Friday, 7 March 2014

Spiked drinks: a case study

Earlier this week Nick represented Louise (not her real name) who had been caught drink driving and who was about to lose her job if she lost her driving licence.  She had originally instructed another motoring solicitor who advised her to plead not guilty (and charged her accordingly) despite the evidence against her being overwhelming and her having admitted both drinking and driving when interviewed by the police.

The final straw with that firm came when their fixed fee turned out not to be fixed at all and they tried to charge Louise an extra £800+VAT before they would watch the CCTV from her case.  It was at that point that she contacted The London Drink Driving Solicitor and Nick was assigned to work with her.

Louise made it clear that all she was concerned about was keeping her job and that to do that she had to keep her driving licence.  After fully reviewing the evidence, it was obvious that Louise had no defence to the allegation, particularly in light of her admissions she made in the police interview.  But, it was also clear that the amount of alcohol Louise had drunk could not have put her over the drink driving limit; however, she had since heard a rumour that the punch she had drunk had been spiked with very strong vodka.

Nick advised Louise to change her plea and fight the drink driving ban by telling the court that there was a special reason not to ban her.

We obtained expert evidence from Professor Johnston, a renowned expert, who confirmed that the punch mixed with the very strong vodka would have put Louise not only over the limit but at the exact level the police measured in her breath.  Importantly, Professor Johnston also gave evidence from a scientific experiment that showed volunteers were unable to tell the difference between a soft drink and a soft drink spiked with large amounts of alcohol.

In court, Nick applied to be allowed to call the hearsay evidence about the spiking of the punch saying that it was in the interests of justice that the evidence be admitted.  Despite the obvious importance of the evidence, the court refused the application.

The arresting officer gave evidence that Louise had been swerving across the road.  In cross-examination, Nick got the officer to admit that she could not remember the arrest beyond what was in her notes.  Despite that admission, the officer claimed to remember seeing Louise swerve violently, something that was not in her note book.  That was the key to Nick convincing the court that the police officer’s evidence was unreliable.

Nick called Louise and her boyfriend, Dave, to give evidence of what Louise had drunk that evening and both mentioned seeing the extra strong vodka by the punch bowl, although because of the earlier ruling neither were allowed to mention the rumour they had heard of the punch being spiked.

After the evidence was complete the prosecution argued that Louise and Dave were lying or mistaken about the amount of alcohol Louise had drunk prior to driving.  Nick argued that they were both honest and reliable, that their evidence was backed up by the evidence of Professor Johnston and that the police officer’s recollection was unreliable.

The magistrates took just 15 minutes to agree that there was a special reason not to disqualify her and instead imposed just six-penalty points on her driving licence.  Had she gone to trial and lost, we have no doubt that Louise would have been convicted of drink driving, lost her driving licence and with it, her job.

When you decide whether to plead guilty or not guilty it is worth thinking about what you want to achieve.  If you want to keep your driving licence at all costs then claiming special reasons might be for you.  You should never enter a plea to a criminal charge, such as drink driving, without taking legal advice from a solicitor who has experience and expertise in defending drink driving offences.  

You can always get top quality legal advice on drink driving (and related offences) cases by calling The London Drink Driving Solicitor on 020 8242 4440

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