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Arrested for DUI in Canada? — Here’s Your Comprehensive Guide

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Despite intensive public education efforts and decades of increasing enforcement efforts and penalties, Canadians continue to drive while impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. According to Statistics Canada, 38,252 people were arrested for impaired driving in 2021. If police charged that many people with DUI (driving under the influence), how many impaired drivers did the police miss that year?

It's anyone's guess, but the DUI lawyers at TorontoDUI assume that the number is at least double, if not triple. You probably do not want to join the ranks of those arrested for impaired driving, so we'll give you two — no, make that three — bits of advice:

  • Don't drink and drive.
  • Don't consume drugs and drive.
  • Reinforce these thoughts by understanding the potential consequences.

Seems simple, right?

Well, in working on DUI cases daily, we are often surprised by how little many of our clients know about impaired driving, Canadian DUI law, and the consequences if caught. So, here is a comprehensive guide on what you can expect should you be arrested for impaired driving in Canada. And let's start with the worst-case scenarios — that is, the penalties.

First-Time Offence Penalties

First-time DUI? — No problem! That is unless you're convicted, which means that you'll be in a world of hurt. For a first-time conviction in Ontario, you can expect at a minimum:

  • $1,000 fine — cha-ching!
  • One-year driver's license suspension — ouch!
  • Mandatory enrollment in Ontario's “Back on Track" education/treatment program, which includes a $634 fee — that'll be fun!
  • Likely enrollment in an Ignition Interlock program, with fees of at least $1,000 — to start your vehicle, please blow into the tube!
  • “High Risk" annual insurance premium increases ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, lasting up to six years — cha-bada-bing-ching!
  • Minimum $281 in fees for driver's license reinstatement — certainly annoying.
  • Permanent criminal record that can jeopardize employment and educational opportunities — really big ouch!
  • Alternative transportation costs during license suspension — or you can walk.

Subsequent Offence and Aggravating Circumstances Penalties

If you did not learn the first time, the government will naturally ramp up the penalties should you be arrested for DUI again. And if your impaired driving ever impacts or threatens other people, you will be penalized further. You can check this out yourself by visiting Part VIII.1 – Offences Relating to Conveyances chapter of Canada's Criminal Code, and start with Section 320.14.

If it's your second DUI and you still haven't learned that you shouldn't drive while impaired, you will enjoy the same penalties as your first DUI, plus:

  • Mandatory minimum 30-day jail term.
  • Three-year mandatory driver's license suspension.
  • A fine amount at the judge's discretion.
  • Longer ignition interlock periods.
  • Potential for court-ordered probation.

Those convicted of a third or subsequent conviction face the same consequences as a second-time DUI conviction, though the license suspension is permanent, and the mandatory jail sentence is a minimum of three months.

And the above penalties represent the bare “minimum." Judges can add more pain and suffering to your penalties and usually will if your impaired driving actions have proven to harm or threaten others. Aggravating factors that can lead to harsher sentencing for any DUI charge include:

  • Causing death.
  • Causing bodily harm.
  • Excessive blood alcohol concentrations.
  • Racing other vehicles.
  • Operating a large motor vehicle.
  • Having passengers under the age of 16 in the vehicle.
  • Operating impaired as a commercial driver.

Types of DUI and Evidentiary Matters

OK, now that we've reviewed the potential penalties, let's review the different types of DUI and what evidence police use in their efforts to convict you. When you are charged with DUI in Canada, police generally base the charges on at least one of these parameters (and sometimes combine the first two to enhance the likelihood of conviction):

  • Impaired driving — based on physical evidence and observations by police that one's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle was impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  • Over 80-plus mgs — Based on an official breathalyzer reading that shows alcohol blood-level concentrations exceeding 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 mililiters of blood.
  • Refusing to provide a breath sample — carries the same outcome as a conviction on other DUI charges and is based on a suspect's refusal or inability to provide a readable roadside or breathalyzer sample.
  • Care and control — based on police determination that even though the suspect was not witnessed driving while impaired, the impaired suspect was in a position within a vehicle where they could easily put it into motion.
  • Underage impaired driving — based on zero tolerance for any level of potential impairment by those under the age of 21, whether as witnessed by police or proven by breath sample. Underage DUIs deserve their own comprehensive guide.
  • Zero tolerance impaired driving — a driver with a G1, G2, M1, or M2 license or someone driving a vehicle that requires an A-F license or commercial vehicle operator's registration will be charged with DUI for any detectable concentrations of alcohol or drugs.
  • Impaired driving by drugs — DUI charges based on a 12-step drug recognition expert (DRE) evaluation, approved roadside drug screening equipment (ADSE), blood sampling, or a combination thereof. For cannabis, having more than five nanograms of THC per ml of blood or a combination of 2.5 nanograms or more of TCH per ml of blood with 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood is a criminal DUI offence. TCH levels between two and five nanograms per ml of blood can be used to charge you with a non-criminal administrative warning.

Evidentiary Matters

to gain a DUI conviction, Crown prosecutors must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt" that:

  • You operated a motor vehicle while impaired.
  • You had “care and control" of a motor vehicle while impaired, as evidenced by impairment and your ability and physical proximity to easily put the vehicle in motion.
  • You willfully refused a breath or blood sample demand after driving a motor vehicle while impaired or willfully failed to provide a usable sample.

“Beyond a reasonable doubt" is a crucial threshold prosecutors must meet to gain a DUI conviction. In mounting an effective defence, experienced criminal defence DUI lawyers strive to raise doubts about the Crown's evidence in their efforts to secure a favourable outcome. The police can and do make mistakes, roadside testing devices and breathalyzers can be faulty, and actions taken by you and/or the police before, during, and after your arrest may contradict evidence being used against you. An effective DUI lawyer will carefully examine all evidence to determine whether such mistakes, faults, and contradictions exist in their efforts to raise reasonable doubt.

To ensure the protection of Charter Rights, police must follow specific procedures before, during, and after an arrest. If your DUI lawyer can prove that police failed to follow such procedures or took other actions that violated your Charter Rights, the judge may nullify related evidence or even dismiss the charges depending on the severity of the violation.

Potential DUI Outcomes

Just because you are arrested for impaired driving does not mean you will be convicted of DUI. For this reason, you should always consult with an experienced DUI lawyer before considering a guilty plea. Potential DUI outcomes, whether pre-trial or in court, include:

  • Withdrawn charges — Crown prosecutors drop the charges, usually based on flaws or weaknesses with their evidence, which is typically pointed out by defence lawyers pre-trial.
  • Dismissed charges — the judge dismisses the charges, often based on Charter Rights violations or obvious flaws in the Crown's case.
  • Reduced charges — the Crown and defence negotiate a guilty plea for a lesser charge — such as reckless driving — in lieu of proceeding to trial on the DUI.
  • Conditional or absolute discharge — means you admit guilt, but you are not criminally convicted, and face mitigated and/or alternate penalties.
  • Acquittal — not guilty, so shake your lawyer's hand with gratitude.
  • Convicted — guilty, and you should prepare to face the penalties highlighted earlier in this article.

Secure Your DUI Defence with TorontoDUI

To secure the best possible outcome for your impaired driving charges, consult with the DUI lawyers at TorontoDUI. With the successful defence of thousands of cases in the Greater Toronto Area, contact TorontoDUI for a free consultation.

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