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In Queensland, the authorities have zero tolerance for drug driving as this is considered a risky behaviour capable of putting a driver and other road users at risk.
Some laws have been put in place to discourage individuals from engaging in drug driving, and they come with severe penalties.
These penalties include fines, disqualification and imprisonment sentences. In addition, the laws and penalties regarding drug driving are present in the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (Qld).
Primarily, this write-up will discuss what the law says regarding drug driving, its penalties and possible defences.
If an individual is convicted in a QLD 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 QLD.
Based on the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (Qld), a person can be guilty of drug driving under two sections which are:#1. Driving under the Influence
According to Section 79 of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (Qld), it is an offence for a person to drive or make an attempt to operate a motor vehicle, vessel, train, or tram while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
If a person commits this offence, a police officer can charge the individual on the basis that their conduct is consistent with someone under the influence of drugs. In addition, indicators such as how the suspect speaks or operates a vehicle can help the police officer reach a decision.
An individual convicted for driving under the influence offence for the first time is liable to a maximum fine of 28 penalty units or 9 months imprisonment. Also, the law stipulates that the court must disqualify them for a minimum of 6 months.
However, suppose a person is convicted the second time or subsequently for driving under the influence in the space of 5 years. In that case, they may face a maximum of 18 months imprisonment or 60 penalty units. Furthermore, the court will have to disqualify them from obtaining or holding a licence for a minimum of 1 year.
It is essential to note that a person may receive a permanent disqualification based on the court's discretion whether they are a first-time or a repeat offender.
Nevertheless, before the court can go ahead to impose fines, imprisonment sentences and disqualification, the prosecution will have to convince the court that:
Section 79(2AA) of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (Qld) states that a person can become guilty if they drive or attempt to drive a vehicle, tram, train or vessel while having a relevant drug present in their blood or saliva.
Also, a person placed in charge of a vehicle can be guilty of an offence if they have a relevant drug present in their saliva or blood. A relevant drug in this section does not necessarily mean an illicit drug; it could be a prescription drug.
A swab test might need to be carried out to determine if a relevant drug is present in a person's body. This typically involves a police officer taking a saliva sample from the accused and analysing it on the spot using a handheld machine.
If the test result shows evidence of drugs present in the body system, the police may charge the offender for driving while having a relevant drug in their oral fluid or blood.
A first-time offender may face a maximum fine of 14 penalty units or imprisonment for 3 months upon conviction. Also, the court will have to disqualify the offender from obtaining or possessing a licence for a minimum of 1 month.
A person who has been convicted a second time within 5 years may be liable to a maximum of twenty penalty units or six months imprisonment. Additionally, the court will have to disqualify them for a minimum of 3 months.
A third or subsequent offence carries a maximum of 28 penalty units or 9 months imprisonment and a compulsory disqualification for at least 6 months.
Nonetheless, before the prosecution can get the court to convict a person, the prosecution will need to establish that:
There are some defences that are suitable in challenging the accusation of drug driving. These defences can lead to an acquittal or a reduction in the sentence. It all depends on the ability of the accused to convince the court.
Some of these defences are:#1. The Defendant Did Not Operate a Vehicle
Even if the accused has evidence of drugs in their blood or oral fluid, as long as they did not operate a vehicle, the court might be unable to convict them for drug driving.#2. The Accused Was not Aware of the Side Effect of a Prescription Drug
A person can still face a charge of drug driving even when the drug found in the blood or oral fluid is a prescription given by a medical practitioner. This rule is because prescription drugs can affect a person's ability to operate a motor vehicle.
However, a defendant can claim that they were unaware of the effect a prescription drug can have on their driving skill.#3. Emergency
The defence of emergency applies when the accused had to commit the crime of drug driving in the process of responding to an emergency. For instance, the accused might have driven a vehicle to get to a hospital to receive immediate medical attention.
Nevertheless, for this defence to be effective during a trial, the defendant will have to show the court that they had no alternative other than to commit the crime.
In Queensland, the Magistrates Court conducts the majority of drug driving trials.
Committing the crime of drug driving can put an offender in a position where they either pay a fine or go to prison. Apart from the fines and imprisonment sentences, an offender can also end up with a criminal record that could stay with them forever.
If an individual is found guilty of a drug driving offence in a QLD 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.
Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (QLD) - https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/act-1995-009
Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (QLD)(Austlii References) - http://www5.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/qld/consol_act/touma1995434/
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