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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. S.F. - Provincial Court of Newfoundland

Charge: Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking (Marijuana).
Issue: Whether it there was a substantial likelihood of obtaining a conviction.
Result: Upon considering Mr. Johnson's representations, Crown counsel concluded that there was no longer a likelihood of conviction. Crown withdrew the charge, bringing the matter to an end. No criminal record.

R. vs. M.B. - Surrey Provincial Court

Charge: Application for firearms prohibition and forfeiture.
Issue: Whether Crown could establish that our client posed a risk to himself or others.
Result: Mid trial, Mr. Mines was able to obtain a successful resolution in which our client consented to an 18 month prohibition rather than the 5 years Crown had been seeking.  Further, rather than having to forfeit the  $15,000 worth of weapons that police seized,  Crown agreed to allow our client to sell them to a suitable buyer.

R. vs. C.B. - Vancouver Police Investigation

Charge: Possession of proceeds of crime.
Issue: Whether there was any lawful authority to arrest our client and seize funds from him.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade the investigating officer that there was no basis to search our client and to return the $2400 cash that he had seized. No charges approved. Not criminal record.

R. vs. R.L. - Surrey Provincial Court

Charge: Assault.(domestic)
Issue: Given the rehabilitative steps we were able to guide our client through, whether our client would be convicted of assaulting his son.
Result: Notwithstanding the breach of trust, after hearing Mr. Mines' submissions, the court granted our client a 12 month conditional discharge.

R. vs. S.B. - New Westminster Provincial Court

Charge: Public Mischief x2; Assault Police Officer.
Issue: Given our client's personal circumstances and his rehabilitation, whether there was a public interest in proceeding with the criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to allow our client into the Alternative Measures Program and, upon its completion, to direct a stay of proceedings. No criminal record.

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

Charge: Assault.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to guide our client through a course of rehabilitative steps and was then able to persuade Crown counsel to direct a stay of proceedings. no criminal record.

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

Charge: Assault Police Officer, Obstruct Police Officer.
Issue: Whether, in the circumstances, the police lawfully arrested our client.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel that the arrest was unlawful and that, therefore, our client was able to resist the arrest. Stay of Proceedings prior to trial. No criminal record.

R. vs. S.H. - Vancouver Police Investigation

Charge: Assault.
Issue: Whether the evidence was sufficient to support a criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Johnson made representations to the investigating officers which ultimately persuaded police to not forward any charges to Crown counsel. No criminal record.

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

Charge: Unlawful Storage of Firearms.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the criminal charge.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to direct a stay of proceedings upon our client agreeing to a 5 year firearms prohibition. No criminal record.

R. vs. T.Y. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Domestic Assault (x2).
Issue: Given the extensive rehabilitative steps our client took, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the charges.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to enter a stay of proceedings on both charges. Our client was able to reconcile with his family. No criminal record.

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

Charge: Mischief Under $5000.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the charge, given the excessive force used in arresting our client.
Result: Mr. Johnson provided information to Crown on our client's behalf and was able to persuade Crown to enter a stay of proceedings. No criminal record.

R. vs. J.T. - Surrey Provincial Court

Charges: Assault; Resist /Obstruct Police.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether there was a public interest in proceeding with the charges.
Result: Mr. Johnson provided Crown with additional information regarding the alleged facts of the assault complaint and the excessive force used by police in arresting our client.  Ultimately Mr. Johnson persuaded Crown counsel to stay the proceedings on both charges. No criminal record.

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.