Illinois considering bill allowing 18 year olds to drink under parent’s supervision

House Bill 494, a bill pending in the Illinois legislature, would allow 18 to 21 year olds to drink beer or wine in the presence and supervision of a parent or guardian, including restaurants whose primary purpose is not the sale of alcohol.

According to Eater Chicago, 10 other states already allow this.  They are Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

What do you think?

In Illinois, a fourth DUI is a mandatory minimum three years in prison

There was a story in today’s Chicago Tribune about a 52 year old Naperville woman who was sentenced to three years in prison for her fourth DUI.

She was not involved in an accident.  It sounds like she was being cooperative with the police.  She consented to a breath test.

Unlike a certain well-publicized case where a drunk driver killed a bicyclist and received only ten days in jail, this woman is going to prison.

This was not a case of a judge being harsh.  Actually, the judge was being lenient.  This drunk driver received the mandatory minimum sentence.

In Illinois, a fourth DUI is a Class 2 felony, punishable from three to seven years.  Probation is not permitted in such a case (on the other hand, probation is allowed in DUI death cases when there is “exceptional circumstances”).

Here is the relevant section of the DUI statute (625 ILCS 5/11-501(d)(2)(C)):

A fourth violation of this Section or a similar
    
provision is a Class 2 felony, for which a sentence of probation or conditional discharge may not be imposed.

So, as the saying goes, “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

Marijuana decriminalization bill signed by Gov, ends “Zero Tolerance” Pot DUI law

Governor Rauner signed into law SB 92228, which makes possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana a fine only offense, and sets a new legal limit for operating under the influence of cannabis, replacing a zero tolerance standard and replacing it with a new “legal limit” of 5 nanograms of THC per mililiter of whole blood (or 10 nanograms in saliva or other bodily substance).

Not affected by this change is the previous law that also made it a DUI offense to drive or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis.

The fine for marijuana possession under 10 grams will be a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $200.  Anyone cited for possession of marijuana paraphernalia at the same time will only be subject to a fine in a similar amount.

Since possession of marijuana under 10 grams is now a civil violation instead of a criminal offense, the legislature was able to ease the prosecution’s burden of proof.  A crime lab testing showing that the substance was tested and proven to be marijuana is no longer required; the prosecution can establish its case either through opinion testimony by the arresting officer (with the proper foundation) or use of a properly conducted field test.

Under the new law, anyone fined for possession of marijuana in an amount less than 10 grams will have their citation automatically expunged, if they have paid their fine and completed their sentence.  The Clerk is to expunge these cases twice a year, on or before January 1 and July 1.

 

Task Force Reports highlights problems with IL court fees

I have been a practicing attorney since 1994.  In that time, the cost of filing a civil lawsuit has gone up over 50%, with the additional costs going to fund the court system.

But far worse has been the exponential rise in court costs that are taxed on criminal defendants.  For example, in 1994, a typical Chicago DUI defendant would get a fine in the amount of $200 or $300 plus a $5 “spinal fund fee.”  Over the years, additional fees have been added, supposedly to pay for clerks, state’s attorneys, police, emergency services, etc. In 2016,  a typical defendant in a Chicago case pays an additional $1,339 in costs, in addition to fines.  Since these costs are now so high, they are often not given a “base fine” but still the total fines, fees and costs are over $1,000 more today than they were 20 years ago.  That is an increase of 333%.

It is no coincidence that the rise of these fines began after George H.W. Bush was hammered for breaking his “no new taxes” pledge.  Ever since, politicians in Illinois have found it much easier to raise additional income through regressive fines and sales taxes (probably the biggest increase over the last 20 years has been on cigarette taxes, even though smokers are addicted to the product and the demographics of smokers tend skew towards low income individuals).

These costs are applied regardless of a person’s income, so that they hit hardest on the poor.  Furthermore, the courts are not allowed to waive these costs or allow the defendant to work it off by doing community service.

