Alberta Court of Appeal strikes down licence suspension law

The Alberta Court of Appeal has struck down a DUI licence suspension law for being unconstitutional.

The Alberta Court of Appeal has struck down a part of Alberta's tough and controversial DUI law. The court ruled that a section of the law, which subjected individuals who were accused of drunk driving to a mandatory licence suspension, was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, according to the Edmonton Journal. The majority of justices on the court agreed that suspending suspected drunk drivers' licences before their cases were even tried was a violation of both the right to a presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. However, the law will remain in effect for at least a year to give the government time to either rewrite it or to file an appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada.

Punishment before trial

The law at issue had allowed police to suspend the licences of drivers who had been charged with a drunk driving offence. These roadside suspensions remained in place until a verdict was delivered in the case, which, due to court delays, could take several months. Critics of the law argued that imposing such punishments before the accused even had a trial was against the accused's right to be presumed innocent. Furthermore, critics warned that because of those court delays many accused individuals were feeling pressured to plead guilty even when they weren't in order to get their licences back sooner. Defenders of the licence suspension argued that there was no constitutional right to drive and that the law was simply a public safety measure.

The Alberta Court of Appeal agreed that there was a public safety argument to be made for the law, but it nonetheless found the roadside licence suspensions to be a violation of the constitutional rights to a presumption of innocence and a fair trial. As CBC News reports, the court's decision noted that 20 percent of individuals who are charged with drunk driving are eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, yet those individuals are still subject to a licence suspension as though they were already guilty and a public danger.

Law still remains in force

While the licence suspension is unconstitutional, it will remain in effect and can still be enforced by the police for one year. That's to give the provincial government time to come up with a response to the ruling. The government can either rewrite the law to address the court's concerns or file an appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada. If it chooses to appeal it has until August 17, 2017 to do so.

Criminal defence law

While the above ruling largely helps reinforce the constitutional rights of those who have been accused of drunk driving, it is important to remember that provincial and federal laws against DUI remain strict and severe. Anybody who has been charged with a drunk driving offence should contact a criminal defence lawyer immediately. An experienced lawyer can help clients understand what legal options they have so as to protect their rights and mitigate the damage that such charges can lead to.