Hadi Law

Facing a drunk driving charge can be a profoundly stressful and confusing time. Many people attending a Magistrates’ Court have never dealt with the justice system before, and the process may feel overwhelming. This article offers a comprehensive look at what happens when someone is charged with drunk driving in England and Wales, from understanding the charge sheet to the potential sentences, plea choices, and available defences. Knowledge is power and by understanding the steps involved, you will be better able to cope with the process, especially if you have a Motoring Offences Solicitor on your side to advocate on your behalf for the best possible outcome. The first thing to understand if you are summoned to Court on drunk driving charges is the Charge Sheet.

What is a Charge Sheet?

A charge sheet is an official document that outlines the specific offence a person is being charged with, for example, drunk driving. It contains crucial information such as:
  • Defendant’s Details: Your name, address, and other identifying details.
  • Charge Details: The aspects of the drunk driving offence, including relevant sections of the Road Traffic Act 1988 or other applicable legislation.
  • Date and Location: When and where the offence is alleged to have occurred.
  • Court Date: The time and location of the Magistrates’ Court where you must appear.
Receiving a Charge Sheet can be daunting, but understanding its contents is essential in preparing for your court appearance. A Motoring Offences Solicitor can explain the contents of the Charge Sheet and answer all your questions.

What is the Sentence for Drunk Driving in England and Wales?

Drunk driving is taken very seriously by the Courts, and sentences can vary depending on factors such as alcohol levels and whether it is a first offence. Key components of sentencing include:
  • Mandatory Disqualification: A conviction for drunk driving typically results in a driving disqualification for at least 12 months. Repeat offenders or those with extremely high alcohol levels may face longer bans.
  • Fines and Community Orders: The severity of the fine depends on the circumstances, and community service might be ordered as an alternative to a custodial sentence.
  • Custodial Sentences: In severe cases or for repeat offenders, a prison sentence could be imposed, ranging from weeks to several months.
  • Victim Surcharge: This is an additional mandatory charge, calculated as a percentage of any fine imposed.
Under the Sentencing Guidelines, the Magistrate/s will examine the following aggravating and mitigating factors and may increase or decrease the sentence starting point. Aggravating factors
  • Previous drunk driving convictions.
  • Passengers were in the vehicle.
  • The standard of your driving was unacceptable.
  • You caused an accident.
  • There was lots of traffic and people in the area.
Mitigating factors 
  • No previous convictions or relevant/recent convictions.
  • You had to drive because of an emergency.
  • Someone spiked your drink.
  • You did not drive far.
  • You demonstrate remorse and/or good character.
  • You have a serious medical condition, mental disorder, or learning disability.
  • Dependent relatives depend on you for care.
The Magistrate/s can consider any other relevant factors; therefore, it is essential to remember that the above list is not exhaustive. Your Drink Driving Solicitor will swiftly identify any aggravating and/or mitigating factors and present robust arguments to the Court to reduce the final sentence handed down.

What are pleas?

In court, you can enter one of two pleas:

Guilty Plea

A guilty plea typically results in a more lenient sentence because it avoids a lengthy trial. The Court may reduce your sentence by up to one-third for early admissions.  A Drink Driving Rehabilitation Course can also be advocated for which can help to reduce a disqualification period by 25%. After a guilty plea, the Prosecution will present the facts, and you, as the Defendant, can submit mitigating factors before the Magistrate/s decides the sentence.

Not Guilty Plea

Pleading not guilty means your case will proceed to trial, where both the prosecution and defence will present evidence. If found not guilty, you will be acquitted of all charges. If found guilty, the sentencing will proceed similarly to a guilty plea but without the potential reduction for early admissions.

What Defences are Available for Drunk Driving?

Defending against a drunk driving charge requires careful examination of the evidence and circumstances, which your Drink Driving Solicitor will do on your behalf. Potential defences include:
  • Procedural Errors: Police must follow strict procedures, and deviations can make evidence inadmissible.
  • Faulty Equipment: Issues with breathalyser devices can be raised if calibration or operation is questionable.
  • Medical Conditions: Conditions like diabetes or acid reflux can impact test results, potentially providing grounds for defence.
  • Emergency Circumstances: In rare cases, driving under the influence may be excused if it is necessary to prevent more significant harm.

How a Drunk Driving Solicitor can help when you appear in the Magistrates Court

A Solicitor specialising in motoring offences can offer invaluable support before, during, and after court proceedings. They can:
  • Explain the Process: Ensure you fully understand each step and provide clarity on legal jargon.
  • Evaluate Evidence: Challenge evidence or procedural errors that could impact the Prosecution’s case.
  • Advise on Pleas: Help you make an informed decision about whether to plead guilty or not guilty.
  • Mitigate Sentences: Present the most robust possible case for reducing the sentence by highlighting personal and mitigating factors.

Concluding Comments

Facing a drunk driving charge in the Magistrates’ Court can feel overwhelming, but you don’t have to navigate it alone. Understanding the charge sheet, the possible sentences and the implications of different pleas is crucial. With the help of a Drink Driving Solicitor, you can explore defences and mitigation strategies that align with your circumstances. An empathetic, knowledgeable Solicitor can guide you through this challenging time, providing clear advice and practical support to secure the best possible outcome. For further information on using a mobile phone whilst driving, please speak to our motoring offences law team on 01772 447000 or reach out to us on our seven-day-a-week WhatsApp helpline on 07869760533.

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