The Illinois Statutory Court Fee Task Force has issued a report about this growing problem.

In their report they found four key problems:

  1.  The nature and purpose of assessments have changed over time, leading to a byzantine system that attempts to pass an increased share of the cost of court administration onto the parties to court proceedings.
  2. Court fines and fees are constantly increasing and are outpacing inflation
  3. There is excessive variation across the state in the amount of assessments for the same type of proceedings.
  4. The cumulative impact of the assessments imposed on parties to civil lawsuits and defendants in criminal and traffic proceedings imposes severe and disproportionate impacts on low- and moderate-income Illinois residents.

Their recommendations;

  1. The Illinois General Assembly should enact a schedule for court assessments that promotes affordability and transparency.
  2. The General Assembly and the Supreme Court should authorize amendments to the current civil fee waiver statute and related Supreme Court Rule, respectively, to provide financial relief from assessments in civil cases to Illinois residents living in or near poverty.
  3. The General Assembly should authorize a uniform assessment schedule for criminal and traffic case types that is consistent throughout the state.
  4. The General Assembly and the Supreme Court should authorize the waiver or reduction of assessments, but not judicial fines, imposed on criminal defendants living in or near poverty.
  5. The General Assembly and the Supreme Court should modify the process by which fines for minor traffic offenses are calculated under Supreme Court Rule 529.
  6. The General Assembly should routinely consult a checklist of important considerations before proposing new assessments, and should periodically consult the checklist in reviewing existing assessments.

I hope the legislature gives the Task Force’s report due consideration and implements their suggestions.

State that leads nation in wrongful convictions passes bill to make them more plentiful

In a rational world, when a state leads the nation in wrongful convictions, and has spent over 150 million dollars in payouts for those wrongfully convicted, it should be working on improving its forensic science, not trying to cover it up.

But then again, this is Illinois.

From ABC News:

Nine months after the I-Team uncovered a pattern of forensic failures in the Illinois state crime lab, the general assembly has passed a new law that could keep such information from the public.

The I-Team found a culture of law and disorder at Illinois state police crime labs last fall. We obtained internal audits and reports that revealed blood and urine testing errors and bad testing methods that jeopardized criminal cases. Now, legislation headed to Governor Rauner would allow state police officials to make up their own rules and keep such information from defendants and the public.

 “It’s a sheep in wolves clothing,” said defense attorney Don Ramsell.

Wheaton attorney Don Ramsell regularly subpoenas test results and data from here at the Illinois state crime lab when he defends motorists charged with drunken driving.

Under a new law passed by the Illinois House yesterday, Ramsell says state police will be able to withhold some of the most crucial crime lab information. Including, he says, the kinds of mistakes uncovered by the I-Team last year. These mistakes included: test samples switched, names that didn’t match, wrongly run vials of evidence, general inaccuracies, incorrect methods and destruction of evidence.

“It’s an attempt by the Illinois state police crime lab to try to limit the amount of information they have to turn over to the defense. This way they can hide whatever mistakes errors or method problems that you and the I-Team discovered last year,” said Ramsell.

The forensic failures discovered by the I-Team last fall appeared to put criminal cases in jeopardy and raised the possibility that charges and convictions would have to be thrown out due to faulty lab tests.

But the legislation headed to the governor’s desk would allow state crime lab officials to insulate themselves from future failures.

Ramsell says they will do this by keeping the information under wraps.

“The purpose of the law is to prevent the defense attorneys from getting any of the information we have been able to get in the past. They are going to try to set up rules so the mistakes and errors don’t become the types of information they have to turn over any more,” said Ramsell.

Ramsell says this would be the first law in the u.s. Allowing a police crime lab to decide what information to provide to defendants and attorneys. The Illinois state police did not respond to our questions about their role in getting the legislation passed, but following our original reporting the state police director defended crime lab testing methods.

No word on Wednesday on how Gov. Rauner looks at this, but the bill will be on his desk.

