Drink Driving Sentencing Guidelines

Updated on Monday 01st March 2021

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Magistrates who determine the severity of a drink driving offence take into account a number of relevant issues, such as if the party at fault has had any other prior convictions as well as any aggravating or mitigating factors that are unique to each case.
 
When discussing the possible penalties, the drink driving sentencing guidelines used by magistrates can be useful to determine the possible sentence when one is charged with a criminal offence related to drink driving.
 
In this article, our team of driving offence solicitors list some of the situations that can be related to this offence, such as driving or attempting to drive whilst inebriated and also talk about the drink driving sentencing guidelines.
 

Sentencing guidelines for those who drive or attempt to drive with an excess of alcohol

 
When an individual drives or attempts to drive with an excess alcohol level the maximum sentence is an unlimited fine and/or six months of imprisonment. In determining the offence seriousness, the magistrates will consider if the offender had other disqualifications in a given period of time as well as the guidelines for the starting points that apply to all offenders irrespective of any previous conditions or their plea.
 
The drink driving sentencing guidelines provide the following for the level of alcohol and the starting point for the fine:
 
  • Band C Fine: for a breath (ug) alcohol level between 36 and 59, blood level (ml) between 81 and 137 and urine level between 108 and 183 (ml);
  • Medium level community order: for breath alcohol level between 60-89; blood level between 207-275 or urine level between 275-366;
  • 12 weeks custody; breath level between 120-150 and above; blood level between 276-345 and above; urine level between 367-459 and above.
 
Please keep in mind that the starting point for the penalty and the range can be different. Likewise, the drink driving sentencing guidelines provide for a disqualification period from driving (for example, for the 12 to 16 months for the first category presented above that has the Band C Fine starting point). The disqualification from driving is higher when the offence is the second one in 10 years.
 
Some of the aggravating factors are listed below by our driving offence solicitors:
 
  • previous convictions;
  • failure to comply with current court orders;
  • carrying passengers;
  • involved in an accident;
  • high level of pedestrians or traffic in the vicinity;
  • driving for hire or for a reward;
  • evidence of an unacceptable standard of driving;
  • offence was committed post sentence supervision.
 
The factors that can reduce the seriousness of the penalty include:
 
  • no previous/relevant or recent convictions;
  • genuine emergency that was duly established;
  • very short driven distance;
  • age/lack of maturity, mental disorder or learning ability as well as several others. 
We invite you to watch a short video on the sentencing guidelines:
 

Drink driving sentencing guidelines for being in charge of a vehicle

 
When the individual is unfit through drink or drugs and he is in charge of a vehicle, the maximum penalty is a level 4 fine and/or 3 months of imprisonment. The court starts by determining the offence category:
 
  • Category 1: higher culpability and greater harm;
  • Category 2: higher culpability and lesser harm or vice-versa, lower culpability and greater harm
  • Category 3: lower culpability and lesser harm.
 
Culpability is determined by court by analysing the likelihood of driving and whether or not the individual was offering to drive for a reward or for hire, along with other factors.
 
The drink driving sentencing guidelines also indicate that the magistrates will demonstrate harm, in general, by considering that the higher the level of impairment, the greater the harm.
 
The starting point applies to all offenders, irrespective of their previous convictions and their plea. The factors that increase the seriousness of the offence are statutory, such as any other previous convictions or other aggravating factors such as failure to comply with existing court orders.
 

Drink driving sentencing guidelines for refusal to provide specimen

 
In this case, the guidelines provide for a maximum penalty consisting of an unlimited fine and/or six months imprisonment with the same three offence categories applicable as in the previous section.
 
Culpability in this case is shown by the factors that indicate high culpability, such as deliberate refusal to provide the specimen or failure to do so. In analysing the case, the factors that indicate greater harm are a high level of impairment.
 
The drink driving sentencing guidelines are provided in accordance with those issued by the Sentencing Council. Please keep in mind that the information offered in this article is for informative purposes only and each case is sentenced according to its own particularities.

Main steps to follow when sentencing drink drive cases

 
The Magistrates who trial a case are offered a number of steps when dealing with drink drive cases. According to the Sentencing Council, the steps followed for such as offence are the following:
 
  • Step 1 and Step 2: determine the seriousness of the offence; this is dine according to the level of alcohol in the specimen as well as other factors;
  • Step 3: take into consideration any factors that may help reduce the sentence; for this purpose, Section 74 of the Sentencing Code is taken into consideration and it refers to the reduction of a sentence for assistance to prosecution;
  • Step 4: make a reduction for a guilty plea, if applicable; this is done in accordance with Section 73 of the Sentencing Code and the Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea guideline;
  • Step 5: consider whether the total sentence is just and proportionate to the offending behaviours;
  • Step 6: consider offering a drink/drive rehabilitation course and/or suspension of personal liquor licence;
  • Step 7: give the reason for and explain the effect of the sentence; this is done in accordance with Section 52 of the Sentencing Code;
  • Step 8: consider whether or not to give credit for time spent on bail.
 
The Magistrate is to follow these steps and the offender should know that he is to benefit from fair trial, including but not limited to Step 7 according to which the Magistrate is to give reasons for the sentence. The offender should understand the effects of the judgment and our team of drink driving solicitors in London can help provide more information on how the case should be handled.
 

Sentencing guidelines for causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink

 
Causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink is a type of offence that is only tried on indictment at the Crown Court. In this case, the maximum imprisonment time is 14 years with at least 2 years disqualification from driving with a mandatory extended re-test. The significant sentence is based on the level of intoxication rather than careless driving, as the offence for causing death by careless of inconsiderate driving whilst not being intoxicated has a significantly lower punishment of 5 years maximum.
 
