Utah may be the first State to go to a 0.05 BAC “legal limit”

Four years ago, the NTSB recommended that the DUI “legal limit” be lowered from 0.08 to 0.05, which would put the United States in line with most other countries.  As I have noted in the past, the research as to whether 0.05 BAC is a better indicator of impairment than 0.08 is muddled.

Now, Utah, a State that has always had strict laws about alcohol sales, is looking at being the first in the nation to lower its limit to 0.05.

From the Chicago Tribune:

…state Rep. Norman Thurston, a Republican from Provo who plans to introduce a bill on the issue in the upcoming legislative session, wants that to change in 2017.

Impairment starts with the first drink, and we want to establish this state as one where you just simply do not drink and drive,” said Thurston, noting he worked with officials from the Utah Highway Patrol while drafting the legislation. “This is all about safety.”

…A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chart shows how a blood-alcohol concentration of .05 — about three drinks in one hour for a 160-pound man — causes, among other things, altered coordination, reduced ability to track moving objects and difficulty steering a motor vehicle.

For men weighing less than 160 pounds and for women, it takes even fewer drinks to reach the .05 threshold. If Utah makes the change, it will join several countries in Europe — such as Austria, France and Germany — that have blood-alcohol limits of .05. (In Poland, it’s .02).

In 2013, the NTSB released a report recommending that states lower to .05 the limit at which people can be prosecuted for drunk driving.

…Art Brown, president of the Utah chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told the local Fox affiliate the group would not support Thurston’s proposal. Instead, he said, the group prefers to focus on interlock devices prohibiting people from driving drunk.

“MADD’s position is we really emphasize interlocks and getting those on people and staying .08,” Brown said.

The state has long had a fraught relationship with alcohol. Mormons, who are forbidden from drinking liquor, make up nearly 60% of the population.

…In Utah, alcohol is not a major cause of fatal automobile crashes. Drunk driving was a contributing factor in about 13% of fatal crashes last year, according to the Utah Highway Safety Office. By contrast, speed played a role in 37% of deaths, and no seat belt use was a factor in 31%.

Last year, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White stated that he believed that the 0.05 limit needed further study before he could support a chance.

Tribune story paints an inaccurate picture of new IL DUI laws

Today’s online Chicago Tribune has a story entitled “New State Rules for accused, convicted drunken drivers takes effect,” which, like way too many stories about DUIs, paints an inaccurate portrait about DUI laws.

Here is a typical quote:  “With the unanimous support of lawmakers, Illinois is doing away with the mandatory suspensions for most first-time and repeat offenders, although drivers still will have to apply for special permits and pay for the devices and monitoring, which typically cost more than $100 a month combined.”

No, Illinois is NOT doing away with mandatory suspensions.

If you get arrested for a DUI, and either fail a breath, blood or urine test (say, by having 0.08 blood alcohol or greater or any amount of a narcotic) or refuse a test, your license will be suspended.

And if you get caught driving illegally during that suspension, you will face jail time and vehicle forfeiture.

What will change is that if you are a first offender, you will be eligible to obtain a “Monitored Device Driving Permit” requiring you to drive with an ignition interlock system, during the entirety of that suspension.  And if you are not a first offender, you will be able to apply for a Restricted Driving Permit through the Secretary of State once your case has been resolved, and you have completed alcohol treatment.

One important distinction between the permits available to first offenders and repeat offenders is that the first offender permit is (generally) available for the asking; whereas the repeat offender permit can only be obtained after a hearing has been held at the Secretary of State and you have been able to prove, to the Secretary’s satisfaction, that you will be a safe and responsible driver.  If you can meet that hurdle, then you must drive for five continuous years with the BAIID equipped permit before becoming eligible for full reinstatement.

There is another section of the article which discusses new rules for persons convicted of “multiple convictions” of DUI which are actually new rules for people with four or more convictions.  Those people, who have been ineligible for any driving relief since 1999, will now be able to apply for limited relief:  a Restricted Driving Permit, but only after it has been at least five years since their last DUI or release from prison, and if they can demonstrate that he or she is no long a danger to the public, has completed alcohol treatment, been abstinent for three years, and has been actively attending a support group such as A.A.

Governor signs into law bill removing waiting period for DUI driving permits

Governor Rauner has signed into law a bill (SB 0627) which removes the “hard time” waiting periods before a motorist could apply for a DUI-related driving permit.

Effective January 1, 2016, the bill will remove the 30 day waiting period before a person could obtain a Monitored Device Driving Permit (“MDDP”) after getting a first offense DUI suspension for either failing or refusing a breath, blood or urine test.

The law also removes the one year waiting time for a person whose license has been revoked for DUI to apply for a Restricted Driving Permit, and the three year wait for a person who has a summary suspension for a second offense refusal..

In addition, the law will require DUI arrestees to sign a form acknowledging that they have been warned of the license suspension consequences for either failing or refusing to take a breath test.  This is an advantage for prosecutors, who routinely lose suspension hearings on this issue when officer can’t make it to court and the defendant is able to testify that he or she wasn’t warned.

Overall, this law is a big win for both defendants and the public.  With the advent of breath interlock devices, there is no compelling reason to make people wait to obtain a driving permit when there is technology out there that will prevent them from driving drunk.

