Cook County will stop prosecuting some traffic offenses

From the Chicago Tribune:

Citing a lack of personnel, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office plans to stop prosecuting certain traffic offenses, a top county official said.

Under a policy expected to take effect later this year, the state’s attorney’s office will not prosecute people accused of driving on licenses that have been suspended or revoked for financial reasons — such as failure to pay child support, tolls or parking tickets.

Instead, individual cities will have the option to prosecute those violations.

“We are in a triage mode, and we can’t continue to do what we were doing 10 years ago with 30 percent less resources,” Eric Sussman, the first assistant state’s attorney, told the Tribune on Wednesday…

In the new policy on traffic cases, Cook County prosecutors will continue to handle cases in which a driver’s license was invalidated because of more serious crimes, such as DUI, fleeing a police officer and reckless homicide.

In addition, the new traffic policy raises the bar for felony charges against people who cause serious car crashes while their licenses were revoked for financial reasons.

Under current law, a driver’s license-related misdemeanor charge can be upgraded to a felony if the driver causes a serious car crash and has one prior conviction for driving on an invalidated license.

Under the new policy, the state’s attorney’s office would upgrade those charges only if the defendant has five or more convictions for driving on a revoked or suspended license, if the license was taken away for money-related reasons.

Utah lowers DUI legal limit to 0.05

Utah is about to become the first state in the nation to lower its DUI “legal limit” to 0.05 BAC, which would put it in line with most other countries and the NTSB’s 2013 recommendation.

The Utah legislature passed the law this week and the Governor is expected to sign it.

Utah has never been an alcohol friendly state, so it is not surprising that it is the first state to pass this type of legislation.  I suspect that other states will follow its lead, but it may take a while. On the other hand,  I do not expect the current Congress to force the states to lower their limit by conditioning receipt of Federal highway funds on doing so (as it did previously to get the states to lower their BAC limits to 0.08 and raise drinking ages to 21).

Going to a 0.05 standard is getting very close to a zero tolerance, “don’t drink and drive” standard, as opposed to our current tolerance for some alcohol consumption so long as the person is not impaired.

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.”

Illinois Court finds that forfeiture of wife’s 35K motorcycle was excessive penalty for hubby’s DUI

In a recent case from the Illinois Appellate Court, Fifth District, in The People ex. rel. Mathew Hartwich v. 2010 Harley Davidson, 2016 Ill. App. (5th) 150035, it was held that Courts must consider whether a forfeiture is an excessive penalty considering the crime committed.

In this case, a married couple drove to a bar.  The motorcycle, a Harley Davidson valued at $35,000, was owned exclusively by the wife.  The wife drove the vehicle to the bar, where she did not drink.  However, her husband, who became intoxicated, insisted on driving home.  He was stopped by police and charged with felony aggravated driving under the influence, because he did not possess a valid driver’s license at the time.  He had only driven 12 blocks to his home.  He had a blood alcohol level of 0.161, twice the legal limit.

The State filed for a vehicle forfeiture.  In Illinois, a vehicle can be forfeited if used in the commission of an aggravated DUI or driving while revoked, and the revocation was based upon a prior DUI conviction.  Vehicles can be forfeited even if the owner was not operating the vehicle, so long as he or she knew of the illegal use of the vehicle and consented to it.

The Court found that the forfeiture in this case was grossly disproportionate to the underlying offense of aggravated DUI.  To support its finding the Court emphasized three factors: 1) that the owner of the vehicle was not the person who committed the offense; 2) the husband only drove 12 or 13 blocks from the bar to their home and 3) the Harley had an estimated value of $35,000

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

With new year, new law will end the 30 day “hard time” wait for DUI driving permits

As the Chicago Tribune noted over the weekend, as of January 1, 2016, there will no longer be a 30 day “hard time” period before people who are suspended for first time Illinois DUIs can get a driving permit.

The new law ends an anachronism that had kept a 1980’s era law on the books despite recent changes in Illinois drunk driving laws that made the hard time period unnecessary and counter-productive.

In Illinois, first time DUI offenders receive a license suspension if they either fail or refuse a breath, blood or urine test.  The suspension is six months for failing the test and twelve months for refusing.

This suspension law has been around in one form or another since the 1980s. The idea was to get drunk drivers off the road without having to wait for their DUI case to be resolved.

Since 2009, these first offenders have been eligible for a Monitored Device Driving Permit (“MDDP”) which allows the person to drive their car 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so long as their vehicle is equipped with a breath alcohol ignition interlock device (“BAIID”).

However, as a holdover to the old law, there was still a 30 day “hard time” rule, which was designed to keep drunk drivers off the road.  Since now there is a BAIID requirement, there is enough of a safeguard that the person won’t drive drunk, so there was no longer any need for the wait.  In light of that, Congress removed the 30 day hard time provision that was a condition of Federal Highway appropriations back in 2012, with the blessing of MADD.

It took Illinois another three years to act on this and remove the 30 day wait time.

You may ask, “why should we do anything that helps drunk drivers?”

And here are the reasons:

  • They can’t drive drunk with a BAIID installed on their car.
  • If they do somehow drive drunk (or stoned), they will be charged with felony and face one to three years in prison, if not more depending on his or her background.
  • This will discourage people from driving while suspended during that 30 day time period, as well as skipping out on the BAIID restricted permit altogether since it wasn’t helping them during the hard time period.
  • It will also give prosecutors more reason not to agree to rescissions of the license suspension for people who have a hardship with the 30 day hard time provision (although it is still a useful tool for prosecutors as a carrot to dangle to encourage guilty pleas).