Illinois Anti-DUI Program Under Scrutiny

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In Kane County, Illinois, an anti-DUI pilot program has raised abuse-of-power questions significant enough to cause several departments to drop out of the program. According to State’s Attorney John Barsanti, two police agencies have declined to participate following initial operations. The Chicago Tribune’s Clifford Ward provides the particulars:

Kane County began its "no-refusal" program this year. It's intended to target drivers suspected of intoxication who are unwilling to blow into a Breathalyzer. Three weekends have been used as test cases for the new policy, in which prosecutors and a judge are always on call to authorize search warrants intended to compel suspected drunken drivers into providing a breath or blood sample.

Declining to provide a sample results in an automatic suspension of driving privileges in Illinois, but for repeat DUI offenders about to face another arrest, this suspension is better than the automatic revocation of their license, which would occur if they were found to be over the limit again. In addition, prosecuting such a case is much more difficult without a sample.

Still, the idea of "compulsion" does not sit well with many in law enforcement.

"The bottom line is we’re reaching out to all these various departments and if they're not interested, it's not going to happen again," says Barsanti, who plans to meet with the concerned agencies and determine their specific concerns. Barsanti sums up the conventional concerns over the program:

"There are some people who think that if I have a glass of wine with my steak dinner, then some Gestapo police officer will pull me over and stick a needle in my arm."

The State's Attorney's office contends that the "no-refusal" policy has resulted in many convictions. In many cases, those convicted were repeat offenders and those with blood alcohol levels beyond the legal limit of .08%.

No driver is physically forced to provide a sample under "no-refusal," and the standard for an arrest has not changed. Drivers are still targeted because of erratic driving or other probable cause, and are still charged if they display initial signs of intoxication.

So far, just two drivers have refused to give a sample, and their fates show a court system still working things out. The first was charged with contempt of court and later cleared, and the second was charged with obstruction of justice and is still in court contesting the charge.

In suburban St. Charles, Mayor Donald DeWitte has not heard any negative feedback from his constituency, and Jim Lamkin, his Chief of Police, feels that the policy has had a real impact. Over a recent St. Patrick’s Day operation, only 3 arrests were made, showing what Lamkin says is the success of the publicity surrounding the "no refusal" weekend.

According to Lamkin, State's Attorney Barsanti has "done a good job of letting the public know in advance—that helps people think twice."

Still, several police agencies appear to have concerns that even though the program appears to be effective, it may not be ethical. Until their concerns are heard, the future of the program remains in doubt.

Source: Chicago Tribune


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