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  • Drug Driving Offences and Penalties in the Northern Territory (NT)

    Operating a vehicle in the Northern Territory strictly requires that a person steer clear from consuming any form of intoxicating substance as this can affect their judgement when they are behind the wheel.

    Any individual who consumes any intoxicating substance such as alcohol or drugs and operates a motor vehicle may have a run-in with the authorities. This most times results in disqualification, fines, and even imprisonment sentences.

    The Traffic Act 1987 (NT) determines the actions considered as driving under the influence and the penalties that follow.

    This article will specifically delve into what the law says regarding drug driving, its penalties, and possible defences when facing a charge for drug driving.

    If an individual is convicted in a Northern Territory (NT) court for a drug driving offence, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check in the NT.

    What the Law Says Regarding Drug Driving

    Based on the Traffic Act 1987 (NT), an individual could be guilty of a crime if they:

    #1. Drive with Certain Drugs in the Body

    Section 28 of the Traffic Act 1987 (NT) states that it is an offence for a person to operate a vehicle while having a prohibited drug in their body system. Also, in this section, a driving instructor can be guilty of an offence if they direct a learning driver to operate a vehicle while having drugs in their body.

    A first-time offence under this section attracts 5 penalty units or 3 months imprisonment, while a second-time offence carries 7.5 penalty units or 6 months imprisonment.

    It is important to note that being charged for a subsequent offence of drug driving does not necessarily mean that the first offence was for drug driving; a first-time offence could be any crime relating to drug driving.

    A person can be charged for a subsequent offence of drug driving if the court had previously convicted them for committing any of these offences:

    • Driving while being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
    • Driving while having a prohibited drug in the body.
    • Refusing to submit to a saliva test.
    • Failing to follow a police officer's instruction to pull over so they can carry out a breath or saliva test.

    Also, if the court finds a person guilty of drug driving, the court will have to impose an order to cancel the offender’s licence or disqualify them from possessing a driving licence.

    The court may disqualify a first-time offender for a minimum of 3 months, while the court may disqualify a repeat offender for a minimum of 6 months.

    Nevertheless, before the court can convict a person for driving with certain drugs in the body or give penalties, the prosecution will need to convince the court that:

    • The defendant intentionally consumed a drug capable of inhibiting their driving skills.
    • The defendant operated a vehicle.
    • The accused has no justifiable excuse for operating a motor vehicle while having a certain drug in their body.

    #2. Driving under Influence

    Under Section 29AAA of the Traffic Act 1987 (NT)) a person is guilty of an offence if they operate a vehicle while being under the influence of any intoxicating substance to the extent that they are unable to exercise complete control of the vehicle.

    Also, an instructor can be guilty of an offence under this section if they direct a learning driver while under the influence of any intoxicating substance. The penalty for this crime depends on if it is a first-time or a subsequent offence.

    A first-time offence of driving or instructing another person while under the influence attracts a maximum of 10 penalty units or 12 months imprisonment. In contrast, a subsequent offence carries a maximum of 20 penalty units or 12 months imprisonment.

    The court could convict a person as a subsequent offender for driving under the influence even if the offence they previously committed was not specifically driving under the influence. For example, this could be a crime relating to drug driving such as:

    • Refusing to provide a needed sample for breath analysis or a saliva test.
    • Failing to obey the orders given by the police officer in the process of testing for the presence of any intoxicating substance.

    Additionally, apart from fines and imprisonment sentences, the court can also cancel an offender's licence or disqualify them for a particular period. This disqualification depends on if it is a first or subsequent offence.

    The court may disqualify first-time offenders for a period not lower than 6 months. On the other hand, a second offence may attract a disqualification for a minimum of 12 months.

    Nonetheless, the court cannot convict a person for driving under the influence if the prosecution cannot establish the presence of the following:

    • The defendant consumed either drugs or alcohol.
    • The defendant drove a motor vehicle.
    • The appropriate authorities carried out a test on the driver and discovered some level of drug or alcohol in their body.
    • The accused has no excuse for driving while under the influence of any intoxicating substance, whether alcohol or drugs.

    Possible Defences

    During a prosecution for drug driving, there are some possible defences that a defendant can raise. However, if an accused has no legal justification for committing an offence, they can plead guilty to drug driving. This act might influence the court to give a less severe punishment.

    Some of the defences that an accused can raise include:

    #1. The Test Result Did Not Reflect the Presence of a Prescribed Drug

    If the drug the defendant took is not a prescribed drug but an administered drug, they may not be guilty of an offence.

    However, the defendant will have to convince the court that they took the administered drug because they were under a particular treatment by a medical practitioner.

    Also, the defendant must be able to prove that they had taken the drug in the manner the doctor prescribed.

    #2. Unintentionally Consuming a Drug

    A defendant may have a defence if they unintentionally consumed a drug and after that drove a vehicle. For instance, a defendant might have consumed a drink without knowing someone else had spiked the drink.

    #3. Emergency

    An emergency can make a person under the influence of a drug operate a vehicle.

    For instance, a defendant might have driven a vehicle in the process of getting away from another person trying to cause them any form of bodily harm.

    Nevertheless, this defence demands that the accused convince the court that they genuinely believed that there was an emergency and the only alternative was to operate a vehicle.

    The Court that Handles Drug Driving Cases

    In the Northern Territory, the Local Court handles most drug driving trials.

    Bottom Line

    If a person faces charges for drug driving, it is crucial that they reach out to a legal practitioner as they might have a defence against the charge. Consequently, this might help the accused avoid severe penalties or reduce the sentence.

    Will a Drug Driving offence in the NT show up on a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check?

    If an individual is found guilty of a drug driving offence in a NT court, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the result of their criminal background check in Australia.

    Individuals can obtain a nationally coordinated criminal history check (NCCHC) via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.

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