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Under Canadian law, driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances can be a very serious crime. However, while criminal drunk driving charges can result in jail time, time behind bars is not always imposed. If you have been charged with drunk driving, it is important to understand the possible criminal penalties associated with your charge. As a general rule, first-time offenders will not go to jail for drunk driving if no accident occurred. Drunk drivers with a prior record of drunk driving incidents are much more likely to receive jail time.

Why Drunk Driving is a Crime

Driving a motor vehicle under the influence of either alcohol or narcotics is a very serious issue both from a legal standpoint and from a safety perspective. Intoxicated motorists create genuine road risks to both themselves and other drivers. The real public safety concerns accompanying drunk driving incidents have understandably resulted in a strong public policy response that may affect you.

Punishment by 24-Hour Alcohol Prohibition

If you are caught driving under the influence, one of the most common punishments is a 24-hour driving prohibition. Under Section 215 of the Motor Vehicle Act, a law enforcement officer can issue a 24-hour driving prohibition for driving either while adversely affected by alcohol or drugs. The 24-hour driving prohibition is exactly what it sounds like: violators must forfeit their right to drive a motor vehicle for the next 24 hours. That said, a 24-hour prohibition carries other consequences, such as appearing on your driving record that is also an important consideration.

A 24-hour prohibition itself is not a complicated issue to understand, but it can be frustrating to understand the procedure behind the grant of the prohibition. First, when peace officers begin to investigate impaired driving cases, they must have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that alcohol or drugs were involved. A peace officer cannot simply pull anyone off the streets and test for alcohol and drugs. Without that reasonable suspicion, the prohibition can be thrown out on appeal. Even if the peace officer later conducts either a breathalyzer or drug test, that later-provided evidence cannot be used to sustain the initial charge.

Next, assuming the prohibition is not appealed, the prohibition is enforced and then noted on the violator’s public driving record. If you believe that the prohibition was wrongfully given, you do have rights of appeal. First, you can appeal your 24-hour alcohol prohibition to an adjudicator working for RoadSafetyBC. This type of appeal is not a formal court appeal but is rather an administrative appeal. If the adjudicator does not agree with your version of events, you can appeal further to a justice of the BC Supreme Court. If your prohibition was given for drug influence, however, your only right of appeal is directly to the BC Supreme Court – there is no intermediate appeal to an adjudicator for drug-related prohibitions.

Jail Sentencing in Drunk Driving Cases

Technically, all drunk driving offenses can result in jail time, even if it is your first offense. That said, most judges in British Columbia tend to be lenient with all but the most serious drunk driving offenders. For first-time drunk driving offenders, there is no minimum jail time requirement. If you are a repeat offender, however, the minimum jail sentence for drunk driving is thirty days. If you are a second-time repeat offender, the minimum jail sentence increases to four months in jail.

Regardless of the nature of the case, the maximum amount of time that any judge can impose for a drunk driving offense (in which no one was caused bodily harm or killed) is five years. Five-year sentences tend to be very rare, and are only given in the most extreme cases. In one prior British Columbia case, the criminal defendant had been arrested for his fifteenth drunk driving offense, but he was only sentenced to four years in prison. Generally, judges will not sentence a defendant to a longer period of time than needed to be an effective punishment.

Other Criminal Punishments Associated with Drunk Driving

If you are caught driving with a blood-alcohol level of over .08, you will receive some type of criminal punishment. The most common charge other than the 24-hour driving prohibition is a criminal fine. For first-time drunk driving offenders, the minimum fine is $1,000.00.

If you have been charged with drunk driving, you should contact an experienced criminal lawyer as soon as possible to protect your rights.

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