I want to talk to you today about the court process when you’re charged with an impaired driving charge. How would your case proceed through the court system?
Well, this is a topic that we cover with the client on their very first initial intake when they’re meeting with us, and deciding whether they’re going to retain us. So first of all, you’re basically given a court date about three to six weeks after your arrest.
So, the police will release you, they’ll process you, give you that court date, and in the meantime – hopefully, you’ve retained us or another law firm – you sign a piece of paper that’s called a designation. And what that means is that you are hiring that lawyer. You do not have to go to court on that first appearance. At that first appearance, the crown is generally expected to provide your lawyer with all the police reports. It’s called disclosure.
Once we have those documents, the lawyer’s in a position to meet with you and carefully review to see if you have any defences – any technical defences, charter applications, and provide you with a legal opinion. Criminal law – and DUI law – boils down to this: as a lawyer you have to analyze ‘what are the client’s odds of winning this case? Where on the spectrum does it lie? And what is the crown offering?’
For example, if you have a good case to win, and the crown’s not offering any deal, obviously you’re going to take that case to trial. If, on the other hand, your case if very serious and difficult to win, you want to try and minimize the penalty as much as possible. So that’s a discussion we have at that first meeting where we review the disclosure. Now, often times the disclosure is missing – or you know there’s disclosure we have to order and we get that before we can finalize our opinion.
This is called the remand process – it’s like an intake court – and that can last for 2-3 months in a DUI case. We’re meeting, we’re reviewing the case, I’m meeting with the crown to get their position and see if we can work it out or we’re heading to trial. At all steps of the process, we’re going to keep you informed on where the case is heading, what our opinion is, but most importantly what you want to do. That’s your decision – not ours – but we will help you and guide you.
Of course if you’re dreaming of ignition interlock (an intoxilizer in your car that limits driving based on your alcohol levels), if you instruct us to enter a guilty please, we try and get that done as soon as possible because that’s to your advantage, to qualify for ignition interlock, which I talk about in another video tip.
So let’s assume for a second that you’re heading to trial. So at the end of that 2-3 months process, most counties in the province are going to require what’s called a judicial pretrial. That’s a fancy term for a meeting with the judge where the crown attorney [and] your defence lawyer meet with the judge, and talk about trial issues – managing court time, how long your case is going to take, who the crown are calling as witnesses, and to see if there’s any way of resolving it. Obviously, if we were offered a careless driving offer because the crown thought we had a decent case to win, we might consider that. So that’s another reason to have the judicial pretrial – to talk to the judge.
Now the judge is not the trial judge, this judge is managing the system, managing court time so at the end of that process of say 3 months in, we’re ready to set your trial date. Your trial date in Ontario is going to take place – depending on the country – anywhere from 4-8-10 months, in that range – after the judicial pretrial. So we’re already up to a year in before you have your trial date. And of course at your trial date, we’re diligently preparing at the time, we’re filing any applications which need to be done. Often those are called charter applications, and then we’re preparing you to testify. We’re preparing to cross-examine the crown’s case. We’re there to win. That’s our goal and our job, and we have a consistent winning track record for cases we take to trial.
So there it is in a nutshell. That’s the short version of the court process for a DUI. You could be dealing with your lawyer for anywhere from 1-2 months up to a year or longer, depending of whether you resolve your case via a plea, or hopefully the crown withdraws your charge, to when you complete your trial. And typically the average DUI trial in Ontario is probably a one-day trial, if a more complex case it might take two. So there you have it. That’s a summary conviction impaired driving timeline and the court process for impaired driving.