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Roadside licence-suspension law struck down by court

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The Alberta Court of Appeal has struck down a DUI roadside licence-suspension law for being unconstitutional.

Alberta's highest court recently struck down a controversial piece of legislation that critics say violated drivers' constitutional rights. As the Calgary Herald reports, the Court of Appeal of Alberta ruled in May that a law that allowed police officers to suspend the drivers' licences of individuals who are suspected of driving while impaired violated the right to be presumed innocent and the right to a fair trial. However, while the law has been struck down, it remains in force for a year until the provincial government either rewrites it or appeals the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Roadside licence suspension

Alberta's DUI law was unusually harsh in that it punished drivers before they had actually been convicted of a crime. The law allowed police officers to immediately suspend the licences of individuals who were pulled over for suspected drunk driving. To get their licences back, the accused would have to wait for a verdict in their case. However, because of trial delays there was concern that some people may have been pressured into pleading guilty so as to get their licences back faster rather than to wait for a trial.

Indeed, the Court of Appeal pointed out that about 20 percent of people who are charged with impaired driving and have their licences suspended are eventually found not guilty. Yet, despite being not guilty, they must endure months of being unable to drive until their case comes to an end. That delay could make it tempting to plead guilty, complete the sentencing, and thus get their licences back faster. Because of that risk, the Court of Appeal ruled that the law was unconstitutional.

Little deterrence to drunk driving

The law, however, remains in effect for the time being. That's because the court has given the government one year to rewrite it. Alternatively, the government could also choose to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada. If it chooses to appeal it must do so by August 2017.

However, whether or not the government will appeal is unclear given that the law is controversial on a number of fronts, and not just because of its possible constitutional violations. In fact, as CBC News reports, the law has even been criticized by MADD Canada, a group that is not exactly known for favouring "soft" DUI laws. The anti-drunk driving group claims that the law is flawed because instead of focusing on preventing drunk driving, it instead focuses on punishing drivers for crimes that they may or may not have committed. That approach, the group claims, is a waste of resources and does little to actually make the roads safer.

Criminal defence law

For those who have been charged with a criminal or traffic offence it is important to reach out to a criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible. Such charges should not be taken lightly since a conviction could result in serious consequences, including imprisonment, fines, licence suspension, and a criminal record. An experienced lawyer can help clients understand what their rights are and how they can best respond to the charges against them.

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