Can You Go to Jail for a DUI in Ontario?

Prepare to unravel the mysteries of Ontario’s DUI laws and confront a chilling reality: the possibility of imprisonment. 

As seasoned DUI lawyers with over 20 years of experience, we’re here to tackle the burning question that keeps defendants awake at night: can you go to jail for a DUI in Ontario? 

Let X-COPS guide you through the complexities of DUI charges Ontario, exploring the spectre of incarceration for first-time, repeat, and aggravated violations.

Ontario DUI Sentencing: Understanding the Consequences

When it comes to DUI offences in Ontario, the repercussions extend beyond the impaired driving Ontario penalties and driving prohibitions. The severity of punishment can vary depending on several factors. 

Let’s delve into the gravity of DUI offences and their potential implications.

DUI Sentencing Basics: Federal and Provincial Law in Ontario

DUI charges and sentencing guidelines fall under both federal and provincial law. While Canada’s Criminal Code establishes fines, driving prohibitions, and possible imprisonment penalties, provincial law sets out additional penalties, including licence suspension, vehicle impoundment, education and treatment programs, ignition interlock requirements, and provincial fines.

Different DUI Offence Categories

DUI offences encompass various categories, each carrying its level of severity. Basic-level charges include impaired driving, exceeding 80+ blood alcohol concentrations, refusal to take a breathalyzer test in Ontario or failing to provide blood samples and care and control. More severe categories involve DUI causing bodily harm and DUI causing death.

Combination of Offences

Individuals may sometimes face multiple DUI charges stemming from the same incident. For instance, impaired driving charges can be combined with failing to provide a breath sample or other offences such as hit-and-run or leaving the scene of an accident Ontario. It’s essential to understand that these combinations can result in multiple sentences.

Summary Conviction and Indictable Offences

Most DUI cases are tried as summary conviction offences, but Crown prosecutors may opt for an indictable offence when aggravating factors are present. However, DUI causing death is always treated as an indictable offence, carrying more severe penalties.

You can better navigate the legal landscape by understanding the intricacies of DUI sentencing.

Can you go to jail for a DUI in Ontario?

In short, yes, it is possible to go to jail for a DUI in Ontario. The severity of the punishment, including the potential for imprisonment, depends on various factors, such as the nature of the offence, the presence of aggravating circumstances, and the individual’s prior record. Let’s take a look at them!

Potential for Jail Time for DUI – First Offence:

While there is no mandatory minimum imprisonment penalty for a first-time DUI, the maximum punishment under Canada’s Criminal Code is a daunting 10-year prison term. 

However, it’s essential to note that most individuals convicted of a first-time DUI do not serve any jail or prison time. The court considers different factors when determining the severity of punishment, such as BAC level and aggravating factors (causing property damage, injuries, or driving with a suspended licence etc.). These factors can significantly impact the sentencing outcome.

Jail Time for Repeat DUI Offences in Ontario:

For those facing repeat DUI charges, the potential for jail time escalates significantly. 

The Canadian legal system takes a harsh stance against repeat DUI offenders to deter them from repeating their dangerous behaviour. Here’s an overview of potential jail terms for repeat DUI offences:

  • Second DUI Offence: A conviction for a second DUI offence can lead to a mandatory minimum jail time of 30 days, with a maximum imprisonment of up to 10 years.
  • Third DUI Offence: If convicted of a third DUI offence, the mandatory minimum imprisonment increases to 120 days, with a maximum jail time of up to 10 years.
  • Subsequent DUI Offences: For subsequent DUI offences beyond the third, the mandatory minimum jail term continues to rise, indicating the severity of the legal consequences.

Imprisonment for DUI Causing Injury or Death in Ontario

In Ontario, the potential for imprisonment exists for those convicted of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death.

DUI Causing Bodily Harm:

  • Sentencing Guidelines: The mandatory minimum sentences for DUI causing bodily harm are the same as those for basic DUI offences.
  • Summary Conviction: When tried as a summary conviction offence, the penalties may include fines, licence suspension, and other consequences, but imprisonment is not mandatory.
  • Indictable Conviction: The maximum penalty increases to 14 years of imprisonment if convicted as an indictable offence.

DUI Causing Death:

  • Sentencing Guidelines: The mandatory minimum sentences for DUI causing death are the same as for basic DUI offences.
  • Judicial Discretion: Judges have significant discretion in determining appropriate sentences, considering aggravating circumstances and the severity of the offence.
  • Maximum Penalty: While the mandatory minimum sentences apply, judges may impose a punishment greater than the minimum $1,000 fine. The maximum penalty for DUI causing death is life imprisonment, reflecting the gravity of the offence.