For more information on this legislation, click here.

 

Amended bill setting “legal limit” for marijuana DUIs sent to Governor

Last August, Governor Rauner vetoed a bill which would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and replaced Illinois’ “zero tolerance” cannabis DUI law with a “legal limit” of 15 nanograms of THC per milliliter of whole blood. At the time, the Governor stated that he recommended a limit of 5 nanograms, the standard adopted by Colorado.

The State legislature has now passed a new bill which incorporates the Governor’s objections to last year’s bill.

From the Chicago Tribune:

House lawmakers sent Gov. Bruce Rauner legislation on Wednesday to decriminalize marijuana across Illinois, meaning people caught with small amounts of marijuana would be fined instead of receiving jail time.

The legislation incorporates changes the Republican governor suggested when he used his amendatory veto powers to rewrite similar legislation last year. Rauner said the old version would have let people carry too much marijuana and set fines too low.

The new edition drops the number of grams allowed from 15 to 10 and raises the range of fines from $55 to $125 to between $100 and $200. Municipalities could add to the fines and implement other penalties, such as a requirement for drug treatment. Citations would be automatically expunged twice a year, on Jan. 1 and July 1.

Under current Illinois law, possession of up to 10 grams is a class B misdemeanor that could result in up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,500…

The bill also would loosen the state’s zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence. As it stands, a driver can be charged if any trace of marijuana is detected, even if it was ingested weeks before and the driver shows no signs of impairment. Under the newest proposal, drivers would not be charged with a DUI unless they have 5 nanograms or more of THC in their blood, or 10 nanograms or more of THC in their saliva.

New study raises problems in setting “legal limit” for marijuana DUIs

From the Chicago Tribune (story by Mary Wisniewski):

Legal blood limits for marijuana are not an accurate way to measure whether someone was driving while impaired, and can lead to unsafe drivers going free while others are wrongfully convicted, according to a new study.

The study released Tuesday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers can have a low level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in their blood and be unsafe behind the wheel, while others with relatively high levels may not be a hazard.

Marijuana is not metabolized in the system in the same way as alcohol. So while a person with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher is considered too drunk to drive, it’s not possible to say the same thing absent other evidence about a person testing at 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood of THC — the level used to find impairment by Colorado, Montana and Washington, the study found.

The difference matters, because Illinois and 11 other states have laws that forbid any level of marijuana in the system while driving. A pot decriminalization bill being considered in the Illinois legislature would raise the level to 5 ng/ml. The bill faces opposition from law enforcement and anti-pot advocates.

Efforts to legally measure marijuana impairment have become a major concern for lawmakers as more states move to legalize cannabis, either for medical use or adult recreational use. Four states have legalized pot for recreational use by adults, and 24 states — including Illinois, plus Washington, D.C. — allow medical use, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a D.C.-based advocacy group.

“It’s an attempt to try to do an apples-to-apples comparison with blood alcohol concentration,” said Chris Lindsey, senior legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. He noted that the AAA findings echo earlier research. “They found out that these things can’t really be compared.”

Another problem is that high THC levels may drop before a test is administered, because the average time to collect blood from a suspect driver is often two hours, the AAA study found. Frequent pot users can exhibit high levels of the drug long after use, while levels can decline rapidly among occasional users, so it is difficult to develop fair guidelines, the study found.

Because of the problem in measuring whether someone is impaired with a blood test, AAA urged states to also look at behavioral and physiological evidence through field sobriety tests, such as seeing whether a driver has bloodshot eyes or is able to stand on one leg.

“That kind of testing has proved effective in court,” said J.T. Griffin, chief government affairs officer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD.

He pointed to a 2015 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that found no big crash risk associated with people driving with marijuana in their system but says more study is needed. Alcohol remains the biggest drug problem on the highways, he said.

Read the full story here:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-marijuana-driving-study-aaa-20160509-story.html