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Is drink driving a criminal offence

Is Drink Driving Really a Criminal Offence?

Posted By , on July 2, 2020

A question we hear all. the. time. as criminal and traffic lawyers is: “Is drink driving a criminal offence?”

Then: “It’s just a traffic offence. Not anything serious…”

Drink driving offences aren’t just traffic offences. Drink driving offences are serious and prevalent criminal offence offences. Magistrates are getting tougher and tougher on drink drivers who face court.

So, is drink driving a criminal offence?

In New South Wales, yes. Drink Driving offences are criminal offences.

If you’ve been charged with drink driving, the police will give you a Court Attendance Notice (CAN). There are a few different kinds of CANs:

  • Field Court Attendance Notices;
  • Future Court Attendance Notices;
  • Bail Court Attendance Notice; and
  • No Bail Court Attendance Notice

The most common kind of CAN for drink driving offences are the small, handwritten, yellow Field Court Attendance Notices. Field CANs have this name because they are issued by police in the field and on the road rather than in a police station.

On the spot penalty notices can now be given for a select few kinds of drink driving offences. If you pay the penalty notice the offence will appear on your traffic record and your CIN record – but not your convictions record.

Being caught drink driving again within 5 years of paying a penalty notice means that the new drink driving offence is a second or subsequent offence. This means the consequences you face at court will be more sever.

What happens if I’m charged with a drink driving offence?

You’ll be asked to attend court and to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

It can be difficult to plead not guilty or challenge drink driving offences at court. Because of this, most people plead guilty and prepare to be sentenced with the aim of minimising damage.

The word ‘sentenced’ doesn’t mean jail. Being sentenced means the court is finalising the matter and giving you a decision. Each kind of drink driving offence has it’s own penalties. You can read more about the penalties here. However the common theme with every single kind of drink driving charge is that you can be convicted.

NSW First Offence Drink Driving Penalties

What is a conviction?

A conviction is an entry on your criminal record or convictions report. It is something that the police, court and certain agencies will be able to see forever.

Criminal convictions are disclosable and it means that you have may to tell people about the criminal conviction on official or legal forms for a period of at least 10 years.

Expunging or removing criminal convictions from a criminal record is not possible in NSW because it would defeat the purpose of keeping records in the first place. Instead, NSW uses the disclosure system.

Why does a conviction matter?

Being convicted for a drink driving offence means the court can impose other penalties. For example, these include a loss of your licence and disqualification from driving, fines, interlock conditions, community service and sometimes even jail.

Courts can still sentence first time offenders to jail. They can, and often do, convict first time drink drivers.

Criminal convictions for drink driving offences can have affects on your employment and your ability to travel.

It is crucial to get timely and accurate legal advice if you’ve been charged with a drink driving offence. The sooner you start preparing for court, the better chance you have at avoiding conviction or minimising damage.

Contact us now to see how we can help you.

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