Driving While Unauthorized Charge Lawyers in Calgary

What is Driving While Unauthorized?

Of the over 2 million traffic tickets issued in Alberta each year, driving while unauthorized is one of the most serious.

The relevant sections of the Traffic Safety Act of Alberta, state as follows:

Prohibition re driving while unauthorized

94(1) For the purposes of this section, a person is an unauthorized driver if

(a) that person’s operator’s licence is suspended or cancelled under this Act,

(b) that person is disqualified from driving a motor vehicle in Alberta,

(c) that person’s licence or permit to operate a motor vehicle in a jurisdiction outside Alberta is suspended or cancelled, or

(d) that person’s privilege to secure a licence or permit to operate a motor vehicle in a jurisdiction outside Alberta is suspended or cancelled.

(2) A person shall not drive a motor vehicle on a highway at any time during which that person is an unauthorized driver.

The offence of driving while unauthorized captures everything from driving while your license is suspended because you accumulated too many demerit points, to driving while your license is suspended under the Alberta Administrative License Suspension regime for being charged with an impaired driving offence.

This offence is different from the Criminal Code offence of Operation While Prohibited, which states as follows:

Operation while prohibited

320.18 (1) Everyone commits an offence who operates a conveyance while prohibited from doing so

(a) by an order made under this Act; or

(b) by any other form of legal restriction imposed under any other Act of Parliament or under provincial law in respect of a conviction under this Act or a discharge under section 730.

For more information about the Criminal version of the offence, please visit that section of the website here.

It is important to understand that once you are suspended, the suspension continues indefinitely until you take a proactive step to reinstating your licence. For example, if you received a 30 day suspension due to having too many demerits, you cannot simply start driving once the 30 days are up. You must first attend a registry, pay a reinstatement fee, and confirm you can once again drive.

You can be convicted of driving while unauthorized even if you were not technically driving, but merely sitting in the driver seat, because operation of a motor vehicle includes being in “care or control” of your vehicle.

To be convicted of driving while unauthorized, the Crown Prosecutor must show beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. you were operating a motor vehicle; and
  2. you were unauthorized to do so at the time of operation.

Although it sounds simple, it’s sometimes surprizing how difficult a time the Crown can have in establishing guilt, especially with a proper defence lawyer on the case.

Investigation of Driving While Unauthorized Violations in Calgary

An investigation of an allegation of driving while unauthorized in Calgary is typically started with the police conducting a traffic stop and asking you to provide your driver’s license. Once the police learn that your driving privileges have been suspended, they will likely give you a ticket for driving while unauthorized.

With over 1,900 police officers, the Calgary Police Service has considerable manpower to devote to such investigations. It is the third largest municipal police force in Canada. The Calgary Police Service Traffic Unit is most likely to investigate this type of offence.

In the rural areas surrounding Calgary, the RCMP and Sheriffs have authority to investigate these offences.

Penalties for Driving While Unauthorized Violations in Calgary

The penalties for a driving while unauthorized conviction are serious. On a first offence, you are liable to:

  • Up to $2000 fine; and
  • 6 month driving suspension.

In fact, a 6 month driving suspension is automatic. Never simply pay the fine for this ticket and assume that’s the only consequence. Even if the prosecutor does not ask for it in court, and it looks like all you have to do is pay a fine, you will receive a 6 month driving suspension. Section 95(2) of the Traffic Safety Act makes this mandatory as follows:

… a person who is guilty of contravening section 94 is disqualified from driving a motor vehicle in Alberta for a period of 6 months from the day of the finding of guilty.

There are no exceptions to this, so you can’t even ask the judge to not impose the 6 month suspension.

For a subsequent conviction of driving while unauthorized committed within one year of the first offence, the penalties become significantly worse, including:

  • Minimum 14 days to 6 months jail time;
  • 6 month driving suspension.

Secondary consequences for a driving while unauthorized conviction can include an increase to insurance premiums, and insurance liability if an accident has occurred.

Defending Driving While Unauthorized Violations in Calgary

What are the best defences to driving while unauthorized violations in Calgary?

With potentially serious penalties, you need a serious defence.

Typically, the best defences for a driving while unauthorized ticket are:

  • Factual Innocence: this is usually the strongest defence. You will not be convicted of driving while unauthorized if you were not unauthorized from driving at the time.
  • Violation of Constitutional Rights: the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982 sets out your rights before and after your arrest. If they were not followed to the letter by the police, it will aid your defence.
  • Technical Defence: While the Crown Prosecutor can ask the Court to amend minor errors on your ticket, some fatal technical errors may result in your charges being dropped. For example, your ticket might be withdrawn if it does not have a date, if the police officer did not sign it, or if your name is spelled incorrectly. Moreover, the police only have six months from the date of the offence to charge you with driving while unauthorized.
  • Due diligence: You can avoid a conviction if you can show that you took all reasonable steps to avoid driving while unauthorized.
  • Officially Induced Error: You may be able to avoid being convicted if you can show that you sought and relied upon legal advice from an appropriate government official, and that advice was erroneous.

