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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. K.C. – Delta Police Investigation

Charges: Assault Causing Bodily Harm.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with criminal charges for this alleged assault that occured in the context of a recreational sporting activity.
Result: Mr. Mines provided information to the police investigator on our clients's behalf. Ultimately police decided to not recommend any criminal charges. No prosecution; no criminal record.

R. vs. K.J. – Surrey Provincial Court

Charge: Uttering Threats.
Issue: Given the circumstances of the alleged offence and the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our client through, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade Crown counsel to stay the proceedings and to resolve this matter with a 12 month Peace Bond. No criminal record.

R. vs. Z.A. – Burnaby RCMP Investigation

Charge: Assault (domestic).
Issue: Whether the allegations of this domestic allegation would meet the Crown counsel's charge approval standard.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to provide information to Crown counsel that ultimately led to Crown declining to approve any criminal charge. Our client's Undertaking was withdrawn, permitting him to resume contact with his spouse. No criminal record.

R. vs. K.L. – North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault.
Issue: Given the information we provided to Crown counsel on behalf of our client, whether  it was appropriate to proceed with a criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able tp persuade Crown counsel that this matter did not meet the charge approval standard. Croen elected to not approve any charges. No prosecution. No criminal record.

R. vs. J.Z. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault with a weapon.
Issue: Given the circumstances of the offence and the rehabilitative steps that we were able to guide our client through, whether it was in the public interest for our client to be granted a conditional discharge in this case involving our client not obeying  a traffic flag person and assaulting her with her car.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown and the Court to grant our client  a conditional discharge. Our client was placed on probation with a term to perform community service work.

R. vs. X.Z. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: s.810 Recognizance (Peace Bond) Application.
Issue: Whether there was sufficient evidence for the crown to prove that the complainant's fear was reasonable.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to provide information to Crown that helped persuade Crown to enter a stay of proceedings. No Peace Bond was imposed on our client.

R. vs. Z.Y. – Healthcare Insurance Fraud Investigation

Charges: Fraud Under $5000.
Issue: Given the prompt repayment of restitution that we made on our client's behalf, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with a criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade the investigator to not forward any charges for prosecution. No criminal record.

R. vs. A.M. – Port Coquitlam Provincial Court

Charges: Pointing a firearm; assault with a firearm.
Issue: Given the context of the offence and our client's remorse and rehabilitation, whether a jail sentence was appropriate.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to direct our client through a course of counselling and was able to persuade Crown counsel to make a joint recommendation for a community based sentence rather than the 2 year jail sentence that was Crown's original sentencing position. After hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the court granted our client an 18 month conditional sentence, followed by 12 months probation. No jail.

R. vs. T.B. and M.L. – Surrey RCMP Investigation

Charges: Possession of Stolen Property over $5000.
Issue: Whether police had sufficient grounds to recommend criminal charges against our clients.
Result: After Mr. Gauthier consulted with the investigator, RCMP decided to refer the case for civil forfeiture and to not pursue  any criminal charges against our clients. No prosecution. No criminal record.

R. vs. I.M. – ICBC Insurance Fraud Investigation

Charges: Fraud/misrepresentation.
Issue: Whether our client actually intended to make a misleading or fraudulent automobile accident claim.
Result: After consulting with us, our client provided an explanation to the investigator that resulted in ICBC deciding to not recommend any charges.  No prosecution. No criminal record.

R. vs. D.C. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Theft (from employeer) Over $5000.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with a criminal prosecution.,br> Result: Upon Mr. Mines providing information to Crown counsel that our client had fully settled the matter civilly and that there was a significant chance that a key Crown witness would be unavailable at trial, Crown counsel entered a stay of proceedings. No criminal record.

R. vs. M.M. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Residential Breaking and Entering x3; Possession of a prohibited weapon; driving offences.
Issues: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed on all outstanding charges and whether 30 months jail was an appropriate sentence.
Result: Mr. Johnston was able to provide information to Crown counsel about our client's significant rehabilitation plan and persuaded Crown to drop 8 counts against our client. Mr. Johnston persuaded the court to impose a sentence of 12 months' jail rather than the 30 months the Crown was seeking.

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.