Sentencing drink drivers: analysis of the Ant McPartlin case
I haven’t blogged about drink driving for a while, which is a bit of a shame for me since drink driving cases form the bulk of my case load. So, with the conviction and sentencing of Ant McPartlin, of Ant and Dec fame, this seems like a great time to talk about how sentencing works in drink driving cases using this case as an example.
Mr McPartlin entered a guilty plea when he appeared in court, which negates the need for a trial because he admits that he committed the offence. The maximum sentence is six-months imprisonment, an unlimited fine and a driving disqualification. The minimum driving ban is 12 months but there is no cap on what the magistrates can impose, although I have yet to personally witness anybody receive a ban longer than five years and first-time offenders will rarely get such a lengthy ban. It should be noted that although the ban may end after a year or two, the conviction remains recorded on your driving record for 11 years.
Once the defendant pleads guilty, the magistrates must decide how serious an offence it is. I would like to see benches take a more dynamic view of offences, for example, treating people who drive immediately after leaving a pub more seriously than those who are over the limit the next morning and who might have reasonably expected to have been safe to drive. But, that is not the way things work. Instead, magistrates look at the breath reading to discover the sentencing range a defendant falls into.
In Mr McPartlin’s case, his breath reading was 75 microgrammes in 100 millilitres of breath, which is more than double the drink driving limit of 35 mcgs. You may be surprised to hear that this is not that high and is a pretty typical reading. There are four categories of seriousness on the sentencing guidelines and Mr McPartlin’s places him in the second of four, i.e. in the second lowest range. This indicates a fine of a week and a half’s income along with a driving ban of up 22 months.
Once the court has worked out the starting point, they can consider whether there are any mitigating or aggravating features to the offence – that is to says things that make it less serious or more serious. Less serious might be an early guilty plea or short distance driven. In extreme situations that could mean that the court imposes a very light sentence and does not disqualify you from driving at all. A typical aggravating feature would be a crash, which was the situation in Mr McPartlin’s case I am led to believe.
The court will also consider any personal mitigation, this could be that the defendant has an alcohol problem but has taken steps to address it. Some people get worked up about whether treatment is being sort purely to lessen the seriousness of the offence, but in my view it doesn’t much matter so long as the treatment lessens the likelihood of future offences.
I understand that Mr McPartlin was fined £86,000 and disqualified from driving for 20 months.
That driving ban is exactly where I would have placed the starting point for this offence, so it is possible that the court has considered the crash along with Mr McPartlin’s widely reported drinking problem to balance each other out, bringing the ban back to where it started. Although pleading guilty does mitigate the offence, the court should not consider it when deciding on the length of the driving ban.
When deciding on the fine, the magistrates will have conducted the same balancing act as with the driving ban, but this time they should have taken into account his guilty plea at the first opportunity. The should also have taken into account paragraph 25 on page 425 of the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines, which tells us that where an offender is in receipt of a very high income a fine based on their weekly income may be disproportionately high and so the court should adjust the fine to an appropriate level. I have to confess I am dubious whether many magistrates are aware of this provision but that is one of the functions of a defence solicitor, so I am sure it was brought to their attention. For that reason, those of you trying to calculate Mr McPartlin’s actual weekly income may not be getting it accurate unless you are aware of the adjustment the court made.
As always, the best advice is not to drive after consuming alcohol; however, if you do find that you have been accused of committing a drink driving offence then do not hesitate to contact the London Drink DrivingSolicitor on 020 8242 4440 for expert legal advice on defending the accusation or mitigating the sentence.