First-time DUI offenders are treated less severely by the justice system in Ontario than repeat offenders – but the consequences can still be life-changing.
You should not expect much leniency when it comes to drunk driving in Ontario. While some latitude is granted to first offenders and you can avoid the worst consequences with strong legal representation, do not underestimate the trouble you’re in if you’re pulled over and charged with impaired driving.
It may be the first time you have set foot in a police station and the legal processes will be confusing. More worryingly, a conviction can lead to jail time and other long-term consequences that don’t make for comfortable reading…
That’s why your first step with any DUI charge should be to hire a competent and local DUI lawyer to begin working on your defense.
Consequences of a first-time DUI in Ontario
According to the Criminal Code of Canada, even a first offender charged with impaired driving can face a prison sentence of up to 10 years (for an indictable offence).
More commonly, cases proceed as a summary offence, with a maximum prison sentence of two years.
The fact that you can go to prison for so long for a first offence surprises many people — and you need to be prepared for this. However, there is no mandatory minimum sentence for a first offence (unlike with subsequent offences) so your precise penalty will depend on the quality of the defence you put forward.
Every courthouse in Ontario operates differently but it is unlikely the prosecution would seek a two- or 10-year sentence unless aggravating factors were present like an injury or death caused by the actions of the driver. A 30, 60 or 90-day jail sentence would be more typical.
Ultimately, whether or not you face all or some of the following consequences will depend on the quality of the defence you submit to fight the Crown prosecution’s claims…
Fines and other financial costs
The fine for a first-time conviction for impaired driving in Ontario is usually a mandatory minimum of $1,000. The fine could be higher if there are any aggravating circumstances.
This fine does not include court fees or the fees required for attendance at treatment programs, impound and towing fees, license reinstatement fees or the fees associated with the rental, fitting and maintenance of an ignition interlock device (IID).
A Suspended License
Another unavoidable consequence of a first-time DUI conviction is a suspended driver’s license. This is likely to be for one year and your license will not be returned unless you meet certain conditions.
Sometimes, the period of the license suspension can be reduced if you agree to fit an ignition interlock device (more about this below).
It is important to bear in mind that you could face both an administrative penalty under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act and criminal penalties under the Criminal Code. These suspensions may run concurrently.
The police in Ontario also have the power to apply an immediate licence suspension at the roadside — from three days up to 90 days for simply being accused of impaired driving (even if you’re under the limit).
Mandatory attendance at a DUI program
You will also need to attend Ontario’s remedial measures program if convicted. This consists of educational and treatment workshops from the Back on Track program. The program takes up to 11 months to complete and you will be expected to fund it yourself at a current cost of $634.
There is even a mandatory follow-up interview six months after the workshops are completed, so you will need to take it seriously.
Ignition Interlock Program
The Ignition Interlock Program has been successful in many parts of Canada and the U.S. in reducing the number of repeat offenders with drunk driving.
By fitting an IID for at least a year, you may be eligible to get your driver’s license reinstated sooner than otherwise. You will need to fit the device and have it regularly inspected at your own expense.
Every time you want to start the engine of your car and at random intervals during a journey, you will need to blow into the device. If it registers any alcohol on your breath, you will not be able to start your vehicle.
Criminal record and its consequences
If you are convicted of impaired driving in Ontario, you will have a permanent criminal record, viewable in the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) and police databases.
This can affect any application where a background check is conducted, including job applications, housing applications, and certain license applications, as well as your travel and immigration status.
Although technically, you can still enter the U.S. from Canada with a DUI conviction on your record, you may run into problems and should carry a certified copy of the official court document with you when travelling.
To eliminate the DUI conviction from a background check, you may be able to apply for a record suspension or a pardon (after five years) but even then, the conviction record would remain in the police system.
U.S. drivers convicted of DUI in Ontario will have their local state driver’s license suspended back home. Existing convictions from some states may count as a prior in Canada, which will lead to more severe consequences.
Higher Insurance Rates
A conviction for drunk driving instantly places you in the “high risk” bracket according to insurance companies so you can expect a significant increase in your premium.
You may even be refused insurance in Canada. If you are accepted, you can expect to pay triple what a driver of a similar age without a conviction would normally pay.
Ultimately, a drunk driving conviction in Ontario will cost you financially and in terms of the freedoms you enjoy. Life will get harder after a DUI.
To give yourself the best possible chance of escaping these consequences, speak to one of our impaired driving lawyers in Ottawa during a free consultation.