Canadian laws can sentence drunk drivers to serious prison sentences, even if the driver in question was not involved in a serious collision where someone is injured or killed. Going to jail for drunk driving is not uncommon, and in fact, there are mandatory minimum jail sentences for multiple convictions of drunk driving. For a first-time drunk driving offence where a driver is convicted of having a blood alcohol level of .08 while behind the wheel, the offence accompanies a minimum fine of $1,000. However, as soon as you receive a second conviction, you’ll now receive a minimum jail sentence of 30 days.
For each subsequent offence after that second conviction, the minimum jail time is four months. The maximum amount of time you can receive for drunk driving – without causing bodily harm or death – is five years in prison.
Drunk driving offences from years ago are considered
By ordering a mandatory jail sentence for a second and all subsequent offences, some drivers may be caught by surprise that, despite an exemplary driving record for many years, they are still treated as a repeat drunk driver.
Jail sentences do not work to deter drunk driving
As lawyers, we do not often believe that jail is appropriate for driving-related offences where no one was injured or killed. Instead, we believe education and deterrence, whether it’s through counselling, remedial driving programs, or ignition interlock systems, to be more effective compared to throwing someone behind bars. These remedial programs have challenges of their own, but there are simply too many examples of people who go to jail for drunk driving just to go right back to driving drunk as soon as they leave the correctional system.
If the intent of the system is to keep these people from driving drunk, throwing these offenders in a place where they are forced to abstain and cut off from their freedom to travel just encourages this behaviour as soon as they leave the jail system.
We do not have all the answers, but we know when something just isn’t working.
After all, how else do we continue to see cases where an impaired driver has already spent significant time in custody, but is somehow on their 25th impaired driving conviction?
Courts are reluctant to hand out maximum sentences
In another example, this time involving a driver who had 15 previous “drunk driving related offences” was caught drunk driving again, while serving his sentence for a previous impaired driving conviction!
He had been given an authorized absence permit from the local community correctional centre just 10 days before he was involved in a single-vehicle crash. Evidently, he had struck a snowbank while speeding in a residential area, and ended up on top of a four-foot pile of snow.
The court again, decided not to give the five-year maximum sentence, electing to sentence the driver to just four years for the impaired driving offence. The court cited a Supreme Court of Canada case that said a maximum sentence will only be appropriate “if the offence is of sufficient gravity and the offender displays sufficient blameworthiness.”
The court also added this:
“Although it is indeed a rare occasion where an individual is sentenced for his twenty-first driving while disqualified conviction, combined with a sixteenth drunk driving related offence committed under very aggravating circumstances, the categorizations of ‘worst offence’ and ‘worst offender’ will have no application. Equally so, classifying the circumstances here as most egregious will have no application in determining a fit and proper sentence.”
You will go to jail if caught over .08 while driving more than once
Maximum sentences aside, the lesson here is that, if you are convicted of impaired driving with a blood alcohol of .08 or higher more than once, you will go to jail. If you do not wish to go to jail, it is important to successfully challenge the very first impaired driving allegation you receive.
Successfully challenging the first offence may give you another chance – so a subsequent offence will not automatically mean jail. Perhaps dealing with the court system and escaping jail time will actually have a better deterrent effect on the offender, rather than sending an otherwise good driver to jail to mingle with others who have been convicted of crimes.
We adamantly believe that a person who has collected more than 20 impaired driving convictions should not be on the roads. At all. However, we want to educate drivers and we want to stop people from obtaining multiple impaired driving convictions.