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Getting your car keys back doesn’t mean you can drive.

But they gave my car keys back to me so that must mean something right? Well of course it doesn’t. But then again you already suspected that anyway didn’t you?

I’m asked this quite a lot by people who are arrested for drink or drug driving. The view seems to be that if you were as impaired or intoxicated as the Gardai presumably think you were, then the Gardai would not have given you your car keys back after the sample of breath, blood or urine was taken.

I can understand the logic behind this thinking, and it does make sense. It runs into trouble with Garda procedure though.

When you were arrested, you were brought to the Garda station. When you entered the station, you were introduced to another Garda. He or she was probably seated behind a desk. They are the Member-In-Charge. The Member-in-Charge (MIC) is responsible for your welfare while you are under arrest.

Their role is to be independent of the procedure taking place. The MIC tells you why you have been arrested (in case this is still somewhat hazy to you) and your entitlement to contact a solicitor or somebody “reasonably named by you” (i.e. usually a family member).

They’ll be filling out a book. This is the custody record. Into the custody record they’ll enter your details: your name, date of birth, address, height etc. They’ll also enter other details provided by you e.g. whether you are taking medication, whether you’re suffering from any illness.

The MIC will also record other information e.g. their observations of your physical or mental health condition. If you are visibly drunk, they will note this. They’ll also ask you if you had consumed alcohol or drugs and if so when, as in when did you last consume them?

They’ll search you and remove your property i.e. wallet/purse, car keys, loose change, mobile phone, cigarettes etc. Your money is counted. So are details of your property. This is all recorded.

Once the specimen of breath or the sample of blood or urine has been taken by a doctor or nurse, you’ll generally be released from Garda custody. This depends on your level of intoxication. If you’re still “drunk and a danger to yourself or others” (this is the legal standard) the MIC should not release you from custody. They should keep you in custody until you have either sobered up or a friend or relative has arrived at the station to pick you up.

But in most cases people are released very soon after having provided the breath, blood or urine specimen. At this point the Member-in-Charge will then return all the property that was initially taken from them.

All the property means all the property. That includes your car keys. Why are they giving you back your keys? Because keys are also property and the Gardai do not have any statutory power to hold onto your property once you have been released from custody.

The important point to remember here is that when the Gardai are returning your property, that is all that they are doing: returning your property. When they return your car keys to you, this is not a tacit acceptance by them that maybe you weren’t as drunk or as impaired as they thought when they arrested you.

Neither is it confirmation by them that you are in some way now fit to drive. This is a grave mistake and I have represented clients who have mistakenly believed this to be the case, only to be arrested again. That’s right: they’ve been arrested twice in the same night for drink driving.

The return of your car keys to you is merely a return of your property, not an invitation to drive again.

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