Victim impact panels are coming to Kankakee County in DUI cases

Victim Impact Panels, which have been a long staple of DUI sentencing in Cook, DuPage and Lake Counties, are now coming to Kankakee County.

For those not familiar, the concept of a Victim Impact Panel is that DUI (or other serious traffic) offenders are required to attend a presentation where victims of drunk driving accidents talk about their stories.  The speakers might be someone seriously injured by a drunk driver, someone who lost a family member or significant or the drunk driver, who talks about the damage he or she has done and the penalties he or she received.

From the Kankakee Daily Journal (article by Allison Shapiro):

“We think that when you look at DUI offenders, we want to make sure they clearly realize the impact that their crime has, not only on our community as a whole and their own families, but on victims of DUI offenses,” said Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe. “We hope that this additional perspective makes people think twice before driving drunk or recklessly.”

Staff from the MADD Illinois office, as well as volunteers, told participants the stories of how their lives had been changed by someone’s reckless behavior. One of the speakers was Zach Jones, a Limestone native who became an activist after he was severely injured by a drunk driver in 2012.

“It’s great to be able to bring something back to the community I’m from. It’s something that hopefully will help keep people safe in the future, keep from happening to other people what happened to me,” said Jones, now the program coordinator at MADD Illinois. “It’s a great thing, it’s something positive for the county to use to try to move forward and keep this from happening.”

Read the entire story here:  http://www.daily-journal.com/news/local/kankakee-county-launches-first-dui-victim-panel/article_4808a5ed-ab6c-5ddc-b3ab-b9f7319297ee.html

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.”

Court vacates 7 year sentence for woman who caused accident 2 days after smoking pot

Over four years ago, I posted this blog post entitled “Why is this woman facing 6 to 28  years in prison?”  It was about a young woman named Alia Bernard, who, two days after smoking marijuana, caused a fatal motor vehicle crash.  Under Illinois’ draconian “zero tolerance” laws, she was sentenced to seven years in prison for the crime of driving while there was still trace residue of marijuana in her system (and causing a fatal accident, which otherwise would have been mostly a civil matter).

Common sense (sort of) prevailed when a new judge vacated her sentence and sentenced her to probation instead (the judge that sentenced her to prison has retired).  I say that common sense “sort of” prevailed because I don’t think that there is any common sense to a law that punishes having traces of marijuana in your blood instead of punishing people that are actually under the influence; but under our ridiculous laws, probation was the best sentence she could get.

In Illinois, probation can only be given in a fatal DUI case when there are extraordinary circumstances (even in a case like this, when the person was not “under the influence”).  The new judge stated in re-sentencing Bernard: “The criminal act, which is the cannabis in the system, played no role in this action … the facts of this case are unique and for me, rise to the level of extraordinary circumstances.”

Congratulations to defense attorney Donald Ramsell, who took over the case and raised issues in the State Police crime lab’s blood testing that led to the new sentence.

“I do not deserve to be breathing the same air as all of you,” says fatal DUI crash defendant at sentencing

From the Chicago Tribune, story by Steve Schmadeke:

The mother of a promising University of Chicago Law School student sobbed Thursday as she talked in a Cook County courtroom about how a crash caused by a man driving the wrong way on Lake Shore Drive while drunk had forever changed two families’ lives.

Judith Wasil’s son, Michael, 24, suffered traumatic brain injuries, while his friend Laura Anne LaPlante, 26, also a U. of C. law student, was killed. Both were three weeks from graduation from the prestigious school.

“Certain truths that I had always taken to be self-evident were instantly shattered,” said Wasil, whose son did not attend the hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. “We were no longer a normal, happy family. My son was lying in a hospital bed hooked up to machines and fighting for his life. My family had suffered one of the worst tragedies a family can experience.”

The defendant, Erik Johnson, sat with slumped shoulders looking shellshocked as Wasil spoke. He briefly appeared to lose his composure and fight back tears as Assistant State’s Attorney Geraldine D’Souza read a statement from LaPlante’s parents wishing Johnson’s family well…

Johnson pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated DUI and was sentenced to eight years in prison as part of a deal worked out with the approval of both victims’ families. He must serve a minimum of nearly six years in prison.Johnson, at the time of the crash a recent Loyola University graduate who had been out drinking with co-workers, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.195 percent, about 2 1/2 times the legal limit.

His SUV, being driven south in the northbound lanes on a twisting curve of Lake Shore Drive near Navy Pier, smashed into a taxi carrying LaPlante and Wasil shortly before 2 a.m. in early May 2014. The impact knocked both into the taxi’s windshield. The driver, the only one wearing a seat belt, suffered a broken elbow.

Calling it “a heart-wrenching tragedy of the worst kind,” Wasil’s mother said the massive injuries at first left her son unable to swallow, eat, drink, walk, talk, read or write. He has recovered physically except for a pronounced limp, she told Judge William Lacy, but his brain injury “continues to be problematic” and is “essentially a life sentence.”

Wasil has difficulty even forming sentences, according to an attorney for the family…

Moments before the judge handed down the sentence, Johnson, now 25, apologized for his actions.

“I do not deserve to be breathing the same air as all of you,” Johnson told the courtroom. “I wish this senseless act had killed me alone because of my own mistake.

“I was brought up in a moral and ethical household where we were taught to respect life and a person’s free will,” he said. “No one in my family ever committed a crime, no one in my family ever hurt anyone. But in one night I lost complete control over everything I’ve ever been taught and everything I’ve ever believed myself.

“I have single-handedly taken away the life of a young woman already great but destined for greater things,” Johnson said. “I am devastated to think of what I have taken from you.”

