Illinois: The leader in DUI prosecutions?

Illinois Gets Highest Rating from MADD

This weekend it was reported that Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) gave Illinois its highest rating.

The Chicago Tribune reports that:

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has given Illinois its highest rating for the state’s efforts to combat impaired driving.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says he’s glad the organization has recognized Illinois “as a national leader in the fight against drunk driving.

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, alcohol-related crash deaths have dropped by more than 38 percent since White took office.

IDOT reports there were 711 alcohol-related crash deaths in 1999, compared to 436 last year.

The group’s rating system focused on efforts including sobriety checkpoints, enhanced penalties for people who drive drunk with children in the vehicle, among other measures.”

Many in the State Legislature will congratulate themselves for properly kow-towing to this powerful advocacy group.

And make no mistake, MADD does important work in educating the public about the dangers of drunk driving, and they have succeeded in enacting laws that have dramatically reduced the incidences of drunk driving-related fatalities.

Yet…

I believe it is very dangerous to allow an advocacy group to totally dominate public policy decisions.

This is especially true in criminal law, which at its best should be about dispassionate and rational justice.

But it is easy to lose our way, particularly in the DUI area, especially whenever someone needlessly loses their life because of a selfish and thoughtless drunk driver.  We want to punish them and everyone who ever has or ever will have a drink and then get behind the wheel of a car.

So no one wants to speak on behalf of drunk drivers, at least publicly.  Which leaves it to me, speaking to you.

Under the influence of MADD, Illinois and the other 49 states have been slowly but surely taking away discretion from judges and the Secretary of State.  I have already discussed how the Secretary of State cannot give any type of reinstatement to anyone who has had four DUI convictions in their lifetime — no matter how long ago, what their individual circumstances are or where they live now.  They could be living in Alaska, need dialysis three times a week and be unable to process alcohol, yet Illinois cannot give them driving relief.  I have also explained how judges must find people guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol if they were just sitting in a vehicle without any intent to drive.

Over the past few years, Illinois’ DUI statute has been amended frequently to add or increase “mandatory minimum” sentences that give a judge no discretion whatsoever.  So, for example, I recently had a case where a client had three prior DUIs, all of them more than 20 years ago, and was now charged with a fourth case.  He was not involved in an accident.  There was no impaired driving.  In fact, he didn’t commit any moving violation.  He was stopped at a roadblock, and the officers detected an odor of alcohol on his breath.  He was faced with a mandatory minimum of three years in the penitentiary, and the possibility of a maximum sentence of up to seven years for this.  Faced with this, he would have gladly plead guilty if he could have received probation (the likely sentence for this type of offense and background prior to the mandatory minimum).  But because this was not an option, we were forced to trial, and thankfully, we received a finding of not guilty.  Had we not, his life would have been ruined.

More on mandatory minimums to follow …

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