A recent ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court has proven controversial in the months following the decision as prosecutors have begun using it as a new weapon in DUI cases. Charges in DUI cases may be upgraded without evidence of a driver’s impairment at the time of the accident.
In April, the court ruled that drivers in fatal driving accidents could be found guilty of a felony if trace amounts of an illegal drug are found in their bodies.
The new ruling means prosecutors no longer have to prove that drugs contributed to a crash, simply that they were present in a driver’s system. In the original case, a felony conviction was upheld against a pickup truck driver showing traces of methamphetamine after he crashed and killed two people.
Just one month later, prosecutors in DuPage County used the Supreme Court’s ruling to upgrade a misdemeanor charge to felony aggravated DUI involving drugs. That upgrade changed the defendant’s possible sentencing from 12 months of jail time to three to 14 years in prison.
At least four prosecutions in Cook, DuPage and Kane counties have already applied the Supreme Court’s opinion, each involving alleged use of illegal drugs.
The new precedent has safety advocates applauding the decision, while defense lawyers suggest it may misinterpret the intent behind Illinois’ drunken-driving laws.
“What they’re saying is just because you used drugs in the past, even though you could be safe on the road at the present time, we don’t want you on our highways, and that’s questionable,” a Wheaton, Ill., DUI attorney told the Chicago Tribune.
Others concerned claim the decision may put prescription drug users at risk as the law applies to both illicit drugs and controlled substances. Drivers may be unaware of how long a drug can be detected in their system.
Prior to the court’s ruling, it was necessary to show impairment in a fatal drug-related crash, which was often difficult without a set standard such as the .08 blood alcohol limit for drunk driving.
The ruling grew out of a crash on Christmas Day 2004 when Aaron Martin, 24, left a Peoria bar in his pickup and missed a curve, hitting a car head-on and killing a 50-year old woman and her elderly mother. Trace amounts of methamphetamine were found in the driver’s urine, but no alcohol.
Martin was convicted of aggravated DUI involving drugs by a Peoria County jury, and the judge sentenced him to six years in prison. The conviction was overturned in August 2009 by a state appeals court, after prosecutors failed to show a causal relationship between the drugs and the driving accident.
The appellate decision was then overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court when the justices ruled “no causal connection” was needed due to Illinois’ longstanding zero-tolerance stance on drugged driving. The court’s opinion suggests the real crime is bad driving, which is why proof of impairment is not necessary.
An Illinois man, Cecil Conner, was found guilty of the drunk driving death of his girlfriend’s 5-year-old son.
The conviction came after Conner’s defense team attempted to shift some of the blame for the child’s death to a police officer. The jury decided, after hours of deliberation in the Will County courtroom, that Conner alone was responsible for the tragic outcome of the May 10 DUI crash.
Conner crashed into a tree, drove through a fence, and hit another tree in the accident that killed young Michael Langford, Jr., before being charged with drunk driving, according to an article in the Herald-News.
Part of Conner’s unsuccessful DUI defense was the claim that police had some part to play in his drunk driving and subsequent accident. He argued that police arrested his girlfriend, his designated driver, on a suspended license during a previous traffic stop, then ordered him to drive home. Conner claimed that they threatened to arrest him if he didn’t drive away.
Conner was drunk, and family members have criticized law enforcement for, according to their story, ignoring the fact that he was an impaired driver when they ordered him to drive home.
The prosecution in the case successfully argued that Conner alone was responsible for the decision to drive drunk and endanger the child.
Per Illinois DUI law, Conner could face up to 14 years behind bars. He’ll be sentenced in May.
Conner admitted to being drunk following a house party. His girlfriend, Kathie LaFond, was driving, but was arrested on the way home. Conner took the wheel, and police said that neither Conner nor LaFond informed the police that he had been drinking that night. Prosecution were also skeptical that police ordered Conner to drive home.
Conner, however, continued to drive drunk, even after he called a friend for help. The friend told him to stop the car, but Conner drove on, reaching 66 miles per hour at points, before he drove over several lawns, through trees, catapulting his car to the point that it uprooted a tree.
