There are cases in which there is no need to instruct a lawyer. The most obvious ones are perhaps those cases involving fixed penalties for speeding or parking when the defendant knows he is guilty. Then again, there are those in which specialist advice is essential. I was recently telephoned by a man who said he had already pleaded ‘guilty’ to a road traffic offence. This is his tale.
The Tale: Drunk in Charge?
He rang me saying that he had had a row with his girlfriend and gone to his car with a bottle of vodka to drown his sorrows. He drank the bottle of vodka in the car. The car was in the car park to the flats where they lived. He fell asleep in the car. He was awakened by rapping on the window. It was a police officer. The car door was opened and he fell out onto the car park. It transpired that he was well over the alcohol limit. He was charged with being ‘drunk in charge’ because he had been in charge of the vehicle in that he was in the vehicle and had the car keys in his possession, and, he had been over the alcohol limit. He said he had been charged and pleaded ‘guilty’ as he had no defence.
I enquired as to whether he would have driven the car had he not been arrested. He responded that he would not have done so as he was going to return to his flat but only once his girlfriend had calmed down in the morning. I advised him that if he could have proven that he was not going to drive whilst over the limit that he would have been acquitted as an intention not to drive amounts to a defence to the charge (although the burden of proving the defence rests with the defendant as no one else would necessarily have known his intentions). This took the man by surprise. He told me that he had told the police that he did not intend to drive and that he had not thought they would have charged him if that had amounted to a defence.
The moral of the story is that one should always research carefully to see if there are any legitimate defences which one can properly use. Road traffic law can be complex especially for the lay person. There are situations where, to the ordinary motorist, it might seem that he has been caught red handed and that there is no point in seeking a consultation with a road traffic lawyer. However, this tale illustrates why it can be prudent to seek advice before pleading ‘guilty’ with all the adverse consequences that follow on from that. We will never know how many motorists have entered ‘guilty’ pleas to ‘get it over and done with’ or because they understood that they had no defence when in fact they could have contested their cases and saved their driving licences. Remember, the consequences of conviction for a drink-drive related offence include a criminal record and very probably higher insurance premiums for years to come.
Sunil Rupasinha (specialist road traffic offence barrister)