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What are the sentencing guidelines for drink driving?

Updated: Dec 10, 2023


Drink driving. An elderly women's portrait.


Jail.


I start with this because it’s one of the first questions people sometimes ask me.

Can you be sent to jail if you’re convicted of drink driving?

In theory yes, in practice very likely not.


It’s pretty dependent on a number of factors:


· Whether this is your first offence for drink driving

· Whether you caused damage to property, or

· Whether your driving resulted in someone being injured.


For the vast majority of people, it’s their first offence.

They’ve never been in trouble before.

They’ve never even had a parking ticket, I’m often told.

These people feel terrible shame and embarrassment.


In almost all these types of cases there hasn’t been any aggravating feature to their arrest.


There are many other proofs -other than alcohol levels-
that are required to be established
before you can be convicted.
Knowing, finding and highlighting them
often makes the difference between failure and success.



What I mean is that they may have been stopped at a checkpoint and asked to provide a specimen of their breath.

They may have failed this roadside breath test and then been arrested.

Nobody was injured, no property was damaged due to a crash etc.


It’s a simple stop and arrest.




EVEN IF THESE PEOPLE were convicted -and I don’t like to think about things like that- the worst that would happen is a disqualification from driving and a monetary fine.

That’s bad enough I know.


How much is the fine?

Its usually somewhere between €400 to €700 for a first offence.

Sometimes less, rarely more.

But people don’t care about that: it’s the disqualification that kills them.


How long is the disqualification?


That depends on how much alcohol was in your system.

And that’s the only thing it depends on.

Not what the police thought of you, not what the Judge felt about you, just the level of alcohol in your system.


For instance, the legal limit for alcohol in blood is 50.

For urine its 67.

For breath its 22.


Microgrammes or millilitres are irrelevant.

The only thing that matters is the number.


The following is based on a worst-case scenario where you’re convicted and it's your first drink driving offence.

None of it applies if you’re acquitted.






If you have a blood-alcohol level between 81 and 100 you’ll be disqualified for one year.

Not six months or two years.

One year.

Nothing more, nothing less.


That’s if you’re convicted.




IT DOESN'T MATTER THAT you’re the sole breadwinner at home or that you need your car for work or that you have to drop the kids to school in the morning.


If a blood specimen is taken from you by a doctor or nurse, and the reading comes back as 90, you’re in the one-year category and you will be disqualified for one year.

Not two years or three years, one year.


That’s if you’re convicted.

If you’re acquitted, you walk away with your record clean.



Back to sentencing guidelines.


What happens if the Judge feels that the State have proved their case and they decide to convict you?

What’s the first thing that happens then?


Well, the Judge will ask the prosecutor whether you have any previous convictions.

Specifically, the judge wants to know whether you have any “relevant” previous convictions.


What’s a relevant previous conviction?


Well, if you have a conviction for speeding or possession of a joint of cannabis a few years ago, while they might be convictions, they’re not regarded as ‘relevant’ convictions.

They’re not relevant because they’re not road traffic convictions in general, drink driving convictions in particular.


A prior conviction for drink driving is a relevant previous conviction.

They want to know about those.

If you have one in the last few years that may affect the disqualification you receive.

It’ll certainly affect the fine you receive.


If you do have a previous conviction for drink driving, other penalties are now open.



If behaviour has been bad,
judges want to know about it.
Because it will affect what they do next.


One of them in jail.


Jail is also a distinct possibility if someone is injured because you were drinking and driving.


What else does a judge want to know about you?


They’ll want to know whether you have a job, whether you have commitments (ie family to support).

They’ll want to know this because it will affect the size of the fine that you receive.



CONTRARY TO SILLY old wives tales that always seem to make their way around polite society, judges are not out of touch.

They know full well the hardships that come from being disqualified.

Someone they know has very likely been disqualified from driving in the past.

It doesn’t give them any pleasure to disqualify you.


I’ve driven the length and breadth of this country and I’ve never seen a judge take any particular pleasure in putting people off the road.


I have seen judges insist on disqualifying people for a significant period of time.

But these are often cases where the person has previous convictions for drink driving or have been driving while disqualified.

In these cases, judges can be harsh.


Microgrammes or millilitres
are irrelevant.
The only thing that matters
is the number.


But this ‘harshness’ comes from a sense of obligation; an obligation to protect the public from motorists who repeatedly drink and drive, drive without insurance or ignore court disqualifications.

This is sensible.


But the vast majority of motorists don’t come into this category.

And for them the judge may want to know some other details.

Like, how did you behave yourself?


This may seem like an odd thing to enquire about but sometimes people are verbally -or physically- abusive to police when arrested.

Alcohol mixes badly with some.


If behaviour has been bad, judges want to know about it.

Because it will affect what they do next.


Many will even ask the police officer about whether there were “any issues in custody?”

Unsurprisingly, bad behaviour gains zero sympathy from the bench.

I’ll discuss why being well behaved is so important in another article.



But in the majority of cases people arrested and charged with drink driving have never been in trouble before.

They have no previous convictions and would be shocked if someone even asked the question.

They’ve also behaved themselves impeccably well.




BUT ONCE YOU'RE OVER the limit isn’t that it?

Why no, not at all.

There are many steps in a successful drink driving prosecution.

These are known as legal ‘proofs’.

One of them is that you exceeded the legal limit for alcohol in your system.

That’s one obvious legal proof.

After all, if you didn’t exceed the legal limit, you’d never be summonsed to court in the first place.



If behaviour has been bad, most judges want to know about it.
Many will even ask the police officer whether
there were “any issues in custody”.
Unsurprisingly, bad behaviour gains zero sympathy from the bench.



But there are many other proofs -other than alcohol levels- that are required to be established before you can be convicted.


Knowing, finding and highlighting them in court, often makes the difference between failure and success.


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