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Pulled over on suspicion of drugged driving? What happens next?

This article discusses drugged driving testing and the rights of the accused.

The first contact that most Ottawa residents have with police is when an officer observes their driving habits as they travel down the road. If the officer observes behaviors that violate traffic laws, he or she may initiate a traffic stop. For instance, if a vehicle fails to remain in its lane, stops in the middle of the road, fails to stop at a stop sign, or fails to obey intersection traffic signals and signs, it could lead an officer to pull over a vehicle.

Once the officer pulls over the vehicle and approaches the driver, a suspicion of impairment could arise after some questioning. At this point, the officer will most likely request that the driver exit the vehicle and submit to a roadside Standardized Field Sobriety Test.

Are there consequences for not complying with roadside testing?

In these instances where a driver has been stopped, there are potential legal ramifications that can result from refusing to participate in the tests. Doing so can constitute a criminal offence. While there are exceptions for unique circumstances where legal counsel can be immediately provided at the roadside, most drivers typically aren’t allowed to contact a lawyer at this point. If the officer concludes that an individual failed the test, then the next stop is the police station. Once there, a certified drug recognition expert conducts additional testing.

The driver may then repeat the same tests and submit to additional investigatory measures such as the following:

  • The officer may orally take the driver’s temperature and pulse.
  • The officer could take the driver’s blood pressure.
  • The driver’s pupil sizes are tested in different locations with different lighting.
  • The officer could order the driver to provide a saliva, blood or urine sample to test for the presence of drugs and what type of drug the driver possibly took.

Even though the driver may consult with legal counsel prior to these tests, it does not mean that the driver can refuse to participate. That, too, could constitute a criminal offence.

What can drivers do?

What drivers can do is exercise the right to remain silent. When the officer begins asking questions, drivers can, and probably should, let the officer know that they will not answer any questions or make any statements unless an accident occurred. If so, police can require a statement regarding the crash itself that cannot be used in court to incriminate the driver. Again, this does not mean that drivers can legally refuse to participate in the tests.

The first time he or she refuses, the driver could lose his or her driver’s license for a year and pay a fine of no less than $2,000. A second offence could include jail time. Once under arrest, the police officer must advise the driver of the right to speak to a lawyer, along with other information. All a driver must say is that he or she wishes to speak with a lawyer, and the officer must honor the request. The driver has the right to talk to a lawyer in private, and how that conversation progresses depends on each individual driver’s circumstances.

Making legal choices

The choices made at this point could affect the ultimate outcome of one’s case. For this reason, people who find themselves in this — or similar — situations may want to make sure that they have all relevant information before making any decisions. One of the first steps typically taken involves seeking out the support and advice of an experienced criminal defence lawyer. Fully understanding one’s rights and all options available can help begin a course of action that, hopefully, leads to the best possible outcome.