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Toronto Criminal Lawyer Mark Zinck

Toronto DUI Lawyer | Drunk Driving Criminal Defence Law


DUI, or impaired/drunk driving is a criminal offense in Canada. It is also a criminal offense to refuse to take a breathalyser test (refusal charge). If you are charged with a drunk driving/over 80 or refusal related offence, hiring a Toronto DUI lawyer to defend the charges could lead to a successful resolution.

Definition of Drunk Driving in Canada

The criminal code specifies an 80mg threshold (over 80) at which the police must charge an individual with impaired driving (over 80). Even if you are determined to be below .80 mg, you can still be charged with DUI if alcohol is found in your system and the police see signs of impairment.

In Ontario, provincial law also mandates license suspensions and fines for those who blow over .05 (even if they are not charged criminally).

Punishment for DUI in Canada

If you have no criminal record and are convicted of a DUI in most circumstances you will get a 1 year Canada wide driving prohibition and a fine of approximately $1000.00 in the criminal courts (assuming no restitution is ordered for damages). The conviction will also result in a criminal record. This punishment is assuming it is a first offense without significant aggravating factors.

Subsequent DUI convictions can result in steeper fines, longer driving prohibitions, and sentences involving jail/custody.

Secondary Consequences of a Canadian DUI conviction

DUIs result in many negative consequences that are not part of the sentencing itself, including:

1) significantly higher insurance rates;
2) a criminal record impacting employment and personal opportunities;
3) travel restrictions due to a CPIC record of DUI;
4) may affect family court matters such as custody or access to a child;
5) may create or negatively impact pre-existing matters involving the Children's Aid Society.

Will a Canadian DUI prevent me from entering the United States?

Maybe. It’s up to the US customs and border protection officers whether to let you in or not. Certain offenses will practically guarantee denial into the US, however DUI is not one of them because it is not considered an offense of “moral turpitude” by the US. Despite this, US Customs officers can and will deny you entry if they suspect you pose a danger to the US public.

If you are not a US citizen, US customs have the power to deny you entry into the United States. While a DUI is not an absolute bar, it can lead to questions and problems. If anything, never become combative or argumentative with US customs as this will increase the likelihood that they will deny entry.

Interestingly, Canada is actually more prone to deny entry for Americans with DUIs than the US is to deny Canadians with DUIs. This is because Canadian law generally regards DUIs as more serious than most US states. Of course, no matter how many DUIs a Canadian citizen acquires, they can never be denied entry into Canada (all Canadian citizens have an absolute right to enter Canada under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms).

For more information, see our section on US travel with a criminal record.

How DUIs effect insurance rates in Ontario

Driving while drunk is an extremely risky thing to do from a financial perspective. A DUI will increase your insurance premiums by thousands of dollars per year. In the event of an accident, a DUI could also result in losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Here’s how:

By driving drunk in Ontario, you are in violation of your vehicle's insurance policy. While your insurance company is obligated to pay judgments and settlements to injured third parties in the event of an accident, they also have a right to pursue you for their payout because you are breeching the insurance policy by driving drunk.

For example:

Let’s say you drive drunk and injure a pedestrian who is unable to work because of the accident. The case settles for $300,000 and your insurance company pays this amount out to the injured third party. You live in Toronto and have a house with $250,000.00 worth of equity in it. Your insurance company can obtain a judgment against you for $300,000 for their payout because you violated the policy by being drunk. If you don’t pay them the $300,000 they may be able to have your house sold at auction to enforce the amount of the judgment they now have against you.

Child gets in accident while drunk

You may be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to your insurance company even if you don’t drink and drive. If someone else listed on your policy, such as your teenage child, injures someone while drunk, your insurance company can come after you for any amounts paid out to a third party. This is the same situation as the example above, except it is your child violating the insurance policy instead of you.

Specifically, the steps in the process would look as follows:

Your teenager takes your car > gets drunk > drives your car drunk > injures someone > your insurance company pays out to injured third party > your insurance company sues you because the child violated your policy > insurance company obtains a judgment against you > insurance company applies to enforce the judgment > you are out hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is certainly something to think about next time your child takes your car. They are potentially driving with your net worth in their pocket!

Defending DUIs - Is it worth it to fight?

Sometimes it makes sense to plead not guilty and defend the DUI in court, while other times it may not be worth it.

Advantages of pleading guilty to DUI

The main advantage of pleading guilty to a DUI, if any, is that the matter will be resolved as soon as possible. You will begin your year long driving prohibition right away. You also psychologically won’t have the matter hanging over your head.

Financially, while your insurance will skyrocket and you will be out a fee of about $1,000 (for a first offense DUI without aggravating circumstances), you will save potentially thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in lawyers fees.

Disadvantages of pleading guilty to DUI

The disadvantage of pleading guilty is that you are admitting to the crime which will result in a conviction against you. While it may seem, and perhaps be, nearly impossible that you will be found not guilty of the offense at trial, there are some things that could happen that could result in your getting off, such as:

1) The officer becomes unable to testify against you (dies, disabled, etc.); 2) The court takes too long to prosecute and you get off because of a violation of s. 11(b) of the charter (tried within a reasonable time);
3) The prosecution errs resulting in you getting off;
4) The facts of the case itself allow for a successful defence.

How are DUIs defended in court?

Typically the defendant will challenge the accuracy of the alcohol testing equipment. Perhaps the officer didn’t wait the standard amount of time before initiating the breathalyser or did not follow the proper procedure. Or perhaps there is evidence that challenges the mechanical or computer accuracy of the machine itself.

Usually, challenging the accuracy of the alcohol readings will require paying an expert witness to testify for you. This can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. If you are successful, it is likely worth it. If you are convicted anyway, you will get the same sentence if you had pleaded guilty.

Further, if you plan on testifying that you didn’t drink, you also risk being charged with perjury if you are lying. Never lie during testimony in court. Either way, even if you don’t plan to mount an expensive defence to the charge, it may be worth it to plead not guilty in the off chance that the charge is thrown out for a technical reason (such as those enumerated above). For more DUI related information, see DUIfix Canada.


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Mark Zinck
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Please note: Mark Zinck is a paid criminal lawyer. All information provided on this website is of a general nature and should not replace or be relied on as legal advice. Each case is different and legal decisions ought to be made in consultation with a practising lawyer. Your use of this website is governed by our Terms and Conditions.