Young Langford did not survive the poor decision.
The jury deliberated for nine hours before reaching its guilty verdict on two aggravated drunk driving charges.
Unfortunately, as we’ve chronicled many times before, driving under the influence and poor decision-making tend to go hand-in-hand.
In a couple of incidents reported in the news recently, alleged drunk drivers endangered children — a far too common occurrence — and police in two separate incidents stemming from DUI.
The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that a man is accused of driving drunk and texting, all with four children in the back seat of his SUV.
Ruben Rodriguez was seen by police to be speeding and texting on a Sunday. They pulled him over and determined that he was driving under the influence.
They also learned that he had four children in the back seat of his Kia sport utility vehicle.
The man was also driving with a driver’s license that required him to drive only vehicles with an ignition interlock device to measure his blood alcohol content before starting the car. The Kia that he was driving did not have the interlock device.
Because of that violation, police charged him with a driving with a suspended license charge.
Rodriguez has been charged with several crimes, including four counts of child endangerment, speeding, improper lane usage, driving with a suspended license and texting while driving.
In Missouri Valley, Iowa, a man faces charges that could land him in jail for up to a decade after he allegedly stole a police car after being pulled over from DUI.
RadioIowa features an article reporting that Richard Garule was pulled over under suspicion of drunk driving early on a Tuesday morning. The police officer saw firearms of some kind in the vehicle, so he put Garule in the front seat of his police cruiser.
Garule then apparently hopped over to the driver’s side, locked the doors of the patrol car and drove away, escaping attempts by the the deputy to keep him from leaving.
Garule allegedly wrecked the cop car in another town, then stole another SUV. That SUV was found in Blair, Nebraska. Garule was taking a nap inside.
The series of charges that he faces after his apparent joyride could lead to ten years in prison.
An Illinois DUI judge threw the book at 25-year-old Edward Clark after he hit and killed David Long and his dog Shadow, who were out walking early one morning last year.
The judge convicted Cook of reckless homicide, 15 counts of DUI, and one count of unlawful possession of a converted motor vehicle back in May.
Cook was driving down the residential street at a speed of about 50 miles per hour in Batavia, Illinois when he veered off the road and onto the sidewalk, hitting Long and Shadow. Cook was driving a 2003 white Ford Acura that he had borrowed from a friend without permission, according to CBS 2 Chicago.
The toxicology report showed that Cook had alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine in his system, reports the Chicago Tribune.
Cook maintains that he does not have a problem with drugs or alcohol, but his driving privileges had been revoked in 2008 due to an aggravated DUI. Cook was still on parole for that offense at the time of the crash.
Cook also has numerous drug, battery, and theft charges, but has never actually completed one of the sentences for these crimes.
The judge took that into consideration during the sentencing. The judge felt that since Cook doesn’t feel that he has any problems, he should be kept off the streets in order to keep others safe at the very least.
Long’s wife and the Illinois state prosecutors pushed for more, but the judge said case law would not support a charge of first degree murder. Instead, Cook will serve consecutive, rather than concurrent, sentences, leading to a full amount of jail time of fifteen years. He will probably be out on parole in 10 years.
Cook refrained from making a statement to the judge, but did tell his mother that he loved her as he was being led out of the courtroom. Cook has never publicly apologized for killing David Long and his best friend.
Susan Long is satisfied with the sentence, but notes “this is another one of those stories that starts with drinking alcohol and ends with tragedy.”
Yet another public official is in the spotlight for reasons that have nothing to do with civic involvement.
State Representative Ron Stephens pleaded guilty to DUI following a recent arrest in Illinois, according to an article from the Belleville News-Democrat.
He was sentenced to a year of court supervision after the guilty plea, in which he admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol. His driver’s license was also suspended until October 30, though he maintains an active pharmacist’s license.
Stephens was arrested for DUI in March 2010 after he was pulled over by Decatur, Illinois, police. He was given a blood-alcohol test and registered a blood-alcohol content of 0.101, which is over the legal limit of 0.08. The police report said that Stephens had been on his way home from dinner with friends, where he had consumed two Jack and Cokes.
