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Advice on drink driving offences.

This article appeared in the Mercury newspaper on 20th October 2010.
Solicitor Simon Gwynne of Norrie Waite & Slater Solicitors answers questions about drink driving.

What is the penalty for drink driving?

Even if you are only just over the limit you will face an automatic disqualification of 12 months. Magistrates have the ability to increase this up to 60 months for repeat offenders, or for first time offenders with very high alcohol readings. In extreme cases a prison sentence may be given.

Can I refuse to take a breathalyser test?

Many people believe that if they refuse to provide a sample of breath, blood or urine, that they can deprive the Police the evidence needed to convict them of drink driving. Whilst this is true for thedrink driving offence of drink driving, it is likely to lead to the Police charging you for a separate offence of failing to provide a specimen. Refusing to provide a sample for analysis at the police station is classed as more serious than drink driving and has an offence starting point of custody.

It is not a defence to a charge of failing to provide a specimen that a person was neither driving nor in charge of a vehicle. If the police have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person was driving, they may require the provision of a specimen. This should be provided and if it reveals a level above the legal limit, the defence of anyone charged would be that they were not driving or in charge.

If you can show a ‘reasonable excuse’ for not providing a specimen, such as a medical condition causing breathing difficulties which hinder you from completing a breathalyser test, this may provide a defence to a charge of failing to provide a specimen. The police nevertheless have the right in such circumstances to require the provision of a sample of blood or urine, and they are entitled to dictate whether the alternate sample should be blood or urine.

Is it possible to mount a defence against drink driving charges?

Many defences focus on the procedures followed by the police during a drink driving arrest. Failure by the police to carry out any of the procedure correctly may allow the charge to be successfully challenged.

Strict procedures exist which set out the protocol for dealing with someone who has failed a roadside breath test. This initial roadside test offers an indication only to the police officer to determine if they have grounds for arrest and is not recognised by the Courts as giving a reading that can lead to a conviction.

The second stage of the process is at the police station where further evidence has to be taken. This can be in the form of a fixed position breathalyser or by a urine or blood test. Again all of these tests require strict procedures to be followed by the person administering the test.
Any defence for drink driving offences requires an experienced lawyer with specialist knowledge.

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