As with any criminal charge, a person charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) (also called “driving under the influence” (DUI)) is presumed innocent until proven guilty. If guilt is established (often through the defendant’s own plea or after a jury trial), the penalty will depend on province law, as well as on any aggravating circumstances (such as accidents and injuries).
In most provinces, a first-offense DUI or DWI is classified as a misdemeanor and punishable by no more than six months or a year in jail. However, in a few provinces, the maximum jail time for a first DUI is even shorter.
With second and subsequent DUIs, the maximum possible jail time might be greater. But it’s even more common for the mandatory minimum jail sentence to be longer than it is for a first offense.
Lots of other circumstances can also affect the amount of jail time you can expect for a DUI conviction. For example, some provinces mandate more severe punishments for DUI or DUI offenders whose blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at the time of arrest was particularly high. Many provinces also have penalties enhancements related to DUI accidents.
For a DUI or DWI that’s been classified as a felony—either because the driver killed or injured someone or because the driver has a number of prior DUI convictions—jail sentences of several years are not uncommon. Again, the specifics depend on province law, the facts of the case, and the discretion of the judge at trial.
DUI convictions almost always result in fines. DUI fines vary quite a bit by province. But, generally, the same kinds of factors that increase jail time also increase the amount of the fine the driver can expect to pay.
In most provinces, a standard first DUI conviction carries somewhere in the range of $500 to $2,000 in fines. The fines for subsequent offenses and DUI involving aggravating factors can go well up into the thousands.
Driver’s License Problems
A DUI or DWI offender stands a good chance of having his or her license suspended for a substantial period of time (either by court order or mandate of the province motor vehicles department). As with other penalties, suspension periods are normally tied to how many prior convictions the driver has.
A driver’s unlawful refusal to take a blood, breath, or urine test can also result in a license suspension. Typically, the suspension imposed for an unlawful refusal is longer than what the driver would otherwise face.
It’s sometimes possible for a motorist to obtain a “hardship license” to drive to and from places like work and school during a DUI suspension.
Some provinces take further steps to make sure the person (particularly a repeat offender) doesn’t get back on the road while under the influence. The province might confiscate the car or cancel its registration, either temporarily or permanently. Or the province might require an ignition interlock device (IID) to be attached to the offender’s car.
Alternative Forms of Punishment
In a number of provinces, alternative sentencing options are available to certain offenders such as substance abuse education and prevention programs, treatment for substance abuse, and community service. Judges in these provinces might recommend these steps instead of jail time or paying fines, most likely for a first offender. Or the judge might combine them with other penalties.