Here is a link to “Death of a Cyclist,” a detailed article by Keith Griffith in the Chicago Reader about the lives of Bobby Cann and Ryne San Hamel. Cann is the bicyclist who was (allegedly) killed earlier this year in a collision with a vehicle driven by San Hamel. Hamel has been charged with reckless homicide and aggravated DUI.
This was a horrible tragedy, but I take issue with Griffith’s claim that we have a broken system when it comes to DUIs in Illinois.
The article states when he was 18 Hamel was arrested for zero tolerance and when he was 19 he was arrested for a DUI. The “charges were ultimately dismissed, which is the norm in Illinois for DUI defendants who can afford a private attorney.” A few paragraphs below, the article states that “In Illinois, fewer than a third of DUI arrests ended in conviction in 2011, the most recent year reported. Most cases end up under court supervision, an option unique to Illinois. If an offender successfully completes the court supervision period, the case is dismissed and the charges dropped.”
In other words, when Griffith says the norm is dismissal, he means that the norm is supervision.
So what does this mean? According to the Secretary of State, 29% of DUIs result in convictions and 66% result in supervision (a disposition only available for first time offenders). Only 5% of cases fit into “other” which I assume means either not guilty, reduced to a lesser charge or some other type of dismissal.
So this means that in Illinois, the prosecution wins 95% of the time in DUI cases!
Now it is true that supervision, upon successful completion, is a dismissal under Illinois law. However, it is not truly a “dismissal” considering that the typical person sentenced to supervision gets a record, pays thousands of dollars in court fines, monitoring fees, alcohol treatment costs, plus has to do alcohol treatment and often must perform community service. The Secretary of State’s fact book puts the cost of a DUI at $16,580. That will put the average DUI offender at or near bankruptcy. Plus, a DUI supervision cannot be expunged, will affect job opportunities and will remain on a record that police, prosecutors and the Secretary of State can access.
Another claim that the article makes is that “it seems one key to getting off easy is being arrested in the suburbs… In plea deals, village attorneys can reduce charges or overturn license suspensions in exchange for adding hefty fines, [Cathy] Stanley [court watch director for the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists] says. Prosecutors in the state’s attorney’s office, by contrast, ‘work much harder getting convictions.’”
In my opinion, this claim is vastly overrated, particularly in Lake County, where most of the private village prosecutions are handled by just a few attorneys who are under great pressure to aggressively prosecute DUI cases, and deals for fines are rare. Even when they occur, it is because the underlying case is weak, something the Alliance will never concede.
The article quotes DUI defense attorney Don Ramsell, whose practice is mainly in DuPage County, where these sorts of deals are more prevalent.
The article complains about a “broken system” but doesn’t have any solutions. According to the Secretary of State 85% of DUIs are committed by first offenders. The number of recidivists are small. The system is working.
Does the Reader want to change a system that keeps most first offenders from repeating the offense? Do we really want to send every first offender to jail? Would that do anything? Or is this just sensationalist journalism?