Stephens’ office decided not to comment, and said that Stephens would not discuss the case in interviews or comments beyond a statement that he made to the public after he was arrested in March.
This isn’t Stephens first run-in with the authorities. He is a pharmacist, but his license was put on probation in 2001 when he was found to have diverted controlled substances from his pharmacy to his personal control. He went though 11 weeks of drug rehab that same year. His license was on probation for more than five years after that.
The probation ended in 2007, though he said he didn’t intend to keep up his practice. As of very recently his status as a pharmacist was listed as active.
Recently the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation said that they didn’t intend to renew his pharmacy license. Stephens had a month to request a hearing in that case. According to a spokesman, however, Stephens’ license wasn’t due to expire until 2012.
Stephens, a Republican, has been a member of the state assembly since 1985, minus a two-year stint when he was not elected to the position. As a representative of the 102nd district, he serves a number of counties in southern Illinois, and lives in Greenville, Illinois. He was born in East St. Louis, Illinois.
Illinois Law Allows License Suspensions without DUI
Illinois has a new alcohol-related law that has led to more than 3,000 teenagers losing their driver’s licenses this year. The teens were not accused of DUI, but the “use-lose” law allows for driver’s license suspensions for those caught underage drinking.
The state law was passed after five teens died last year in an alcohol-related crash. Underage drinkers in Illinois may have their driver’s licenses suspended without any involvement with a car or driving…
State Law Provides Illinois DUI Memorial Signs
Under a new Illinois DUI law, memorial signs for those killed in drunken driving accidents may be requested by the victims’ families. A sign with Caitlin’s name and the date of the accident that took her life was the first to be requested under “Tina’s Law.” The law is named for Tina Ball, a construction worker with seven children who was killed by a drunken driver while working on I-57 during September 2003. Read more.
Study Shows Felony Wisconsin DUI Offenders are Avoiding Prison
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that lawmakers intended to get repeat Wisconsin OWI (DUI) offenders off the road. However, an analysis of Wisconsin DUI sentencing has shown that less than half of the people who are sentenced for fifth-offense drunken-driving in Milwaukee County end up serving time in prison. View the full article.
Drug Testing Drivers Could Become as Simple as Breath Tests
The National Institute of Health has recently released research guidelines that may lead to the development of new testing methods for drug abuse that can be used as routinely as breath tests. These guidelines were published in the August journal Addiction. Read on.
ACLU Says Challenges to Ohio’s No Refusal Law Likely
Under the new Ohio DUI law, drivers who have had two or more DUI convictions can be forced by authorities to submit to a blood or urine test to determine their blood alcohol content.
Previously, the law had required that authorities obtain a search warrant from a judge to test a DUI suspect’s blood or urine in situations where no consent was given.
Civil liberties advocates are speaking out about the new DUI law in Ohio, saying that they believe it is unconstitutional.
Find out more about the debate on this new law.
Utah’s Fruitless New Liquor Law
Utah lawmakers have been at it again. The state already has some of the strangest and strictest liquor sales laws in the country, but apparently legislators still felt that there was some tinkering to be done.
Now Utah has become the first state to ban some fruity alcoholic drink sales.
Read the full article.
Party Bus Driver Playing Police or Parent?
And with this time of the year comes pumpkin carving, sweaters and Homecoming – a quasi-holiday for schools that runs from September to November.
Students can’t wait for festivities, which usually mean an early dismissal for a pep rally, parade, football game and dance.
Maybe you or some of your friends drank after the dance – or maybe even before the dance. You were all underage and alcohol is prohibited on school property, but that was a part of the Homecoming ritual – no big deal.
Except for some teenagers in Highland Park, IL, underage drinking became a big deal.
Read more about the controversey here.
Could DUIs across state borders lead to leniency?
The Belleville News-Democrat began an investigation after questions arose about one Alton man’s driving record. Frank M. Durr was charged with a misdemeanor DUI and allowed to strike a plea bargain for a lesser traffic offense.
However, the prosecutors in Madison County were unaware that Durr had a DUI conviction in Missouri from 1999.