Unlike for a criminal offence under the Criminal Code, the Crown does not have to prove that you intended to drive while unauthorized, or that you even knew that your driving privileges had been suspended. The only thing that the Crown needs to prove is that you were operating a motor vehicle, and that you were not authorized to drive.

However, the burden of proof remains on the prosecution. This means that there are many successful defence strategies that our experienced defence lawyers can deploy, including those outlined above.

What can a lawyer do to help me defend against driving while unauthorized violations in Calgary?

Our lawyers will thoroughly review your disclosure package and determine the best strategy for your specific case. We will then negotiate with the Crown to have your ticket withdrawn or reduced to something with less serious consequences for you.

One of the best resolutions possible is a reduction of the ticket from a Driving While Unauthorized ticket to Driving Without a Licence ticket (which has no automatic suspension). No matter what, we will advocate on your behalf to help you avoid a license suspension and even jail time.

If your driving while suspended ticket cannot be resolved, we will represent you at trial where we will call evidence, cross-examine any police and civilian witnesses, and make submissions to the Court.

Lawyers are licensed and supervised by the Law Society of Alberta, governed by a provincial Code of Conduct, and have a duty to act in your best interest. “Traffic agents” do not need a law degree and do not typically have any training. Our lawyers, in contrast, have extensive legal training and are subject to significant oversight.

If we raise violations of your Charter rights as a defence, your case will likely be transferred from Traffic Court into Provincial Criminal Court where the case will be argued in front of a Judge. Our lawyers are far better equipped to do so than “traffic agents”.

For more information about the difference between traffic agents and lawyers, and which one may be best suited for your case, please read our article entitled Traffic Offences & Violations Calgary.

What can a lawyer do to help me if I missed my court date for driving while unauthorized violations in Calgary?

If you fail to attend court on the date listed on your ticket, a warrant will likely be issued for your arrest. One of our lawyers can make an application on your behalf to have your file brought back into court and to have your warrant vacated.

We can even do this without you having to attend court or turn yourself in.

It is therefore crucial that you call our office immediately and speak to one of our traffic lawyers if you missed your court appearance for driving while unauthorized.

How can I help defend my driving while unauthorized violation in Calgary?

If you have been charged with driving while unauthorized in Calgary, the following can help your lawyer build a strong defence:

  • Making a statement about what happened;
  • Collecting and maintaining all documents and records about the event; and
  • Gathering any photographic evidence that you may have.

As soon as you are released from police custody, start to gather any information that may be of use to your lawyer immediately.

If you are truly proactive about the matter, consider doing the following:

  • Obtain a driving abstract;
  • Secure proof of employment;
  • Secure reference letters;
  • Participate in a Demerit Reduction Defensive Driver Course;
  • Once you are no longer disqualified or suspended from driving, obtain a copy of your driver’s license.

These steps can be very helpful to building an effective defence (or convincing the prosecutor to drop the charges altogether).

How can I fight my driving while unauthorized violation in Calgary if the court is closed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Traffic Court is still operating. The only difference is that people do not need to attend court. If you have a court appearance scheduled during the closure, you must contact Traffic Court by telephone, e-mail, or fax to advise them of what you intend to do with your ticket.

You have the option of:

  1. not disputing your ticket but ask for some time to pay the fine,
  2. adjourn your matter, or
  3. plead not guilty and set a trial date.

If you do not contact the court by your scheduled court date, you may be convicted in absence or a warrant may be issued for your arrest.

Leaving the Scene of an Accident

Where Can I pay a Fine for a Driving While Unauthorized Conviction in Calgary?

If you are convicted of driving while unauthorized and have to pay a fine, you can pay your fine in person, through the mail, or online.

  1. In-person: You can make a full or partial payment at a registry agent or at any Alberta Provincial Court location.
  2. Mail: You can make a full payment only through the mail by sending your ticket and payment to:

Provincial Ticket Production Centre
601 5th Street SW
Calgary, Alberta  T2P 5P7

Payment must be by cheque or money order made out to the Government of Alberta, with your ticket number written on the back.

  1. Online: You can pay your fine online. You will need your ticket number and a valid debit or credit card.

What Next?

As discussed, driving while unauthorized violations can be very fact-specific, and a conviction can lead to serious consequences.

We have tried our best to provide a general outline of what you can expect if you find yourself in this situation. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

To learn more about how we can help, please contact our team of traffic lawyers to conduct a thorough review of your situation so that we can tailor a precise strategy that targets your successful defence.

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