Can You Get Legal Aid for a DUI in Ontario?
If you've been recently arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs in the Greater Toronto Area, you probably have a lot on your mind. Little doubt that at least some of the following thoughts have coursed through your brain since the police officially charged you with DUI:
- My spouse is going to kill me.
- Who's going to find out about this?
- Should I get a lawyer?
- I didn't drink that much.
- How am I going to get to work?
- Can I beat the charges?
- How long will I lose my license?
- What penalties can they hit me with if I'm convicted?
- The cops must have done something wrong or made a mistake.
- Will my boss fire me if they find out?
- The courts are letting people off because of COVID, right?
- How much is this going to cost me?
That last thought is the kicker, and the DUI criminal defence lawyers at TorontoDUI will tell you that a conviction will set you back a bare minimum of $3,000 in fines and fees and another $2,000 annually in “high-risk" insurance premiums if you drive a beater. And that's just the monetary costs. You might be willing to pay that much to avoid the aggravating penalties that come with a DUI conviction, including:
- Mandatory enrollment in Ontario's “Back on Track" education/treatment program.
- Mandatory participation in Ontario's Ignition Interlock program.
- Having to secure alternative transportation.
- Permanent criminal record
- Potential jail time.
- Impediments to international travel.
- Potential impacts on employment and educational opportunities.
The cost of hiring a DUI Lawyer also comes into play when calculating the potential costs of a DUI. Hiring an experienced DUI lawyer may be expensive, but from a cost-benefit analysis, the expense is worth it if your lawyer can deliver favourable results. And DUI defendants with lawyers secure far more favourable outcomes in court than defendants who try to represent themselves.
Those with limited income and assets may quickly discount the idea of hiring a lawyer to help them fight the charges. However, their financial situation may help them qualify for financial support to help pay the costs of hiring a DUI lawyer through a government program called Legal Aid Ontario.
What is Legal Aid Ontario?
Established under the Legal Aid Services Act of 1998, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is mandated to provide high-quality legal aid services to financially eligible low-income Ontario residents. LAO delivers these services in English and French to help clients address issues in:
- Criminal law
- Family law
- Mental health law
- Refugee and immigration law
The type of legal services LAO provides depends on the area of law and the distinct legal needs of the applicant. LAO services include:
- Staff lawyers who represent clients
- Representation by a private lawyer through a certificate program
- Same-day courthouse assistance from a duty counsel or paralegal
- Internet-based information and referrals
- Telephone-based legal advice on family law matters
Legal Aid for DUI Cases
Potential legal aid for a DUI falls under LAO's criminal law services, with eligibility tied to specific legal and financial criteria. The primary legal criterion for eligibility is that the criminal charges must carry the threat of jail time with a conviction. Even though first-time DUI convictions rarely result in jail time, the Canadian Criminal Code allows courts to include jail time as part of the sentence. So, technically, a first-time DUI defendant may be eligible for legal aid.
However, LAO characterizes the threat of jail time as a “risk to liberty," which it defines as “likely that a person accused of a crime will face jail time if found guilty." Thus, your eligibility for legal aid for a first-time DUI may be denied based on a subjective belief that you will not likely face risk to liberty. Anyone facing second-time or subsequent DUI charges or a first-time DUI with aggravating circumstances is definitely facing jail time and is thus clearly eligible for aid. Mental health or addiction issues may also help you establish eligibility under LAO's legal criteria, as will being a First Nation, Metis, or Inuit member.
Financial criteria used to determine eligibility are primarily based on gross family income, with amounts below $18,795 serving as a threshold for a single person, while $50,803 serves as a threshold for a family of five. LAO may also review your assets to help determine eligibility, and your ownership of a house or car will work against you. Depending on your income level and asset ownership, you may qualify for legal aid subject to a contribution agreement that requires you to repay LAO for some or all of your legal fees.
If Eligible for Legal Aid
If you qualify for legal aid for a criminal case, LAO does not provide you with a staff lawyer, but instead issues certificates that cover the costs of a private lawyer for a set number of hours. These certificates are only accepted by Ontario lawyers who have been authorized by LAO to conduct legal aid work. The lawyers at TorontoDUI accept legal aid clients and have been authorized by LAO.
If you do not qualify for a certificate to hire a private lawyer, you may still be eligible for LAO's duty counsel service, which provides same-day legal advice at criminal court. Be advised that same-day duty counsel does not have the resources to mount an effective defence on your behalf and essentially serves in an advisory capacity to guide you through the proceedings.
Secure a Solid DUI Defence with TorontoDUI
Whether seeking legal aid or not, the criminal defence DUI lawyers of TorontoDUI are ready to review your DUI charges with a free initial consultation. We work closely with our clients to seek the most favourable resolution to DUI charges. If you are not eligible for legal aid, we can work out a flexible payment plan as needed for your financial situation. With one of the Greater Toronto Area's best records for successfully resolving DUI cases, contact TorontoDUI today.