Illinois Supreme Court Upholds Vehicle Forfeitures for Aggravated DUIs and Driving While Revoked

Vehicle forfeitures have become an increasingly popular way for our legislature to be “tough on crime” while at the same time raise additional revenues without raising taxes.  What’s not to like?  So long as you are a State rep and not a family member of someone charged with an aggravated DUI or driving while revoked (DWLR).

Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld a constitutional challenge to the Illinois Vehicle Forfeiture law.   Here is a link to the case: People v. One 1998 GMC, et. al., 2011 IL 110236.

The challenge alleged that the statute was defective because it did not provide for a fast, preliminary hearing to determine whether there was probable cause to hold the vehicle pending trial.  In dismissing the challenge, the court noted that the statute has been recently amended to require such a preliminary hearing within 14 days of the seizure.  720 ILCS 5/36-1.5.

More disconcerting, the Court also stated the following:  “The seizures in the cases before us occurred simultaneously with the aggravated DUI and DWLR arrests for which the police must have probable cause. This probable cause determination is made by trained police officers without a personal economic stake in the matter. Their evaluations are not the type prone to error.”  2011 IL 110236, par 68 (Emphasis added).

It is hard for me as a defense attorney to fathom this comment.  Police officers regularly misevaluate DUI cases.  Just this week, the Chicago Tribune, in a story of the increased frequency of police officers using Tasers, described a case in which a passenger was tased for being unruly while his wife was being subjected to field sobriety tests.  The results of her breath test?  0.000.

Remember TLC’s DUI show?  The show where three of the first twelve defendants had their cases dropped, and a fourth one reduced, as a result of breath or blood tests.  That’s a 33% fail rate right there.

Nor should I have to mention the several Chicago Police Officers who have been caught faking or exaggerating facts in DUI cases over the past few years.

But the bottom line is this: drive while revoked, or get a DUI when you didn’t have a valid driver’s license, or have had two prior DUIs, and you will not only face a serious criminal offense, but additionally you may be faced with a lawsuit seeking forfeiture of the motor vehicle that you were driving when you committed the offense.

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