One of the questions I am asked most frequently by clients who are charged with driving while prohibited is whether they can go to jail for driving while prohibited.
And, depending on the circumstances, a driving while prohibited charge in British Columbia can result in a jail sentence. So it is important to consult with a lawyer and understand whether you are at risk of going to jail, and in what circumstances a jail sentence can be imposed.
The consequences for driving while prohibited charges in British Columbia vary based on the number of times you have been charged with or convicted of driving while prohibited. You can also face potential time in jail before being convicted based on your history and the number of times you have been caught driving while prohibited.
Getting Bail for a Driving While Prohibited Charge in BC
After a first time arrest for driving while prohibited, drivers are almost always released on paperwork requiring them to attend court for a future court date. It is very rare for someone to be charged with driving while prohibited on a first offence and be held for court, although if you have a criminal record or on probation or bail for another offence that includes a condition not to drive, you may be held to be taken to court.
More commonly, however, people who are facing multiple charges for driving while prohibited are arrested and taken to jail. They are held in custody until they can have a bail hearing. The more times you drive while prohibited, the more likely it becomes that you will be held in jail until you can appear before a judge for a bail hearing.
And, if you’re granted bail and continue to drive while prohibited, a judge can refuse to release you on bail a subsequent time because you have demonstrated that you cannot be trusted not to violate the law. In this regard, you can face lengthy stays in jail while awaiting the outcome of your driving while prohibited trial.
Obviously, the easiest way to avoid being denied bail for driving while prohibited is to ensure that if you are caught driving while prohibited, you do everything possible to avoid future incidents of driving while prohibited. As a lawyer, it is often easier for me to resolve a prohibited driving charge if you do not continue to drive while prohibited while waiting for your court dates.
Getting a Jail Sentence for Driving While Prohibited in BC
Multiple driving while prohibited charges do not just lead to potentially being denied bail. They also lead to potential jail sentences.
The driving while prohibited law in British Columbia imposes escalating penalties for a driving while prohibited offence. On a first conviction for driving while prohibited, a person will receive a mandatory minimum $500 fine and one-year driving prohibition. A second offence carries a sentence of a mandatory 14-day jail sentence in addition to the fine and prohibition.
These sentences are mandatory minimum penalties, meaning that a judge can impose a higher penalty if they see fit. I have had cases where judges have wanted to impose jail sentences for a first-time offence of driving while prohibited. In those cases, I have been successful in persuading the judge not to do it but it took a lot of good lawyering skill to make it happen.
The maximum jail penalty that can be imposed for a subsequent offence of driving while prohibited is one year. This is important, because the more driving while prohibited offences a person is convicted of, the more likely it is that the driver will face a jail sentence greater than the last time.
This is known as the “step up principle.” The logic behind the step up principle is that a subsequent conviction for the same offence should have a penalty that is a “step up” from the last penalty. For driving while prohibited, this usually results in escalation of penalties from the fine and prohibition, to 14 days in jail for a second offence, to 30 days in jail for a third offence, and 90 days in jail for a fourth offence, and so on. It does not take very long to see prosecutors asking for long jail sentences for multiple driving while prohibited cases.
Some people who are facing mandatory jail for driving while prohibited as whether they can serve their sentence as a period of house arrest.
Under the Motor Vehicle Act, jail sentences for driving while prohibited are mandatory for second or subsequent offences. These offences are prosecuted under the Offence Act which sets out specific requirements for sentences that are imposed under the Act. House arrest is not listed as an option for a sentence in the Offence Act.
House arrest is also known as a Conditional Sentence Order. Conditional Sentences are imposed under the Criminal Code. And, because house arrest under the Criminal Code is not available if there are mandatory periods of incarceration – mandatory jail – a Conditional Sentence would not be available for a driving while prohibited offence in BC.
Weekend Jail for Driving While Prohibited in BC
There is a silver lining, even if house arrest is not available. The Offence Act does allow for any jail sentence imposed for a provincial offence to be served by way of an intermittent sentence. This is sometimes known as weekend jail. This only applies, however, if the jail sentence is for 90 days or less.
When serving an intermittent sentence, a person is required to report to the location where they are going to serve their sentence on a specified date and time as set out by the court and corrections staff. If you fail to appear at the jail at the designated time and on the designated date, you can be charged with being unlawfully at large, which is a serious criminal offence.
So while intermittent sentences may seem like they are preferable because you can continue to work or serve your sentence on the weekend, they come with significant responsibilities and risk to the individuals who are serving them. If you are facing a jail sentence for driving while prohibited in BC, you want to make sure that you are able to comply with the terms of your intermittent sentence before asking for one.
Ultimately, given how significant the consequences for driving while prohibited can be in British Columbia, including potential jail time, it is important to do as much as you can to protect yourself from going to jail. If you are facing a driving while prohibited charge, you can feel free to contact my office for a free consultation and we can explain your options and the jeopardy you may be facing in your specific circumstances.