Factors Influencing the Jail Time for DUI Ontario:

The court considers various factors when determining the severity of punishment for DUI offences. These factors include:

  • Prior Criminal Record: A history of previous DUI or criminal convictions can influence the sentencing outcome, potentially leading to more severe penalties, including longer jail terms.
  • Degree of Impairment: The level of impairment caused by alcohol or drugs can impact the sentencing decision. Higher levels of impairment may result in stricter punishments.
  • Aggravating Circumstances: Aggravating circumstances can amplify the severity of punishment. Here are examples of such cases:
    • Causing bodily harm or death while under the influence.
    • Refusing to provide a breath or blood sample.
    • Driving under the influence with a suspended license.
    • Engaging in dangerous or reckless driving behaviours.
    • Being involved in an accident resulting in property damage or injuries.
    • Impaired driving with a child in the motor vehicle.
    • Fleeing the scene of an accident while under the influence.
    • Violating court-imposed conditions related to previous DUI convictions.
    • Engaging in evasive actions to avoid detection or arrest by law enforcement.
    • Driving a commercial vehicle while impaired.
  • Mitigating Factors: Conversely, presenting strong mitigating factors, such as evidence of rehabilitation efforts, attending substance abuse programs, or showing remorse, may help in reducing the severity of the sentence.
  • Defence strategy: The effectiveness of the defence strategy employed, including challenging evidence, presenting alternative explanations, or highlighting procedural errors, can affect the likelihood of imprisonment.

It’s important to note that each DUI case is unique, and the final outcome depends on factors specific to the situation and the court’s discretion. 

Alternative Options for DUI Jail Time Ontario

Ontario’s criminal justice system recognizes that incarceration may not always be the most effective approach for every DUI offender. As a result, alternative sentencing options are available to provide alternatives to jail while still addressing the underlying issues and promoting rehabilitation. These alternative options can include:

  • Probation and Community Service: Instead of serving Ontario DUI jail time, a judge may impose probation, which requires regular check-ins, adherence to specific conditions, and community service hours. It allows offenders to remain in the community while serving their sentence.
  • Mandatory Education and Treatment Programs: Offenders may be required to attend compulsory education and treatment programs to address substance abuse issues and prevent future DUI offences. These programs can include alcohol education, counselling, or rehabilitation programs.
  • Ignition Interlock Devices: In some cases, judges may order the installation of ignition interlock devices in the offender’s vehicle. These devices require the driver to provide a breath sample before starting the vehicle, ensuring they are alcohol-free. It allows individuals to continue driving while providing a safety measure to prevent further DUI incidents.

However, it’s important to note that the availability and suitability of these options vary depending on the specifics of each case. Consulting with a knowledgeable Ontario DUI lawyer is essential to navigate the legal landscape effectively and determine the most appropriate alternative sentencing strategy for your situation.

Remember, the question “Can you go to jail for a DUI?” is valid, but there are viable alternatives that prioritize rehabilitation and community safety. 

Together, we will work towards achieving the best possible outcome in your DUI case in Ontario. Call X-COPS for FREE initial consultation NOW!


Here we've prepared a short list of frequently asked questions in order to provide quick answers to anyone who's looking for information associated with the topic. If you need more clarification, please don't hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.

👉Can you go to jail for a first-time DUI in Ontario?

Yes, going to jail for a first-time DUI in Ontario is possible. Under Canada's Criminal Code, a first-time DUI offence can carry a maximum jail sentence of up to 10 years.

However, it's important to note that most first-time DUI offenders do not receive a jail sentence. The severity of the punishment depends on various factors, such as the circumstances of the offence, any aggravating factors, and the individual's criminal history.

👉What factors determine whether a person will go to jail for a DUI in Ontario?

The potential for jail time in an Ontario DUI case depends on various factors, including prior convictions, aggravating circumstances (such as bodily harm or death), criminal history, cooperation with authorities, defence strategy, and mitigating factors. To understand your specific situation, it is advisable to consult with an experienced DUI lawyer.

👉Can you go to jail for impaired driving in Ontario?

Yes, impaired driving is a serious criminal offence in Ontario, and it can result in jail time if convicted. The specific length of imprisonment depends on various factors, including the circumstances of the offence, prior convictions, and aggravating factors. It is essential to consult with a DUI lawyer to understand the potential consequences based on your specific situation.

Thank you!