate or have care or control of a motor vehicle while the driver is intoxicated by liquor or a drug. The Criminal Code sets out the various rules by which police will investigate drivers for alcohol and drug impairment. Simply put, the threshold for police to investigate impaired driving is very low. Police are entrusted with the power to get impaired drivers off the road so they are authorized to demand breath and blood samples for alcohol and drugs, sometimes with very little objective evidence of impairment. Typically, police will consider various physical symptoms of the driver, including bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, dishevelled appearance, stumbling, staggering, or alcohol emanating from the body or breath. Certainly, any evidence of bad driving, including erratic speed, unsafe lane changes or failing to stop at an intersection, will also be considered.

Impaired driving investigations are very difficult situations for a driver because, unlike the vast majority of criminal investigations, Parliament and the courts have made an exception to the general rule that a detained person is entitled to immediate legal advice. A driver being investigated for impaired driving at the roadside is not entitled to speak to a lawyer at this stage of the investigation! The driver is forced to comply with a breath or blood demand, if it is lawful, unless they have a reasonable excuse to refuse. Obviously, a driver being confronted with a breath demand at roadside will have a difficult time, without the benefit of hindsight, to know how to react to the investigator’s demands. The best approach for any driver is to ask the investigator for clarification on any unclear points – “may I please call a lawyer;” “please explain slowly and clearly how you want me to provide a sample of my breath,” etc. At the conclusion of the investigation, it is common practice for police in BC to release accused impaired drivers with various paperwork: a Promise to Appear in Court, a 24-hour driving prohibition pursuant to s. 215 of the Motor Vehicle Act, a 90-day Administrative Driving Prohibition pursuant to s. 94 of the Motor Vehicle Act and documents relating to the 30-day vehicle impoundment that accompanies an impaired driving charge.

Recent Successes

R. vs. J.A. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Personation, Use of Forged Identity Documents, Resist Arrest.
Issue: Whether the search and seizure of the documents was an unlawful Charter breach.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown and the Court that, in all the circumstances, it was in the public interest to grant our client a conditional discharge without any reporting condition. 

R. vs. J.H. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault with a Weapon; Assault Causing Bodily Harm (domestic).
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to convince Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings just prior to the trial date. No criminal record.

R. vs. J.B. - ICBC Fraud Investigation

Charge: Theft Under$5000.
Issue: Whether there was a public interest in approving the charge.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel that there was no public interest in approving any charge whatsoever. No criminal record.

R. vs. M.K. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issue: Whether it was appropriate for our client to be granted a conditional discharge.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade the trial judge to grant our client a conditional discharge rather than the conviction that Crown counsel was seeking. No criminal record.

R. v. M.P. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Theft Under$5000.
Issue: Whether there was a public interest in approving the charge.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel that there was no public interest in approving any charge whatsoever. No criminal record.

R. vs. O.A. - Surrey Provincial Court

Charge: Assault (domestic). Issue: Given the lack of clarity…

R. vs. A.U. - Vancouver Provincial Court

strong>Charges: Sexual Assault; Assault; Theft Under; Breach of Undertaking.
Issue: Given our client's circumstances and the circumstances of the allegations, whether it was in the public interest for Crown to proceed with all charges.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed only on the assault charge and to stay proceedings on all other charges. After considering Mr. mines' submissions, the Court granted our client a conditional discharge and placed him on probation for 12 months. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. V.P. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault with a Weapon; Assault Police Officer.
Issue: Given some weakness in the assault with weapon charge and the rehabilitative steps our client had taken, whether it was appropriate for the Crown to seek the jail sentence they were originally seeking.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings on the AWW charge and to jointly seek a conditional discharge on the assault police officer charge. No jail. No criminal conviction.

R. vs. S.K. - Surrey Provincial Court

Charges: Fraud Over $5000 (from Employer).
Issue: Given the civil settlement  we were able to obtain on our client's behalf, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with criminal charges.
Result: Mr. Johnson, after successfully negotiating a civil settlement with the complainant, was able to persuade Crown counsel to not approve the criminal charges that RCMP had recommended. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. D.M. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Impaired Driving; Driving Over .08.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest for Crown counsel to proceed with the criminal charges.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown to allow our client to resolve this matter by pleading guilty to a lesser offence under the Motor Vehicle Act. Our client received a driving prohibition and fine. No criminal record.

R. v. S.W. - Courtenay RCMP Investigation

Charges: Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking.
Issue: Whether the search of the vehicle and our client was lawful.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to steer our client through the investigation and made representations to police that the search was unlawful. Police declined to recommend any  charges. No criminal record.

R. vs. A.N. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault with a Weapon.
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we guided our client through, whether it was in the public interest for Crown to seek a conviction on this charge.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown to permit our client to plead to the lesser offence of common assault. After hearing Mr. Johnson's submissions, the court granted our client a conditional discharge. No criminal conviction.

The Defence

We are skilled, experienced lawyers that can help you sort through the various paperwork relating to the driving prohibitions and court date that follows in the aftermath of an impaired driving investigation. We can advise you of possible defences to the 90-day administrative driving prohibition, as well as the criminal charges themselves.

Impaired Driving

Evidence of impaired operation of a motor vehicle is distinct from the body of evidence involved in an “over .08” case. The Crown’s burden is to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle has been impaired, even if only slightly. This evidence usually comes in the form of observations by police or other witnesses. Physical indicators of impairment can include slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, scent of alcohol on breath, stumbling, fumbling, or other signs of poor fine motor skills. As experienced defence counsel, we are able to challenge this type of evidence during courtroom cross-examination. For example, we may argue that balance problems may be due to a pre-existing injury, and bloodshot eyes may be due to recently swimming in chlorinated water. Skilled trial lawyers will explore a witness’ ability to observe and recall events. For example, did the witness get a clear, unobstructed, close-up view? Did the witness write concise notes from which to refresh their memory at trial?

Driving Over .08mg

It is unlawful to drive with a blood alcohol concentration greater than 80mg of alcohol in 100mL of blood. This “Over 0.8” offence can be proved by blood testing or, as is more common, breath testing. Provisions in the Criminal Code allow police to make a demand for a breath sample into an approved screening device and, where warranted, into a more sophisticated breathalyzer, the Intox EC/IR II. The results of this test are recorded onto a document called the Certificate of Qualified Technician, which can be submitted to the court as proof of the offence. As experienced defence counsel, we will explore defences to exclude incriminating breath results from the trial. Essentially, our job is to consider various provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which prohibit police from conducting unlawful searches and seizures, including, for example, a blood sample from a driver who was not first given the opportunity to obtain advice from a lawyer. Where the court agrees that police have violated a driver’s Charter rights, generally the court will exclude the Certificate of Qualified Technician, and the driver will be acquitted of the over .08 charge.

Start with a free consultation.

If you are being investigated by police or if you’ve been charged with a criminal or driving offence, don’t face the problem alone. Being accused of an offence is stressful. The prospects of a criminal record or jail sentence can be daunting. Even if you think there is no defence, we may be able to help. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Vancouver lawyers, contact us now.