Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Teenage Drunk Driving


Johnny,17, was at a party at the start of the summer and he wanted to celebrate. At this party they were serving alcoholic drinks. Johnny had 6 beers to drink. After some dancing, he decided to go home because he had a 2 AM curfew.

Johnny: I need to get home before 2am or my parents are going to be so mad!
Sam: You can’t drive home you had a lot to drink.
Johnny: It’s okay dude, I can handle it. My place is only a 15 minute drive away.
Sam: I really don’t think you should drive, you can’t even walk in a straight line.
Johnny: Dude, seriously relax, I will be fine
Sam: Alright, if you say so. Call me when you get home.
Johnny: Peace!

Did Sam handle the situation well? Since Johnny was intoxicated, Sam could have taken matters into his own hands and taken Johnny’s car keys away.

As Johnny was driving home, he saw sirens in his rear view mirror, it was the police. Johnny pulled over and waited for the police officer to approach his vehicle. Johnny was very afraid at this moment because he was worried about being charged with some form of drunk driving offence.

Officer: Can I see your license and registration please?
Johnny: Yes, you can.
Officer: You smell like alcohol. Have you been drinking tonight?
Johnny: I had a little bit to drink Officer.

The police asked him to submit to a breathalyzer sample. Not wanting to get in any more trouble, Johnny complied and blew into the breathalyzer. His blood alcohol content revealed that he had more than 80 mg of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The officer arrested Johnny on the spot and he is now concerned about the legal ramifications of what he has done.

The Law: Impaired Driving and Driving with Blood Alcohol Over 0.08

There are a number of legal issues at work here. This blog post post focuses on drunk driving. Please read other JFCY posts on underage drinking; see also Concerts and Underage Drinking, and on what happens if you drive with alcohol in your system on a G2 license.

Across Canada, it is a criminal offence to operate a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs and/or while having a blood alcohol content of 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood or more  (called “0.08”).

With high blood alcohol levels, adults and youths may be charged with impaired driving. Impaired driving, which means driving while your ability is affected by alcohol or drugs, is a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada under Section 253(1)(a). Driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or more is also a crime under Section 253(1)(b). Your vehicle does not even have to be moving; you can be charged if you are impaired behind the wheel, even if you have not started to drive. If convicted or found guilty, you will be sentenced by a court.  

It is also a criminal offence to refuse to provide a breathalyzer sample without a reasonable excuse. Not knowing you have to provide a sample, or saying that a lawyer told you not to blow for a breathalyzer are NOT reasonable excuses. This is covered by Section 254 of the Criminal Code which also explains how the breathalyzer process works.

Since Johnny is a youth, between the ages of 12 and 17, the Youth Criminal Justice Act applies to him. As a result it is not possible to predict as clearly what sentence he could get if found guilty. However, this also changes the way the police officer must interact with Johnny. For example, s. 146 of the YCJA imposes a different standard for obtaining evidence, not binding youth to certain written and/or oral statements that were obtained when the youth didn’t have the opportunity to speak with a parent and/or alawyer.  Also, police must speak to youth using words that the youth is able to understand.  

Please note that there are additional penalties related to the Highway Traffic Act in Ontario that will apply. Please see the JFCY blog post on G2 license offences for more information.

Now although this scenario didn’t turn out fatal, it is very possible it may have. Johnny might have killed someone on his way home. This is one fatally which happened in Toronto recently. This was the end result...

The scenario and conclusion were written by PLE Team volunteer Diana Rozo (a York U student).  Legal info was written by JFCY summer law student Jeremy Ozier and reviewed by JFCY. 

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