Avoid Disqualification with Special Reasons
What’s known as the ‘special reasons argument’ is not strictly a defence, but is an extenuating or mitigating circumstance which, if argued successfully, could result in you avoiding a ban.
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Before reading about drink driving special reasons, please be aware that a guilty plea to the allegation must be entered before a ‘special reason’ can be raised. M.A.J. Law would always advise that a special reasons argument should not be your first choice, but that you consider the accuracy of the evidence against you first. There is nothing stopping you from raising your special reason at a later date.
What are ‘special reasons’ in drink driving?
What’s known as the ‘special reasons argument’ is not strictly a defence, but is an extenuating or mitigating circumstance which, if argued successfully, could result in you avoiding a ban. It’s important to note that a special reasons argument must only relate to the ‘offence’ and not the ‘offender’, meaning, for example, that any argument regarding the loss of your job if disqualified (or other mitigation), would not be successful.
Section 34(1) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 states:
(1) Where a person is convicted of an offence involving obligatory disqualification, the court must order him to be disqualified for such period not less than twelve months as the court thinks fit unless the court for special reasons thinks fit to order him to be disqualified for a shorter period or not to order him to be disqualified.
More simply, this means that successfully arguing special reasons in your case could result in a ban being reduced to less than the 12 month minimum, or being completely avoided altogether.
The most common examples of drink driving special reasons for alcohol-related offences are:
- Driving in an emergency
- Short distance driven
- Spiked drinks
If you were driving in an emergency this may amount to a special reason for drink driving. You must have considered all conceivable alternatives before deciding to drive your vehicle, this includes calling the emergency services. You must satisfy the court, on a balance of probabilities, that the situation was a genuine or real emergency. The court will also consider what a “reasonable and sober” person would have done in your circumstances.
Driving only a short distance can amount to a special reason, allowing the court to reduce your ban or not to impose any disqualification whatsoever. Your chance of success will largely be determined by the exact distance that you did drive, but this is not the only factor considered by the court. The court will also consider:
- In what manner was the vehicle driven?
- Did you intend to drive further?
- What were the road, traffic and weather conditions?
- Was there a possibility of contact with other road users?
- What was the reason for driving?
M.A.J. Law have been successful with a ‘short distance driven argument’ even in circumstances where our client drove over a mile. If we can mitigate the circumstances by considering the points above, the distance you drove becomes less important. Of course, if you only drove a couple of yards then we will need to place the emphasis on this point.
You may feel that the amount of alcohol you consumed (if any) could not account for the breath reading you provided. This may be because you consumed alcohol unknowingly, which would constitute a special reason for drink driving. It is not necessary to show that your drinks were maliciously ‘spiked’, as this situation could arise from an innocent mistake, such as a friend buying you a stronger drink than you asked for.
The obligation falls on the defence to establish what your blood alcohol concentration would have been had you not consumed the additional alcohol. The most common way of doing this is with the use of expert evidence. M.A.J. Law work closely with a team of expert witnesses and toxicologists who can produce reports for use in court cases. If the expert concludes that it was the alcohol consumed unknowingly that placed you over the prescribed limit, we would seek to rely on this report at your drink driving special reasons hearing.
The CPS always have the option of introducing expert evidence if they wish. The aim in doing this would be to undermine our report or cast doubt over the expert’s calculations. However, due to funding shortages and a decreasing prosecution budget, the CPS will often fail to serve any expert evidence whatsoever. They may then be stuck with a favourable defence report which they can’t argue with!
It can be useful to have the person who ‘spiked’ your drinks attend the court hearing as a witness, in order to bolster your drink driving special reasons defence. Again, the ‘spiking’ does not have to be malicious and could arise from an innocent mistake. Whatever the circumstances, there is little to no chance that this person would be charged with an offence, particularly if they were not aware that you would be driving. Time and time again the CPS will threaten to lay charges, but these threats are often hollow and unfounded.
You may have only discovered that your drinks had been spiked following your release from the police station, so don’t worry if you didn’t raise it in police interview.
If alcohol is present in the stomach when reflux occurs, this can introduce alcohol into the upper-respiratory tract and mouth cavities. Current evidential breath testing devices should be able to distinguish between alcohol from deep lung air and alcohol generated by reflux. However, a recent investigation (2015) into the effect of reflux on breath alcohol levels suggests that it is possible for alcohol vapour to pass constantly from the stomach into the oesophagus. This would not be detected as “mouth alcohol”, even by an approved device.
As such, successfully presenting reflux as a special reason could raise inaccuracies in the evidence presented against you.
Medication can affect a breath test result if it contains alcohol that would contribute to your alcohol level or if it interferes with alcohol metabolism. Many common medications, including those available ‘over the counter’, can block the breakdown of alcohol in the stomach before it is absorbed into the blood stream. This results in more alcohol being absorbed into the bloodstream increasing your blood alcohol concentration dramatically.
It’s important to remember that arguing special reasons for drink driving should not necessarily be your first choice of defence for a motoring offence. At M.A.J. Law we always advise speaking to an experienced motoring defence lawyer about your options, and closely scrutinising the evidence against you as a first port of call. Our team of dedicated motoring defence solicitors have years of experience in successfully defending clients against drink driving charges, both in special reasons cases and otherwise. Click the case studies link below to read about some of our past experiences.