Johnson, who vowed to work to prevent drunken driving after his release from prison, kept his eyes downcast as a deputy sheriff led him from the courtroom.

Read the full story here:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-lake-shore-drive-crash-law-students-met-20160204-story.html

Sixth DUI gets woman 13 years in prison

bookman

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

A woman was sentenced Thursday to 13 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to her fifth and sixth charges of DUI in northwest suburban Elgin.

Cheri L. Bookman, 48, who is homeless, pleaded guilty to Associate Judge David Kliment to two counts of aggravated DUI, one a Class X felony and one a Class 1 felony, according to a statement from the Kane County state’s attorney’s office.

On Jan. 4, 2015, Bookman crashed her vehicle into another vehicle in the 1500 block of Mark Avenue in Elgin and the driver of the other vehicle noticed that she seemed intoxicated, prosecutors said. She then left the scene and the other driver called 911.

When Bookman was later approached by Elgin police at a home where she was staying she was drinking vodka and admitted that she had been drinking vodka all day, prosecutors said.

The other driver identified Bookman and she was subsequently charged with DUI, prosecutors said. She was released on bond after serving one day in jail.

On Aug. 2, 2015, officers spotted Bookman driving the wrong way on Chicago Street, a one-way street, prosecutors said. When she was stopped, the officer smelled alcohol on her breath.

When the officer returned to his vehicle in an effort to get more information on Bookman, she sped away and eventually crashed into a guardrail at Chicago and State streets, prosecutors said. She then crawled through the passenger-side window and ran into a wooded area.

The officers found her and she was charged with DUI, prosecutors said. Her blood-alcohol content was .247.

Bookman’s four prior DUI charges were twice in 2001, once in 2002 and once in 2008 in Jefferson and Cook counties, prosecutors said.

A sixth DUI is a Class X felony in Illinois, punishable from 6 to 30 years.

Cook County Hospital Exec gets 100 days, probation for DUI fatality

Under Illinois statute, a person convicted of a DUI that causes the death of a person is facing a sentence of a minimum of three years imprisonment, up to 14 years, unless there are “extraordinary circumstances” which require probation.

Stroger Hospital executive Robert Vais must be very grateful today to his attorney and for Judge Nicholas Ford, who found extraordinary circumstances in his case, enough to warrant a sentence of only 100 days of jail and probation for a DUI fatality case which took the life of former U.S. Marine Hector Avalos.

According to news reports, the Judge considered Vais’ clean criminal and driving history, his accomplishments as a Cook County Hospital executive, and his remorse for his actions.

I’m sure the Judge also considered that the victim was riding a bike, wearing dark clothes, and had just exited a viaduct when he was struck from behind.  Vais had a BAC of 0.118, which, while it is over the “legal limit” of 0.08 and is more than enough to impair an individual, is not an extraordinarily high BAC level (the average person charged with a DUI in Cook County has a BAC of 0.18).

From the Tribune:

Judge Nicholas Ford said he had to take into account that Vais had no criminal background, hadn’t fled from the accident scene and could again become a productive member of society.

“If I sentence him to 14 years in prison, would that be any worse than … every night when he closes his eyes, his last thought is that of causing the death of a Marine?” Ford asked.

“What Hector’s family has gone through is a thousand times worse that what (Vais) has gone through. To the mother whose life has been affected forever, you have my heartfelt sorrow for what you’ve gone through.”

Avalos’ mother nodded as Ford handed down his sentence. Later, she seemed at peace with the judge’s decision.

“He’s got a new beginning,” she said of Vais. “I hope he takes advantage of it.”

 

A Smart Tweak to DUI Victim Impact Panels to Reach Younger Offenders

Illinois DUI offenders are required to attend a Victim Impact Panel (VIP) as part of their sentence.  At a VIP, offenders sit in an audience and listen as victims of drunk driving accidents, family members, or convicted drunk drivers talk about the damage that can happen on the ride home from a night of drinking.

In a pay-walled story on the Chicago Tribune’s site, Barbara Brotman, writes about how these Victim Impact Panels are getting a smart tweak, in order to reach younger DUI offenders.

From the Tribune:

Other [Victim Impact] panels offered by [the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists], which holds 140 of them a year in the Chicago area and collar counties, address offenders of all ages. But Rita Kreslin, executive director of the alliance, worried that they were missing their mark with the younger crowd.

Kreslin, whose son John was killed in a crash at age 19, took note of young people she saw when she spoke at victim impact panels.

“I’d see those kids file out that didn’t look old enough to have a driver’s license (and) they’re thinking, ‘Well, that doesn’t apply to me; the guy next to me was an old man,'” she said.

She wanted to create panels that would clearly apply to young people, some of whom also face charges of underage drinking or reckless conduct, at a pivotal point in their lives.

“I’m not going to teach some 40-year-old how to make better choices,” Kreslin said. “But the kids, it’s more of a restorative program.”

She proposed having panels specifically for young people to officials of the DuPage County court system over the summer, and the chief judge approved her plan.

DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin is a supporter.

“I think someone who is under the age of 24 looks at life a lot differently than someone who is in their 40s or 50s,” he said.

A number of chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving across the nation already hold victim impact panels for young people.

And the national organization last January rolled out a program for teenage offenders called Start Making a Right Turn, or SMART, that incorporates a victim impact panel, information on the developing teenage brain and strategies for not drinking until the legal age of 21.

MADD Illinois hopes to start offering the SMART program in Berwyn after Jan. 1, said state Executive Director Sam Canzoneri.

The Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists victim impact panels for youths currently are offered only in DuPage County, though Kreslin is working to expand it and said officials in other counties have expressed interest. Last month’s panel at Benedictine University was only AAIM’s second geared for young people.