Dear Lifehacker, I've been caught driving with an illicit substance in my system: it was a saliva test and it came back positive. This happened in NSW and I have now moved to Queensland. I have to go to court next week. If I'm disqualified for whatever period, what happens to my licence in QLD?
I'm a nervous wreck over this as I have very ill health and need my car to get to all my doctor appointments. It was stupid and careless what I done but I have been clean since. Could you please give me an idea of what will happen at court? Thanks, Tracy
In most states and territories the court will disqualify or cancel a first time offender's drivers licence for a period of between three and 12 months. There are also stiff fines. Here's what Transport for NSW has to say on the matter:
Drivers caught with drugs in their system will face court, could lose their licence, be fined and end up with a criminal record. For a presence offence detected through an MDT, the court may impose a fine of up to $1,100 and an automatic six month licence disqualification.
Drivers proven to be driving under the influence of illegal or prescription drugs, face fines of up to $2,200 and automatic 12 month licence disqualification for a first offence. These offenders can also be sentenced to up to nine months in prison. Higher penalties apply for second and subsequent offenders.
You could attempt to seek leniency in court, but this usually isn't given for drug and alcohol related offences. The Australian government has been cracking down on drug driving offences in recent years - and with good cause. In NSW, research has shown that the presence of the illegal drugs ecstasy, cannabis and speed (including ice) accounts for the same number of fatal crashes as drink driving.
If you can prove you need your car for medical reasons, have an otherwise spotless driving record and the amount of drugs in your system was negligible, the court might give you a lighter penalty... but you will probably have to accept not having a licence for a while.
According to NGM criminal defense laywers, you could argue for a section 10 (s.10 Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act). This involves the court dismissing charges without recording a conviction - if you plead guilty and agree to certain conditions.
In NSW, the conditions may include entering into a good behaviour bond for up to two years and agreeing to enter an intervention program relating to the offence. Naturally, you should speak to a solicitor about your specific circumstances to see if a section 10 is feasible. (There's some more information here.)
As to the other part of your question, a licence suspension or disqualification applies to every state and territory, regardless of where the offense was committed. Treat this as a wake up call to stay safe on the road and not put other drivers in danger.
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