EDMONTON – A word of caution from University of Alberta law professor Peter Sankoff: if you’re pulled over for suspected impaired driving, provide a breath sample.
“The one thing I know for sure is that if they don’t blow, they are going to be convicted. And I know that if they don’t blow, the consequences of conviction are as if they have blown over in almost every single circumstance.”
He points to the Richard Suter case as an anomaly.
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In December, Suter was given a four-month jail term and a 30-month driving suspension after pleading guilty to failing to provide a breath sample where death occurred. In May 2013, he crashed his SUV into a south Edmonton restaurant patio, killing two-year-old Geo Mounsef. The judge ruled Suter was not impaired at the time of the crash.
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Sankoff says the public should not look as his sentence as a lighter punishment.
“Had Richard Suter blown on that day he probably wouldn’t have faced any jail time whatsoever.
“He probably wouldn’t have been convicted of anything.”
Both the Crown and Suter are appealing the four-month sentence.
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In 2008, laws were changed to increase the penalty for refusing to provide a breath sample where death occurs.
Sankoff says the punishment is just as harsh as if you were convicted of driving drunk.
“You are essentially saying, ‘I am not going to comply with state’s ability to determine whether or not I am impaired,’ and there are very few situations in which that is a good idea. The code has tried to make it really easy to convict for those sorts of things and they punish in the same way,” Sankoff explained.
“You are essentially concluding that you were impaired whether or not you actually were.”
Watch below: More than one quarter of impaired driving charges laid by Edmonton police last year were given to people who refused to provide breath samples.
In 2015, Edmonton police made 467 arrests with impaired driving refusal charges.
Const. Kathy Nelson works in the Edmonton Police Service’s Impaired Driving Unit and says those refusals accounted for about 28 per cent of impaired charges last year.
“I don’t see that as a giant increase from years past,” Nelson said. “I don’t see it as a trend going up or down.”
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Nelson says drivers are given an opportunity to contact a lawyer for advice before they provide a breath sample.
“We make it very clear, as investigators and breath technicians, the consequences of refusing and the possibility that if they do provide a breath sample they may leave without a criminal charge.
“They are very well informed at the time. It is not a simple, quick ‘no’ and then we kick them out with charges.”
She says refusing to provide a sample eliminates any chance you have of leaving without a criminal charge. It also has immediate consequences.
“You will lose your licence indefinitely. Your vehicle will be towed and seized for three days.”
Sankoff reminds drivers it is a legal uphill battle from there.
“The easiest crime to convict in the criminal code is refusing to provide a breath sample.”