The majority of drink driving offences are dealt with by the Magistrates Court. Below is a guide to preparing to appear in the Magistrates Court on these matters.
Before going to court
Make sure you get legal advice first. It may be that you are not guilty of the charges but are guilty of a lesser offence (see Trifling offences). If you are in any doubt you should not plead guilty without having sought legal advice first. If you go to court without having had legal advice you may feel pressured to plead guilty just to get things over and done with. You should not make a decision to plead guilty until you have had legal advice. You can ask the magistrate for an adjournment (i.e. request that the matter be rescheduled) in this situation, explaining that you need to get legal advice. If an adjournment is granted, the magistrate will allow you to return at a later date.
The Legal Services Commission operates a duty solicitor service at all metropolitan courts and at Mount Barker, Port Augusta and Whyalla. If available, the duty solicitor may be able to provide advice on applying for an adjournment, see Duty solicitors.
Will I get legal aid?
Legal aid is not usually granted for traffic offences. The exception to this is if there is a real risk you could face imprisonment. This is unlikely for drink driving offences but other offences such as driving disqualified or serious offences such as dangerous driving can have a term of imprisonment. If facing such charges you may be eligible for a grant of legal aid for a lawyer to represent you. Seek advice from our Legal Helpline on 1300 366 424 if you are in any doubt about this.
Deciding whether to plead guilty or not guilty
You will need to seek legal advice before making the decision about how to plead. As a consequence of the advice you receive there may be other things you need to think about before deciding on how to plead (see Sentencing).
If pleading guilty there are some advantages. For example, the court is likely to give you a less severe penalty.
If pleading not guilty you must have a case that has a reasonable chance of succeeding. This is extremely difficult with drink driving offences (see Challenging breath test results). Again you will need to seek legal advice about this. You also need to be aware of what will happen if you lose. If you choose to plead not guilty the matter will go to trial and you will need to pay for a lawyer to represent you or represent yourself. If you lose your case you will have to pay court costs, in addition for the costs of paying for legal representation.
Preparing for the hearing
Think about what you will say to the Magistrate before going to court. You may also need to provide supporting documents to the court. Take several copies of any documents you wish to provide as you will need to provide a copy for the magistrate and the prosecution.
Be prepared to tell the court of anything you wish them to take into account in mitigation of penalty (i.e. factors that mean you should face lower penalties as a result). These can be things like:
- your previous unblemished driving record if you have not had any other offences
- the fact that you rely on your licence for your livelihood
- whether you have dependants and how they will be affected by a longer than normal licence disqualification period
- your financial situation – this impacts on your ability to pay any fines and you will need to provide evidence of your income and financial obligations so this can be taken into account when the court applies a fine
Will I lose my licence?
With the exception of 1st offences between 0.05 and 0.079, all drink driving offences carry with them a compulsory period of licence disqualification. This means that you will lose your licence for at least the minimum period specified by the legislation. However, the courts also have the power to grant an even longer licence disqualification. In making submissions to the court about penalty you will need to provide evidence of your reliance on your licence and how this effects you and your family, and any other factors to show why the minimum disqualification period should not be extended.
How much will it cost?
If you plead guilty, in addition to the fine imposed by the court, you will have the following expenses to pay:
- Victims of Crime levy – $160 for each offence [$100 for a youth]
- Prosecution Administration fee - $16
- Court costs of $141
If you plead not guilty and are unsuccessful you may also have to pay additional prosecution costs such as witness fees.
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.