Wayne Rooney in court for drink driving
On the 1st September 2017, Everton and England international footballer Wayne Rooney was stopped by police as he drove his car through Wilmslow, Cheshire in the early hours of the morning.
The police said that there was a light out on the car Mr Rooney was driving so they decided to stop it – presumably on the basis that people who have committed more serious offences often commit minor ones like having a light out on their cars.
They found Mr Rooney in the driving seat with a lady in the front passenger seat. The police officers asked him to provide a specimen of breath to establish whether he was fit to drive or not. I haven’t seen a report saying why they did this but as section 6 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 only allows a specimen to be required where a constable reasonably suspects that a person has been driving with alcohol or drugs in their system we can assume that something about Mr Rooney made them suspect he was drunk. Typically, police are on the look out for slurred speech, unsteadiness, a smell of alcohol on the breath and glazed eyes – one or more of these tends to raise a suspicion that a person may be under the influence of alcohol.
Mr Rooney complied and was found to be over the drink driving limit. He was taken to a local police station where the results were confirmed on an evidential breath machine, which told the police officers that Mr Rooney had 104 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of his breath. That means he was virtually three times above the drink driving limit. As a result, he was charged and sent to court.
At court Mr Rooney entered a guilty plea and instructed his lawyers to ask the court to impose a fine.
When magistrates impose sentences they refer to the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines, which is a compendium of offences and the sentences that should follow in given circumstances. Some are clearer than others but the guidelines for drink driving are very clear cut. They tell us that when a person provides a breath specimen of between 90 and 119 microgrammes of alcohol then the court should impose a community order and a driving ban of between 23 and 28 months on a first-time offender who is convicted after trial. Somebody who is pleads guilty will usually receive a reduction on their sentence.
In asking the court for a fine, the solicitor for Mr Rooney was essentially asking the court to go outside the sentencing guidelines. The court can do this but would normally only reduce a community order to a fine where the community order would be unworkable, e.g. if the defendant lives abroad or if they work 7 days a week. In those circumstances, the fine is increased from the usual week and a half weeks wages to two and a half weeks wages. According to goal.com, Mr Rooney earns around £150,000 per week at Everton, which would mean that his fine would have been around £375,000 assuming he does not have any income from other sources. That’s a lot but goal.com also estimates his net worth to be around the £100M mark so even a relatively large fine might make no real impact on Mr Rooney.
The solicitors were arguing that Mr Rooney should avoid a community order because of his charity work. I have to admit that’s a new one on me and, having had a quick flick through the guidelines, I cannot see any real basis in law for avoiding a community order because you already do good work. This probably isn’t surprising as community orders are not just to give something back to the community but they also act as a punishment by taking up the offender’s time. That was probably in the mind of the judge when he said that he was "not convinced" that imposing a large fine "would have the same effect". Still I do not criticise the solicitor for trying – there’s nothing that says a court cannot take that into account so it’s worth a punt.
In the event the court rejected the solicitor’s application for a fine instead of a community order and imposed a 12 month community order with a requirement that he completes 100 hours of unpaid work. This is a low to mid-level community order in my opinion. The maximum unpaid work that the court can impose is 300 and the least is 40. Where does it fall on the sentencing guidelines? More or less spot on for an offender convicted after trial. Mr Rooney pleaded guilty and while the judge said he has taken account of mitigation and the guilty plea it could be argued that Mr Rooney’s sentence is slightly high because, whatever the judge said, it is difficult to see where the credit for the guilty plea has been implemented for an offence that seems to have no aggravating features. Would I advise him to appeal based on what I’ve read? Probably not – while he might get a few hours off I’d have to question whether the cost o fhte appeal would outweigh the benefit to him.
In addition to the community order, Mr Rooney was disqualified from driving for 24 months. Presumably, he was allowed to undertake the drink drivers rehabilitation course, which I would expect to reduce the length of the ban by 24 weeks. If he does do the course then look out for headlines in 18 months’ time complaining that he is back on the road without completing the whole 24 months of his ban.
I want to address one important point before I finish up and that’s the report of a number of newspapers who have claimed that Mr Rooney was fined £170, which has lead to a number of people to criticise the court for being too lenient with him. If he had been fined that amount then the criticism would be correct, but he wasn’t. He was ordered to pay an £85 victim surcharge, which is a fee imposed on all offenders regardless of whether there was an actual victim in their case. The money is supposed to go toward funding services for victims of crime. He was also ordered to pay £85 towards the cost of the prosecution – this is the standard amount that the prosecution ask for from every defendant when the case concludes at the first hearing with a guilty plea.
Wayne Rooney’s case was a textbook example of a normal drink driving case where the defendant enters a guilty plea. He received no favourable treatment from the court or prosecution and he received the same sentence that I would expect to be imposed on any other defendant in a similar situation.