If they had known, the prosecutors would not have been as lenient in their plea bargain. The Illinois Secretary of State conducted a check per request of the Belleville News-Democrat revealing that of 17 drivers in Illinois that have been charged with a DUI in Missouri, four people’s DUI convictions are not on their driving records.
Read the full article.
When is a DUI not a DUI?
On September 21 in Tarpon Springs, Florida, a Pinellas County deputy spotted a car traveling at a high rate of speed. The driver reportedly smelled of alcohol and declined to take a breath test, but instead of being arrested for Florida DUI, he was allowed to call for a sober ride.
The Tampa Tribune reported that the driver of the 2007 Dodge Charger stopped for speeding that morning was a Pasco County deputy. In this case, our officers telling us that it’s fine for deputies to drink and drive – recklessly – in their personal vehicles.
An Elgin, Ill. teenager was acquitted of murder after driving his car into a building while drunk. Brian Poliarny was charged with first-degree murder for the crash which killed his passenger, Roman Pokorny. A second passenger was badly injured in the accident.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Kane County prosecutors had argued that Poliarny had intentionally driven into the building in an attempt to kill himself. Judge Grant Wegner said he acquitted Poliarny of the murder charge because there wasn’t clear evidence the teen had intended to kill himself or his passengers.
Poliarny had already pled guilty to two counts of felony DUI. He faces a maximum 26-year sentence on these charges.
US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s daughter was arrested and charged with DUI and child endangerment in Wheaton Illinois. Ann Banaszewski, Justice Scalia’s daughter, was stopped while driving away from a fast food restaurant. Wheaton Deputy Police Chief Tom Meloni said someone had called to police to report an intoxicated driver at a McDonald’s outlet.
Although Meloni said that Banaszewski had submitted to field sobriety tests, he would not comment on the result, would not release her blood alcohol content (BAC), and declined to give information on the three children in the car with Banaszewski. A police officer took the children to the home of family friend.
Bloomington-Normal Illinois police made about the same number of DUI arrests in December 2006 as in the previous December, but drivers arrested in 2006, had an average BAC double their BAC in 2005. Bloomington-Normal police made 19 DUI arrests in December 2006, about the same as the year before, but the average blood alcohol content (BAC) for these drunk drivers was 0.196, more than double the BAC limit for DUI in Illinois. The highest BAC was 0.287, more than three times Illinois’ per-se BAC for DUI.
A Bloomington Police spokesman said the increase may be related to mild temperatures and a lack of snow on roads at the end of 2006.
A newly elected county judge was arrested for DUI in Belleville, Illinois after attending the St. Louis Ram’s game on Sunday. On his way home, the Judge crashed his SUV into a pickup truck causing injury to the pickup truck driver. His passenger, a fellow judge, was allegedly seen holding a can of beer at the time of the accident. Although he told police he had gotten rid of the beer can along the road, the can could not be located.
The judge refused to take a breath test. He was charged with DUI and failure to yield a turn. His passenger has not been charged. Both men were elected as judges in November. Whether either judge will hear DUI cases has not been reported.
A recent change in the way funds obtained through DUI convictions can be spent by law enforcement agencies creates a new incentive for those agencies to up DUI conviction rates.
The $100-200 the law enforcement agency receives for each DUI conviction was once allocated specifically for the purchase of alcohol-enforcement-related equipment like breathalyzer machines.
With the law change, though, those departments have much greater leeway in the disposition of those funds. Read the full story here: Illinois DUI Funding Law
The Illinois DUI law change that took effect in January made all DUI offenses felonies if committed by a driver who lacked either a valid driver’s license or valid automobile insurance at the time of the offense. And now, the criminal court is flooded with new charges.
Lake County anticipates that felony DUI charges in 2006 will double the number filed in 2005 and has hired additional staff to handle the increased caseload.
Other counties have seen similar increases, but have thus far been able to handle the cases by reassigning employees and redistributing the workload.
The full impact of the increased caseload isn’t yet apparent, but Rep. William Black (R-Danville), who sponsored the bill, told the Chicago Tribune that he would ask for revisions if enforcement proved too difficult for judges and prosecutors.