by Alcohol or Drugs
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 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.