In Canada, the criminal offence of drunk driving is referred to as “impaired driving”. Terms like DUI and DWI are frequently used by the public but are not actually found in the Criminal Code.
Impaired Driving/Driving with Blood Alcohol Level Exceeding 80 Milligrams
There are actually two basic impaired driving offences under the Criminal Code:
- Operating a motor vehicle while the person’s ability to operate the vehicle is impaired by alcohol or a drug contrary to Section 253(1)(a) of the Criminal Code
- Operating a motor vehicle while the concentration of alcohol in the person’s blood exceeds eighty milligrams of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood contrary to Section 253(1)(b) of the Criminal Code
On a first offence, the penalty for either offence is a fine of not less than $1,000 and a mandatory driving prohibition of 1 year.
On a second offence, the penalty is a mandatory jail sentence of at least 30 days.
The maximum sentence for these offences is 18 months where they are prosecuted summarily and 5 years where they are prosecuted by indictment.
Impaired Driving Causing Bodily Harm
Under Section 255(2) of the Criminal Code, impaired driving that causes bodily harm to another person is an indictable offence punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail. Similarly, under Section 255(2.1), a person who commits an offence under Section 253(1)(b) by driving with a blood alcohol level exceeding 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood and causes an accident resulting in bodily harm, is guilty of an indictable offence punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.
Impaired Driving Causing Death
Where the offence of impaired driving contrary to Section 253(1)(a) is committed and causes an accident resulting in the death of another person, the person who commits the offence is guilty of an indictable offence punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Defences to Impaired Charges
Impaired driving prosecutions are notoriously technical. Various constitutional rights are engaged during the course of an investigation and the gathering of evidence. In particular, the technical and scientific issues surrounding the evaluation of breath or blood samples pose challenges that often require the expertise of toxicologists and other professionals to properly defend a case. Similarly, there are numerous steps in an impaired investigation where careful analysis of police compliance with the rights of an accused person can mean the difference between an acquittal and a conviction. These are not charges that anyone should try to resolve without legal representation. A conviction on any impaired driving offence under the Criminal Code results in an automatic criminal record and a minimum 1 year driving prohibition.