A charge of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) is a criminal charge in Canada, as laid out in section 253(1)(a) of the Criminal Code.
So, yes, if you’re convicted of DUI, you will have a lifelong criminal record – even if it is your first offense.
Some of the main consequences of having a criminal record may include:
- Being denied entry into the United States or other countries
- A negative impact on your immigration status if you’re not a Canadian citizen
- Being denied certain types of jobs
- Jail time
- Losing your drivers’ license
Summary convictions vs indictments
Most DUI prosecutions in Canada are summary conviction offenses. Summary means “quick and simple” in this sense.
Such offenses are considered less serious than indictable offenses and can proceed without a jury trial and/or indictment.
They are also punishable by shorter prison sentences and smaller fines.
Sometimes, DUI prosecutions can lead to indictments. These are more serious offenses and can only be tried after a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is a prima facie case to answer or there should be a trial by grand jury.
Both summary and indictment convictions are criminal convictions and they appear both in Canadian federal laws and in the legislation of provinces and territories.
For summary convictions, the maximum penalty is:
- A sentence of six months of imprisonment
- A fine of $5000, or
In DUI cases, the penalty for a first offense is a mandatory minimum fine of between $1,000-2,500.
For a second offense, there is a mandatory minimum of 30 days imprisonment.
For indictment convictions, the jury and judge will decide the outcome and sentencing.
Note that, with indictable offenses, there is no limit to when the charge can be laid. However, for summary offenses, the accused must be charged within six months of the act taking place.
How to avoid a criminal record from your DUI charge
The way to avoid a criminal record from your DUI charge is to hire an experienced DUI lawyer and win your case or get it dismissed!
Unfortunately, lose the case and you will have to face up to a criminal conviction.
No matter how hopeless your case seems and how bad the evidence against you looks, a good DUI lawyer may be able to help.
They are experienced at looking at the evidence against you and finding errors or gaps in the prosecution case.
The burden of proof for the prosecution is high and the conduct of the arresting officer(s) can be closely examined.
The prosecution needs to prove that your ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol or a drug to some extent, and they need to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt.
They often make mistakes and must fit many “jigsaw pieces” together perfectly to earn a conviction against you.
There are many examples of how cracks in the prosecution case can appear.
Examples where a DUI charge may lead to no conviction
Some typical examples of where an accused person will be acquitted of DUI include:
- The prosecution fails to prove that you were operating the vehicle (i.e. that you were behind the wheel). This can be particularly difficult to prove in a case where the police arrive after an accident.
- The time between when you were stopped and when you took the first intoxilyzer test exceeded two hours.
- When the police stopped you, your breath smelt of alcohol and you were slurring your speech. However, if that’s all the prosecution has to demonstrate impairment, you should be acquitted of the impaired driving charge because your inability to operate a motor vehicle was not demonstrated clearly enough.
- Two different police officers describe your impairment differently: if their stories don’t match or there are notable gaps, doubts about the prosecution case will arise in the judge’s mind and that can be exploited by your defense lawyer.
These are just a few possible scenarios. There are many others.
Note that, since December 2018, you can no longer use the “bolus” defense. This is where you argue that you were arrested immediately after having your last drink and the alcohol you consumed before being arrested was not in your blood while you were driving, It showed when the breath tests were performed later at the police station.
Note also that if you escape the DUI conviction, this doesn’t mean you won’t face other related charges to the case. However, it may mean that you escape a criminal conviction.