I’ve written in the past about the guilty-until-proven-innocent approach to DUI license suspensions and the almost complete lack of due process. See, for example, "Due Process" for DUI License Suspensions, Secret Memo: DMV License Suspension Hearings Rigged and Judge: DUI License Suspension Hearings "Unacceptable".
In California, for example, when a citizen is suspected of drunk driving and is arrested, the cop confiscates the license and gives the suspect a "Notice of Suspension". The citizen has 10 days in which to call the DMV to demand a hearing, or the right to contest the cop’s automatic suspension is lost. If a hearing is granted, it will be at the DMV’s offices; the prosecutor will be a DMV employee with a high school degree. Oh yes, and the judge will be….the same person. Right: judge, jury and executioner — without any legal training and answerable only to his/her employer — the DMV.
As bad as this is, apparently our northern neighbors in the province of Alberta have gone a step further: unlike DUI suspensions in the U.S., which are for a specific period of time, those in Alberta are for an indefinite period — until the criminal charges are "resolved" in court. In other words, the accused — guilty or innocent — is coerced into pleading guilty if he wants his license back.
Lawyers Call Alberta’s Drunk Driving Penalties Unconstitutional
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. June 19 – Civil Liberties Association lawyer Joseph Arvay has been retained by Alberta firm Roadlawyers, which specializes in drunk driving cases, one of several that are decrying the Alberta government’s decision to indefinitely suspend licences of drivers who blow over the Criminal Code limit of .08 blood-alcohol content.
Drivers police deem are over the .08 limit will immediately have their licences suspended without even seeing a judge, a penalty that will remain in place until the charge is resolved in court.
“I think it’s clearly contrary to the Constitution and clearly contrary to the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms),” said Roadlaywer attorney Tim Foster.
“We intend to challenge the legislation as soon as we get retained on a file dealing with one of these — we’re going to bring a Constitutional challenge to try to strike the law down.”…
In what’s being called a first for Canada, Transportation Minister Ric McIver came out Monday saying drivers who blow over .08 will be hit hard with an indefinite suspension starting July 1, one of several get-tough measures rolled out in the Traffic Safety Amendment Act passed last year.
McIver said drivers simply weren’t refraining enough from tipping their glasses before hitting the roads and harsher penalties were needed to ensure “all of us feel more secure when we go out on Alberta roadways.”
Many lawyers, however, say the new penalties are nothing more than a tactic that will strong-arm drivers into issuing guilty pleas rather than challenge their cases in court.
“There’s some good and bad about that from a public policy perspective,” said Alan Pearse, who specializes in DUI cases in Calgary.
“The good news is you will almost certainly force guilty people to plead guilty. The bad news is you’re likely going to force some innocent people to plead guilty as well.”
Lawyer Bob Sawers called it the government’s way to “extort” guilty pleas from Albertans who can’t afford to lose their licences for several months and said he would demanding trial dates be set within two months.
Apparently, Transportation Minister McIver’s idea that "harsher penalties were needed to ensure all of us feel more secure" is to simply force anyone suspected of drunk driving to plead guilty.
I can imagine prosecutors, cops and Mothers Against Drunk Driving drooling over the idea of adopting this approach in the States….