Albertans face tough DUI penalties even before they face a judge

Alberta has some of Canada's toughest - and most controversial - laws against drunk driving. As the Globe and Mail reports, drivers in the province face licence suspensions and having their car impounded even before they have their DUI case heard in court and even if they register a blood alcohol content (BAC) level just below the legal limit of 0.08 percent. While a legal challenge against these penalties is currently underway, Albertans need to be well aware of what could happen to them if they are charged with driving under the influence.

Strict DUI laws

In 2012, the provincial government introduced measures designed to toughen Alberta's DUI laws. Both drivers who registered a BAC reading above 0.08 and those who registered a BAC reading between 0.05 and 0.08 were targeted by the new legislation.

Drivers whose BAC reading is above 0.05 but below 0.08 face strict administrative penalties, including having their vehicle impounded for three days and having their licence also suspended for three days. It's important to note that a BAC level between 0.05 and 0.08 will not lead to criminal charges since 0.08 is still the legal limit under the Criminal Code. Nonetheless, the driving suspensions are likely to be major inconveniences for many people.

Indefinite suspensions

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Alberta's recent DUI laws is the administrative penalties drivers who register a BAC reading above 0.08 during a roadside test face. Such drivers also face having their vehicles impounded for three days, but their driver's licence is suspended indefinitely until their criminal case is resolved through the courts.

DUI cases may take months before coming to trial, which is why such a licence suspension is so controversial. Critics of the law argue that suspending a defendant's licence before his or her case has reached court essentially presumes that the defendant is guilty. Furthermore, there are concerns that some drivers may plead guilty just so they can get their licences back sooner. As Global News reports, although an Alberta judge upheld the constitutionality of the law earlier in 2015, an appeal is being prepared which could ultimately see the question of whether or not the province's indefinite licence suspensions are constitutional decided by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Criminal defence

Drivers in Alberta should be aware of the punishments they may face if they fail a roadside impaired driving screening. For those who are facing criminal charges of impaired driving, it is extremely important that they contact a criminal defence lawyer immediately. An experienced lawyer will be able to inform clients about their options, including how they may go about mounting a defence against a DUI charge.