• On December 15, 2021
  • in HPL

High Range PCA (Drink Driving): Things to Know

Home HPL High Range PCA (Drink Driving): Things to Know

This article does not constitute legal advice. It is general in nature and is not an appropriate substitute for considered legal advice that is specific to your circumstances and the facts in your matter. Please contact us to obtain considered and specific legal advice.

What is High Range PCA?

PCA means Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol.

In NSW, there are 5 PCA offence categories:

  • Novice range (0.00 to 0.019 for a Learner, P1 or P2 driver)
  • Special range (0.02 to 0.049 for a Learner, P1 or P2 driver or a bus or taxi driver)
  • Low range (0.05 to 0.079)
  • Mid range (0.08 to 0.149)
  • High range (0.15 and higher)

‘High Range’ indicates that the person is at least 3 times above the legal limit. It is generally considered to be a very serious offence and the most serious of the drink driving charges.

Depending on the circumstances, a charge of High Range Drink Driving will often be accompanied by other serious charges, for example Negligent Driving.

Can I go to Jail for High Range Drink Driving?

Yes. The 2004 Guideline Judgement creates an assumption in favour of a custodial sentence.

High Range Drink Driving is an offence that can result in full-time custodial sentences i.e. jail. For this reason it is very important that you have the benefit of proper, considered, and specific legal advice. If you are charged with this offence, you should engage legal representation immediately.

 What is the Guideline Judgement?

In 2004, the Supreme Court handed down a guideline judgement as to how a Court should sentence high range drink driving offenders.

This guideline judgement was part of a response to an apprehension that had formed in communities that Magistrates and Courts were too lenient on perpetrators of high range drink driving.

Most notably, the guideline judgement creates assumptions towards custodial sentences in certain circumstances. This means that if certain factors are present in your case, then your case is likely to be dealt with by way of a custodial sentence unless the assumption can be overcome.

HPL Law Group has assisted many clients to avoid full time custodial sentences notwithstanding the presence of factors giving rise to an assumption in favour of a custodial sentence.

What are the penalties?

PenaltiesFirst offenceSecond or subsequent offence
Maximum Court imposed fine$3,300.00$5,500.00
Maximum imprisonment18 Months24 Months
Minimum disqualification12 Months24 Months
Maximum disqualificationUnlimitedUnlimited
Automatic disqualification (in absence of a Court Order)3 Years5 Years

See our articles on Penalties for a more detailed explanation of the various sentencing options.

What is a Mandatory Interlock Order?

Once the initial disqualification period ends you will then become eligible for an interlock licence.

An interlock licence is a special class of licence that only allows you to drive a vehicle with an alcohol interlock device installed for the relevant period.

An interlock device is a mechanism that stops your car activating if there is alcohol detected in your system. Think of it as a breathalyser that will stop your car from working.

These orders are mandated by law and are outside the discretion of the Magistrate or Judge in circumstances where the Court has proceeded to convict you. This means that if you are convicted of high range drink driving you will be subject to a Mandatory Interlock Order.

What is the difference between a suspension and a disqualification?

A suspension can be enforced by government agencies (for example, Police or Transport for NSW), whilst a disqualification is imposed by a Court.

If I am caught High Range Drink Driving, what are my options?

High Range Drink Driving will always be dealt with by a Court, so you will need to go to Court.

Once your matter is in Court. You will have three options:

1. Plead guilty;
2. Plead not guilty; or
3. Make an application for a Mental Health Diversion (these applications face considerable hurdles in drink driving matters).

What will happen if I go to Court and plead not guilty?

If you plead not guilty, your matter will go to a hearing and the Police will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were in fact over the legal limit whilst driving.

We recommend that you speak with your lawyer about your prospects because in the event that you are found guilty you will generally receive a tougher sentence than if you had plead guilty.

If you plead not guilty, our lawyers are able to appear as solicitor advocates on your behalf.

What are the defences for High Range Drink Driving?

There are a number of possible defences to drink driving charges. These include:

1.  Dispute as to the reading  i.e. that the level of alcohol Police allege was in your blood stream at the time of the offence.

2.  The test was not conducted lawfully  i.e. that Police have not followed proper procedure when taking breath or blood specimens. These can be complex and detailed.  Failure to follow protocol can result in a failed prosecution.

3.  Identity  i.e. that you were not the driver.

4.  Not under influence  i.e. that you were not under the influence of any drug and/or alcohol at the time of driving.

Can I apply to have my matter dealt with on Mental Health grounds?

The technical answer is yes.  The Local Court has the power to deal with almost all offences by way of a Mental Health Diversion. This would mean that you would be deferred into a treatment program without the matter proceeding to conviction.

In practice though, these applications should be approached cautiously as they are rarely successful in drink driving matters. You should get specific legal advice on this issue.

What will happen if I go to Court and plead guilty?

This means that you will admit guilt to the Court and ask the Court for leniency in your sentence. In making a decision the Magistrate will consider:

  • The charge sheet / Police Facts;
  • Any subjective material tendered on your behalf;
  • Submissions made on your behalf; and
  • Submissions made by the Police Prosecutor (if any).

But in exception circumstances, you will not speak at a sentencing hearing as your lawyer will do this for you.

If I plead guilty, what types of things will the Court take into account?

  • Your traffic and criminal history;
  • Your explanation for being on the road;
  • Any aggravating factors (poor driving, passengers etc.);
  • Any mitigating factors;
  • Any rehabilitation you have undertaken, including counselling;
  • Evidence of a genuine need for a licence;
  • Evidence of contrition, remorse and/or a credible explanation;
  • Evidence of participation in a recognized Traffic Offenders Rehabilitation Program; and
  • Any other relevant information.

Speak to our team of experienced lawyers about which of the above are appropriate for your case and how best to present them.

What are my prospects of a Section 10 or a Conditional Release Order?

Unfortunately, the guideline judgment makes it clear that a non-conviction penalty would only be appropriate in the most exceptional circumstances.

If I plead guilty, what will HPL Law Group do for me?

Our service is likely to include, but not be limited to:

  • Review Police documents and provide frank legal advice about your prospects;
  • Provide advice about what you can do to improve your prospects;
  • Refer you to relevant courses and counselling services;
  • Negotiate better Police Facts, where appropriate;
  • Assist you with the organisation of relevant subjective material (references, letters of apology, course completion certificates);
  • Attend Court with you;
  • Make oral (and often written) submissions on your behalf;
  • Answer questions posed by the Magistrate; and
  • Explain the outcome to you.

If I plead guilty, what will HPL Law Group do for me?

Our service is likely to include, but not be limited to:

  • Review Police documents and provide frank legal advice about your prospects;
  • Enter plea on your behalf;
  • Liaise with Police and enter into any negotiations which may be appropriate;
  • Review Brief of Evidence and provide further legal advice;
  • Provide advice as to possible strategies;
  • Liaise with witnesses, so as to better understand their evidence (in circumstances where it is appropriate and lawful to do so);
  • Represent you at pre-trial Court dates;
  • Recommend and engage a Barrister on your behalf, if necessary;
  • Represent you at the hearing; and
  • Explain the result to you.