Impaired Driving

Thomas J. Singleton is an experienced criminal defence lawyer who has successfully defended individuals charged with impaired driving throughout Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada. He has successfully defended doctors, accountants, airline pilots, firefighters and members of the military against impaired driving charges which could have ended their careers had they been convicted. It is important to remember that past results are not necessarily indicitative of future success and that every case turns on its particular facts.

The consequences of a conviction for impaired driving and related offences are extremely serious and long lasting:

Given the seriousness of the consequences of a conviction for impaired driving and related offences, you should never plead “Guilty” to these charges without first discussing your case with a lawyer who has experience in defending against these serious criminal charges. Please call Thomas J. Singleton at (902) 492-7000 or (902) 483-3080 (after hours) to arrange a consultation.

In Canadian law impaired driving and related criminal offences means to the following charges which can be laid by the police pursuant to the Criminal Code.


The specific offence of impaired driving (commonly referred to as Driving under the Influence (DUI), drunk driving, or Driving while Impaired (DWI)) is a charge pursuant to section 253(1)(a) of the Criminal Code. The police routinely lay this charge in conjunction with failing the breathalyzer (section 253(1)(b) of the Criminal Code) because it can be proven by the police officer’s testimony as to an individual’s driving and his state of sobriety. The reason the police lay this charge is that they will have a second chance to get a conviction if for any reason the evidence for the breathalyzer charge cannot be admitted in court. The punishment for a first conviction for impaired driving in Nova Scotia is usually a stiff fine although in some jurisdictions judges have imposed jail time. There is also a license suspension of at least one year.


The charge of failing the breathalyzer is the charge the police lay pursuant to section 253(1)(b) of the Criminal Code and carries the same penalties as impaired driving. The defence of breathalyzer cases can be complex and technical because of the rules outlined in the Criminal Code dealing with the admissibility of the certificate with the breath readings. If the police made a mistake in following these rules an accused may have a defence which an experienced criminal defence lawyer can make in court. There is no such thing as an automatic conviction simply because you have failed the breathalyzer.


The charge of refusal may be laid by the police if an individual refuses the demand to provide a sample of his breath pursuant to a roadside screening demand or refuses to provide a breath sample for the breathalyzer test which is conducted at the police station. The penalties for a charge of refusal are the same as the penalties for a conviction of impaired driving or failing the breathalyzer. There is no automatic conviction for a charge of refusal and the burden is on the police to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Experienced criminal defence lawyers examine every detail of an individual’s encounter with the police to determine how to defend a refusal charge.


The Criminal Code provides for a period of imprisonment for a term of up to ten years for anyone convicted of the offence of impaired driving causing bodily harm. These charges are sometimes laid in the context of motor vehicle accidents where persons other than the Accused have been injured. This is a very serious charge and the Accused has a right to be tried by a judge and jury.


The Criminal Code provides for a sentence of up to life in prison for a conviction on the charge of impaired driving causing death. This is one of the most serious offences under the Criminal Code and a person so charged has a right to a trial by a judge and a jury. This charge will usually arise in cases where there has been a motor vehicle accident and someone is killed as a result of the driving while impaired by the Accused.


In Nova Scotia the sentence imposed for a first conviction for impaired driving, failing the breathalyzer or refusal is usually a stiff fine (the minimum is $1,000.00). The size of the fine will depend on the surrounding circumstances and in convictions for failing the breathalyzer will usually increase in accordance with the readings. A license suspension of at least one year is usually imposed. Judges will usually allow an individual convicted of a first offence for impaired driving to have an alcohol ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle after serving the first three months of the license suspension. In some other jurisdictions in Atlantic Canada some judges have sentenced individuals charged with impaired driving and related offences to a period of jail time for the first offence in addition to the license suspension.

For a second conviction for impaired driving the Criminal Code imposes a minimum sentence of thirty days in jail plus a license suspension of at least two years. In some circumstances the minimum sentence can be served in the Correctional Centre on weekends if an individual is employed. Some judges will impose more than thirty days for a second conviction if the readings are particularly high or there are other circumstances which justify the imposition of additional jail time.

A conviction for a third impaired driving or related offence results in a minimum jail time of one hundred and twenty days plus a license suspension of at least three years. The Registrar of Motor Vehicles may decide not to renew the drivers’ license at all. A court could sentence a person who has multiple convictions for impaired driving and related offences to a period of up to five years in prison if the Crown Attorney decided to proceed with the matter by way of Indictment.

In some circumstances a court may impose a “curative discharge” after a conviction for impaired driving and/or related offences if there is evidence that the person is in need of curative treatment in regard to his consumption of alcohol or drugs and the court is convinced that proceeding in such a manner is not contrary to the public interest. Curative discharges are only considered by a court if the accused person is able to present evidence from medical and other professionals at a sentence hearing sufficient to convince the judge that the alcohol consumption or addiction problem is real and that the individual is taking very serious steps to deal with the problem. Given that the Crown Attorney will usually oppose the granting of a “curative discharge” experienced defence counsel must put a lot of work in presenting an application for a curative discharge. If the court grants a curative discharge the Accused is deemed not to have been convicted of the criminal offence once the conditions of the discharge are met. Even if a curative discharge is granted the court will still impose a driving license suspension of at least one year for a first conviction.