The director of Australia's largest television network has narrowly avoided jail for high-range drink driving.
Darren Wick, Channel Nine's director of news and current affairs appeared at Hornsby Local Court on 20 January 2021 after being caught driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) more than four times over the legal limit.
It was Wick's second brush with the law after a similar offence in 2010.
He was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment to be served by way of an Intensive Corrections Order.
Darren Wick Caught Drink Driving
That all came crashing down when Wick, who has been in the top job at Nine's news division since 2012, was pulled over on October 16 with a BAC reading of 0.227.
On 16 October 2020, Wick had lunch at a restaurant and caught an Uber back to the Channel Nine office in Willoughby. The office had a farewell function for a colleague where the 58-year-old, “drank and he drank and he drank”.
Following the function, he got behind the wheel of his Jeep Grand Cherokee and drove about 1.2km to the corner of Mowbray Road and Penshurst Street.
He was intending driving to his Narrabeen home, some 20km away.
Police stopped him at approximately 6.30pm when they saw his vehicle mount the footpath on Willoughby Road before returning to the bitumen then grazing the gutter as he turned left onto Mowbray Road.
He was stopped, breath-tested, arrested and taken to Chatswood police station. There, he was charged with high range drink driving.
The police said that Mr Wick was so intoxicated that he almost fell onto the road before being arrested.
The facts sheet read, “It is the opinion of police that the accused was well-affected by intoxicating liquor at the time. This was due to him being unsteady on his feet and needing support to stand or walk on several occasions. When the accused was first asked to exit his vehicle the accused almost fell from the vehicle onto the roadway and whilst waiting to enter the police vehicle the accused held himself steady by holding onto a nearby road sign.”
Officers asked the 58-year-old how much had to drink. He responded saying that he had consumed one beer and three glasses of white wine whilst at a work function in Willoughby between the hours of 1.15pm and 3.30pm that afternoon.
He also said that he consumed snacks such as spring rolls and san choy bow.
Apology to Colleagues
The media director emailed his work colleagues a few days after he was arrested, apologising for his actions.
He also admitted that he was struggling with alcoholism and seeking professional help.
“Sadly, in a moment of unacceptable madness, I've let you down…Last Friday evening, I stupidly jumped behind the wheel of my car drunk and attempted to drive home. I was pulled over by police in Willoughby and tested positive to high range drink driving, more than four times over the legal limit.”
He further explained:
“There was no rational reason for me to do this. And I've played the events over in my head repeatedly during the past few days. What made me snap? The answer is that I have face the reality that I have an addiction to alcohol that I have been struggling to control for some time.”
Despite the issues he was dealing with, Mr Wick said that would continue working but he may spend more time out of the office.
He also advised colleagues who might also be struggling with substance abuse to seek professional help.
“I want to make this right. If any of you are considering making the same kind of decision I did, please don't. Don't risk it and if you think you have a problem, get help.”
Drink Driving Lawyer Appears at Hornsby Local Court
Darren Wick's drink driving lawyers spoke on his behalf at Hornsby Local Court.
Addressing Magistrate Robyn Denes at the sentencing, they said that by the time the Channel Nine director was leaving the office he was incapable of making a sensible decision.
It was also suggested that Mr Wick was a ‘functional alcoholic'.
Much was made of the stress he was under at work as well as a double hip replacement.
It was suggested that the 58-year-old had effectively been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In the months leading up to the offence, Mr Wick had suffered anxiety over 60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown and her crew being detained in Beirut. This was due to a story which led to a failed attempt to bring two children back to Australia in 2016.
Throughout 2020 he had also been facing the challenges of covering a number of significant news events such as the bushfires and the outbreak of the pandemic.
In 2019, Wick underwent surgery to have both of his hips replaced. Unfortunately one of them became infected and required the replacement to be removed.
Because of this, he had been unable to exercise for six weeks and reverted to consuming alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Prior drink driving charge
This was not Darren Wick's first brush with the law.
In 2010 he was sentenced for an offence of mid-range drink driving.
Despite the length of time between the offences, the prior charge disentitled Wick to any leniency on sentence.
Indeed, Magistrate Denes referred to his decision to drive was “incomprehensible” given his previous drink-diving offence and senior media position.
Attempts at Reform
Since his arrest, Mr Wick was aid to have accepted his alcoholism. His high range drink driving lawyers told Hornsby Local Court, “he now calls himself an alcoholic. He understands he's an alcoholic.”
Wick checked into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic for 21 days from 26 October 2020 before returning to work. As part of the program, he will continue seeing counsellors twice-weekly for 12-months.
Further, the media coverage of his offending had reached more than nine million people according to Mr Wick's drink driving lawyers.
The Magistrate at Hornsby Local Court, Robyn Denes said a custodial sentence was appropriate. However, she accepted that it could be served in the community.
As such, she sentenced Darren Wick to a nine-month intensive corrections order. He was also disqualified from driving for nine months and ordered to complete 100 hours of community service.
Currently, community corrections are not running community service work. Because of this, Mr Wick will be credited 7 hours per week until the 100 hours are concluded unless community service work recommences before the 100 hours are completed.
Consequences of an Intensive Corrections Order
While an intensive corrections order (ICO) is an alternative to full time imprisonment, it still has long standing consequences.
As the length of Mr Wick's ICO is greater than 6 months, the charge will remain on Mr Wick's record for the rest of his life.
This is because an ICO is still technically a term of imprisonment. Pursuant to the Criminal Records Act 1991 (NSW), any term of imprisonment greater than 6 months will stay on a persons record for life.
Had Mr Wick been sentenced to a non-custodial sentence or a term of imprisonment less than 6 months, the offence would become a ‘spent conviction' after 10 years.
This means that it would not appear on his record after 10 years.
Given Mr Wick's high profile role, there could be consequences for his career and ability to travel due to the ICO.
It is unclear whether he intends to lodge a severity appeal to reduce the sentence.
High Range Drink Driving Charges
High range drink driving is defined as driving a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration between 0.150 and above.
Under Section 110(5) the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW), in order for you to be found guilty of ‘High range drink driving', the prosecution must prove:
1. You were driving a vehicle;
2. You had a blood alcohol concentration above 0.0150
If you are convicted of a High range drink driving offence, you will be subject to the mandatory interlock program unless you are granted an exemption.
If you are not convicted of this offence, you will avoid a disqualification. However, since the Guideline Judgement on drink driving was handed down, receiving non-convictions are exceedingly rare. For serious examples of high range drink driving, a term of imprisonment can be imposed.
The maximum penalty for High Range Drink Driving (first offence) is 18 months imprisonment and/or a fine of $3300.
The maximum penalty for High Range Drink Driving (Second or Subsequent offence) is 24 months imprisonment and/or a fine of $5500.
Sentencing statistics for high range drink driving cases set out that sentences of imprisonment are rare, but not impossible. Below are statistics for the last ten years:
- Section 10 dismissal: 0%
- Section 10 bond (Conditional release order without conviction): 2%
- Fine: 41%
- Section 9 good behaviour bond (Conditional release order with conviction): 29%
- Community Service Order (Community Corrections Order): 11%
- Section 12 suspended sentence: 2% (no longer used in NSW)
- Intensive Corrections Order: 2%
- Home Detention (no longer used in NSW): 1%
- Full Time Imprisonment: 5%
High range PCA offences are taken very seriously by the Courts. The maximum penalty includes jail time, as well as significant disqualifications.
Despite this there have been a number of recent examples of these charges being dismissed after an accused retains experienced criminal defence lawyers. Having the best criminal lawyers will go a long way towards beating these charges.
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