The guideline presented below is based on the level of alcohol and the degree of carelessness. The sentencing steps recommended in this case are the following:
 
  • Step 1: identify dangerous offenders; an extended sentence applies for certain sexual, terrorism or violent offences;
  • Step 2: identify the starting point; this is based on the units above the legal limit of alcohol, careless or inconsiderate driving caused by momentary inattention (with no aggravating factors) and others;
  • Step 3: consider the relevant aggravating factors; this includes other offences committed at the same time (for example, driving without a valid licence or while disqualified), previous motoring convictions, or more than one person being killed;
  • Step 4: consider the mitigating factors; these can be alcohol consumer unwittingly, the offender was seriously injured, the victim was a family member or a close friend, the actions of a third party contributed to the accident or the driving was a result of a response to a genuine emergency.
  • Step 5: reduction according to a guilty plea;
  • Step 6: consider whether or not ancillary orders may apply;
  • Step 7: review the sentence to determine if it is proportionate to the offending behaviour according to the totality principle;
  • Step 8: the Court presents its reasons and the starting points used for sentencing.
 
Our driving offence solicitors in London can give you more details on the starting points for sentencing used by the Crown Court. For example, the lowest starting point, when the offender presents 30 to 50 μg of alcohol above the limit, the starting point is 18 months’ custody and the sentencing range between 26 weeks and 4 years in case of careless or inconsiderate driving that took place from momentary inattention and had no aggravating factors.  For the same level of alcohol above the limit, when the carless of inconsiderate driving falls not far short of dangerousness, the sentencing range is between 3 and 6 years.

The Equal Treatment Bench Book is a guide issued by the Judicial College that covers many areas of interest in term of fair treatment and how different groups are to be treated equally in the criminal justice system. Its main goal is to provide guidance for ensuring fair treatment for all categories involved in court proceedings.  Some of the areas that are covered have to do with assistance during the trial, advocacy, the treatment of individuals with disability, language difficulties or social and educational background that poses problems as well as common procedural misunderstandings. When a defendant accused of a drink drive crime, for example a serious crime such as causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink, the Book provides information on how this individual should be treated equally when or if he is unrepresented. The Book outlines the fact that before the unrepresented defendant pleads guilty, he should fully understand the elements of the offence with which he is being charged. The Judge should make sure that the individual understands the fact that pleading guilty is the equivalent of accepting that they have committed the offence (and that only in rare cases the guilty plea can be reversed at a later date during the proceedings).
 
The judge must also be ready to assist the defendant during the trial, particularly when he is examining or cross-examining the witnesses and when he is providing evidence for the case. During the trial, the judge is asked to assist the unrepresented defendant when he presents the case, and he should remain focused on the relevant issues. The Judge should refrain from engaging in unnecessary, intimidating, or humiliating questioning.
 
For the purpose of equal treatment, special consideration is given to mental disability. This can also be the case of an individual who was accused of a serious drink drive crime, such as causing death by careless driving. Mental disability encompasses mental ill health, learning disabilities, developmental disorders or neurodiverse conditions as well as brain injury or damage. Significant differences exist between all of these categories and for the purpose of equal treatment these should not be confused. The degree of disability varies largely and some conditions are not as apparent as others. Many types of mental disabilities are not visible or only visible under certain conditions, which can lead to misunderstandings. Special consideration should be given to individuals who suffer from both mental and physical disability.
 
The Equal Treatment Bench Book is a document that is constantly subject to change and adaptations. It is advisable to seek the latest issue of the Book if you wish to use it as reference.
 
Please keep in mind that the information provided in this article does not offer a complete analysis of the sentencing process or the manner in which a Magistrate or the Crown Court will judge a drink drive case or other offences. The data herein does not substitute legal advice and we strongly advise those accused of an offence to seek specialized aid, such as that provided by our expert solicitors.

Rehabilitation courses after being sentenced

 
Individuals who are found guilty of have been found guilty of a drink drive offence have the option to reduce their disqualification period if they attend Drink Driving Rehabilitation Courses. if the defendant accepts to take this court, then the sentencing court will notify the course provider – this is done via a course referral order. Only those who have been referred by the court that issued the sentence are able to benefit from this reduction. Those who take the course without the referral from court will not be granted the reduction.
 
The individual who has been granted the reduction is required to complete the court in the indicated time if he is to benefit from the reduction of the driving disqualification.
 
The course is not compulsory even if the referral order has been issued. The defendant has the liberty to choose if he or she will complete the court.
 
Some information about this course is presented below by our driving offence solicitors:
 
  • the drink driving rehabilitation course is provided by a trainer whose goal is to educate individuals and reduce the occurrence of re-offending;
  • there are two modules, the first one consisting of information that helps the individual understand the impact of alcohol use when driving and the second that aims to change the individual’s alcohol use in relation to driving;
  • the course consists of group activities and discussions, presentations and a course workbook;
  • it is not formally assessed, which means that the attending individual is not tested and does not need to obtain a certain score to pass a test;
  • an important condition that does apply is that the individual attends all sessions whilst being sober and participates to the best of his ability.
 
The following categories of individuals who are sentenced according to the drink driving sentencing guidelines can be offered to take this course and reduce the driving disqualification:
 
  • those who gave caused death by careless driving or whilst being unfit to drive under the influence of alcohol;
  • those who were accused of driving a motor vehicle while unfit through the consumption of alcohol;
  • being unfit to be in charge of a motor vehicle by being under the influence of alcohol;
  • driving a motor vehicle with excess alcohol and being in charge of a vehicle while under the same condition;
  • failure to provide a specimen for analysis (breath, blood, or urine);
  • those who have caused death by careless driving (speeding).
 
If you need legal assistance, please contact our drink driving solicitors in London.
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