No refunds for motorists dinged by drunk driving laws
Published Thursday, July 12, 2012 8:30AM PDT Last Updated Thursday, July 12, 2012 6:42PM PDT
Drivers who were penalized under B.C.’s tough drunk driving laws before parts of the legislation were deemed unconstitutional are not entitled to any compensation, a provincial Supreme Court judge has ruled.
Justice Jon Sigurdson said the government had not committed an abuse of power by imposing the original laws, which he struck down last December, and is therefore not responsible for repaying the fines collected under them.
“There was no misconduct or bad faith in the passing of the legislation or the conduct of the officials carrying out their duties under the legislation,” Sigurdson wrote in a 37-page ruling released Thursday.
“The law was not invalid when the petitioners were subject to it,” he added.
As a result of the ruling, all motorists with outstanding fees, penalties or driving suspensions imposed under the old laws are still subject to their punishments.
The petitioners in the case argued that the fines collected represent unlawfully collected taxes, though Sigurdson disagreed, defining them instead as “regulatory charges.”
The judge accepted the claim that there could be drivers who were wrongfully accused because of faulty breathalyzer readings, however.
“While many drivers who blew a ‘fail’ may well have been over 0.08 [blood alcohol level], some may not have been. A primary reason that this court found the ARP (automatic roadside prohibition) regime unconstitutional is because there was no meaningful way to challenge the result.”
Sigurdson ruled that the argument was nevertheless outweighed by the other factors in the case.
In December, the judge ruled that parts of B.C.’s drunk driving laws, then considered the toughest in Canada, violated Charter protections against unreasonable search and seizure while offering no meaningful appeal process.
According to government statistics, by that point more than 15,400 peoplehad either failed a roadside test or refused to blow into a breathalyzer, and were then forced to pay $4,000 each in fines, penalties and other costs.
The province responded by introducing amended laws in June that require police officers to let drivers know they have a right to a second breathalyzer test, and that the lower of the two readings will prevail.
They also require police to file sworn reports about their interactions with drivers, and offer motorists an opportunity to challenge the reliability of the breathalyzer that failed them.
B.C.’s punishments for drivers who blow in the 0.05 to 0.08 warning range were upheld.