What are the Penalties for a First-Time DUI in Ontario?

What are the Penalties for a First-Time DUI in Ontario?The ramifications of a first-time DUI conviction go far beyond a rap on the knuckles and a license suspension.

As the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada, impaired driving is clamped down on heavily by the justice system here. You’ll be saddled with a criminal record and significant financial outlay — and you may even go to jail.

If this is your first brush with the law, it can be an even more stressful and daunting experience. It helps to know what to expect and to talk your situation through with a seasoned DUI lawyer, who can help you limit the impact of a DUI charge on your future.

What are the legal grounds for a first offence DUI?

Canada does not have a crime called “DUI” or “driving under the influence”. That is a U.S. term. Here, DUI is called impaired driving.

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, impaired driving is a criminal offence that occurs when a person operates or controls a motor vehicle while his/her ability to do so is impaired — whether by alcohol or drugs (even prescribed medicines).

There is another separate but often connected offence in the Criminal Code: driving with a BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) that exceeds 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood (commonly called “driving over 80”).

Some people fail to understand that you can be charged with a criminal offence in Ontario even if you are within the legal BAC limit and no accident or injuries result from your actions.

What are the penalties for a first-time DUI?

As a first offender, you may receive a lighter sentence from a judge if convicted. However, there is no guarantee of this and you will not receive much leniency if someone was injured in an accident caused by your impaired driving.

The potential penalties for a first-time DUI in Ontario are as follows:

  • A considerable fine and other costs: a mandatory minimum of $1,000 fine applies but it may be higher if there are any aggravating circumstances (up to $5,000). There are also court fees to pay, as well as treatment program attendance fees, impound/towing fees, license reinstatement fees and, potentially, fees for the rental, fitting and maintenance of an ignition interlock device (IID) — more about this below.
  • License suspension: you will receive a mandatory driver’s license suspension — usually for one year but less if you agree to fit an ignition interlock device. Note too that the police in Ontario can immediately suspend your licence at the roadside for between three and 90 days if you are even suspected of impaired driving. Your license will remain suspended until you meet certain conditions (reinstatement is not automatic).
  • Mandatory DUI education program: attendance at a remedial measures program is compulsory for all first-time DUI offenders. The current program lasts up to 11 months and costs $634.

It’s worth noting that refusing to provide a breath or blood sample is treated similarly to an impaired driving charge and similar penalties apply.

If convicted of a first-time DUI, the consequences include a permanent criminal record that can impact important aspects of your future.

The Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) and police databases will retain information on your arrest, charge and conviction for the rest of your life.

If background checks are conducted by employers, landlords, immigration officials or professional license bodies, this can affect employment, housing and travel. You may be restricted from travelling to the U.S. or have a job application turned down because of your criminal record, for instance.

Even if you obtain a record suspension or a pardon after five years (which is sometimes possible), your conviction record remains in the police system and could count against you if you are ever arrested for another crime.

Is there jail time for a first-time DUI in Ontario?

You may be surprised to learn that the Criminal Code allows a maximum of 10 years in jail for a first-time DUI offence —even with no aggravating factors. 

However, there is no mandatory minimum sentence (unlike for second or third-time offenders) and it is highly unlikely you will serve jail time if convicted of a first-time DUI where no injuries occurred to third parties.

DUI causing bodily harm or DUI causing death are other matters entirely. The latter is often tried as an indictable offence rather than the standard summary offence that covers most DUIs in Ontario.

For summary convictions of first-time DUIs, the maximum jail sentence is two years less a day while for an indictable offence, up to 14 years imprisonment can result.

A first-time basic DUI offender with a criminal defence lawyer is unlikely to set foot in jail but second-time DUI offenders receive a mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail and all subsequent DUI convictions carry mandatory minimums of 120 days jail time.

Ignition Interlock Program

Under the terms of the Ignition Interlock Program, convicted DUI offenders may have the opportunity to reinstate their driver’s license and drive legally before their license suspension would ordinarily end. 

To do so, the driver must fit an ignition interlock device (IID) to the vehicle and can only operate it if he/she registers a zero BAC level (otherwise, the engine doesn’t start). All costs associated with the IID (including installation, rental and regular inspections) must be met by the offender.

Higher Insurance rates

In addition to the court-imposed penalties, another inevitable consequence of a first-time DUI conviction is higher insurance rates — or even denial of insurance coverage entirely.

This is because you will be placed in the “high risk” category by your motor insurance company, increasing most people’s premiums threefold.

For the best possible chance of escaping the harsh and long-term consequences of a DUI in Ontario, speak to David Anber’s Law Office during a free consultation. As an experienced impaired driving lawyer, we can help you understand your legal options at this difficult time.

David Anber

David Anber

David Anber has been a trailblazing legal practitioner since 2006. His early entry into law practice during his studies marked the beginning of a distinguished career. As a member of both Ontario and Quebec’s bar associations, David excels in defending traffic and criminal cases across both provinces. David contributes to legal discourse through articles for the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa and the Criminal Lawyer’s Association of Ontario.