Guide: drink driving offences

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Have you been charged with drink driving? Or a similar offence?

Drink driving offences (alcohol driving offences) and drug-related motoring offences are taken very seriously by the courts. In addition to a criminal record, a convicted motorist can expect a lengthy period off the road and there is a possibility that the motorist may be given a community penalty or even a custodial sentence. It is partly because of the serious nature of the penalties faced by motorists that the law imposes very detailed procedural requirements on the police and prosecuting authorities when bringing a prosecution.  This can be a minefield for the unwary. It is important to obtain specialist legal advice at the earliest opportunity.

Even though it may seem that once you have been stopped by a police officer and failed a roadside screening breath test, you are facing an open and shut case, there may be a number of possible defences available. Many defences are of a technical nature and will often require supporting expert evidence. However the fact remains that the prosecution must prove every element of the offence to the required, criminal standard before a court can convict.

The Driver Defence team at Blake Morgan solicitors has many years' experience in defending motorists accused of drink driving offences and are used to guiding motorists through the complexities of these procedures. We can call upon the services of leading medical experts in this field as required.

There are two principal drink driving offences prosecuted by the police, namely driving with excess alcohol and being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle. There is a significant difference in these two offences, in that following a conviction for an offence of driving whilst over the limit, a disqualification is mandatory, whereas the court has a discretion not to disqualify in the event of a conviction for being 'drunk in charge of a motor vehicle'.

It is a separate offence where a person fails, without reasonable excuse, to provide a specimen of breath for analysis when required to do so by a police officer.  Many such cases hinge on whether the motorist had a reasonable excuse for not providing a sample.  It is often going to be important to adduce expert evidence on the point.

It will always be vitally important to consider all of the evidence in detail and to ascertain what, if any, offence has been committed.

Penalties

The offence of driving with excess alcohol is punishable with up to six months in prison or an unlimited fine as well as disqualification from driving for a minimum period of 12 months (36 months where the second offence is committed within 10 years of the date of the first conviction).

If the charge is one of being in charge of a motor vehicle whilst over the limit, a prison sentence of up to three months is the maximum penalty. A driving disqualification or endorsement with 10 penalty points will also be ordered.

The offence of failing to provide a specimen of breath for analysis is also punishable with an unlimited fine / 6 months custody and a driving disqualification.  The Magistrates could disqualify for 17 months or more if they believe there has been a deliberate refusal to provide a specimen.

The imposition of a driving ban is extremely likely to have a significant adverse impact on both the family and working life of the motorist. It will therefore be imperative to try and reduce the length of any such ban. Even if a motorist is minded to plead guilty to an offence such as drink driving then it is still important to speak with specialist lawyers to advise on how best to present crucial mitigation and keep any ban to a minimum.  Such mitigation may in the end be the difference between retaining a job and losing it.

Case studies

Drink driver has case dropped on grounds of insufficient evidence

Barry Culshaw of the Driver Defence team was consulted by S who had been charged with failing without reasonable excuse to provide specimens of breath for analysis during the course of an investigation into whether or not a drink driving offence had been committed. The proceedings had been initiated by Hampshire Constabulary and the proceedings were pending before Southampton Magistrates Court. S maintained that she had used her best endeavours to provide both specimens of breath but had been unable to do so. On Barry Culshaw's advice a not guilty plea was entered and an expert commissioned to prepare a report. The expert's report when obtained was favourable to S's defence and a copy was lodged with the court and served on the Crown Prosecution Service. Investigations revealed that it would appear that S had been blowing into the Intoximeter device too hard for both specimens to be accepted by the device. Despite this problem the police officer conducting the breath test procedure had failed to inform S of the problem.

Pursuant to Barry Culshaw's advice a detailed defence statement was lodged with the court and a copy served on the Crown. Representations were also made at length as to the merits of the defence. A fortnight prior to the trial date the Crown decided to discontinue the case on the basis that there was "not enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction". S's decision to tender a not guilty plea was accordingly vindicated and came as a considerable relief to S who, in the event of conviction, was facing a minimum period of disqualification from driving of three years and a hefty financial penalty.

Failing to provide urine specimens

Barry Culshaw of our Driver Defence team was instructed by W who was facing proceedings at Fareham/Portsmouth Magistrates Courts alleging that he had failed without reasonable excuse to provide specimens of urine for analysis in connection with a drink driving incident. A consultant urologist was commissioned to prepare a report on the case and following service of the report the Crown decided to discontinue the case which had been brought by Hampshire Police.

View further drink driving case studies