Gov. Rauner signs bill allowing supervision for first offense aggravated speeding more than 26 mph over limit

Governor Rauner has signed House Bill 1453, which amends the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code to allow court supervision for first-time offenders who are charged with aggravated speeding (over 26 mph over the limit).

Here is the official summary:

Amends the Unified Code of Corrections. Provides that an order of supervision is not available to a defendant charged with speeding 26 miles per hour or more in excess of the applicable maximum speed limit established under the Illinois Vehicle Code or a similar provision of a local ordinance if the defendant has been: (1) previously convicted for that violation or a similar provision of a local ordinance or any similar law of another state; or (2) previously assigned supervision for that violation of the Illinois Vehicle Code or a similar provision of a local ordinance or any similar law of another state (rather than not available for a first-time offender).

Under the new law, supervision will not be permitted if the aggravated speeding occurred in a construction zone or in an “urban district.”  The new law will go into effect January 1, 2016.

So why is this important?

Under the current law, aggravated speeding is either a Class B (26-34 miles over the limit) or Class A misdemeanor (35 or more mph over the limit) and not eligible for supervision.

Illinois law defines “supervision” as “a means of disposition and revocable release without probationary supervision, but under such conditions and reporting requirements as are imposed by the court, at the successful conclusion of which disposition the defendant is discharged and a judgment dismissing the charges is entered.” 730 ILCS 5/5-1-21.

One court has stated that “the status of a case under an order of supervision then becomes in the nature of a continuance until the conclusion of the period of supervision whereupon the court shall discharge the defendant and enter a judgment dismissing the charges if the defendant successfully complied with the conditions of supervision.” The Illinois Supreme Court has held that supervision is not a conviction.

Supervision is a permissible sentence for most Class A misdemeanors, at least for the first offense.  So offenses such as battery, retail theft, DUI or reckless driving have been “supervision eligible” but speeding was not.  The result is that for a “crime” most commonly committed by otherwise law-abiding citizens, (most often young drivers) would result in a harsher sentence than the typical misdemeanor, and they would become a convicted criminal merely for going 81 on the interstate.

This change in the law is only common sense.  My only suggestion is that the law should be even more lenient, and allow for a sentence of supervision for this offense so long as the motorist has not had a similar offense within the past five or ten years.

The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board comes out in favor of scrapping the DUI 30 day hard time rule

Last week, I posted a blog post about a pending bill in the Illinois legislature that would end the 30 day hard time rule which prevents first time DUI offenders from getting a driving permit until they have served 30 days of their statutory summary suspension.

Now, the Chicago Tribune editorial board has come out in favor of it too.

Here is their editorial, which is pay-walled on their site (why would they want to keep people from reading their opinions?):

Illinois law says that if you’re arrested for drunken driving, you’re supposed to serve the driver’s version of “hard time.” That is, you can’t drive, period. This “hard time” is supposed to be 30 days for first-time offenders and up to three years for repeat offenders.

But people steer around that law in several ways. Some simply drive without a license. Some work out plea deals with local prosecutors to pay hefty fines so they can avoid a suspension.

The Illinois State Bar Association has proposed a way to end the evasion — by ending the “hard time” period of suspensions.

The ISBA proposes that motorists charged with DUI be required to install ignition interlock devices that test for alcohol on a driver’s breath. They would drive — sober — with the interlock instead of losing driving privileges. The presumption is that more drivers would pay to install the devices and drive legally, rather than drive illegally or cut deals to avoid suspension.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving — long an advocate of ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders — is on board with the idea. So is the Chicago-area advocacy group called Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists. They’re not exactly known as pushovers on drunken driving.

State Senate President John Cullerton, who has passed valuable traffic safety laws in recent years, tells us that he supports the idea. “There’s an evolution in this area from the hard suspension which was sacrosanct” years ago, he says. Now, advocates recognize that “it’s safer to have people driving with the interlock than to have them illegally driving, as many of them do.”

This page has supported broader use of ignition interlock devices to help curb intoxicated driving. The National Transportation Safety Board recommended in 2012 that states mandate interlocks for all DUI offenders. The states with the strongest interlock laws, such as New Mexico, Arizona and West Virginia, have seen greater reductions in drunken driving deaths than the national average, MADD reports.

The threat of automatic suspension is a strong deterrent — when it’s enforced. That would be our preference, but it’s not easy to force local prosecutors and municipalities to give up their deal-making.

So we can see value in using interlocks after an arrest. That change would not affect how DUI offenders are punished after a conviction.

A first conviction for a misdemeanor DUI in Illinois carries a revocation of driving privileges for at least one year, two years if you’re under age 21. If your blood-alcohol level is more than twice the legal 0.08 limit, there’s a mandatory minimum $500 fine and 100 hours of community service. Depending on circumstances, including whether anyone was hurt in a crash of if there was a child in the car, penalties escalate, including possible jail time.

This interlock proposal could help curb a widespread and infuriating practice exposed by the Tribune last year. Local prosecutors in some suburbs cut plea deals to reduce DUI charges and collect wads of cash for municipal coffers. Those arrested often pay those fines to avoid a license suspension. The prospect of driving with an interlock instead of serving “hard time” might reduce the incentive for these municipal workarounds.

This all depends on how the concept is translated into proposed law. If a bill is presented to them, lawmakers should make sure it doesn’t create new loopholes in safety law. The message shouldn’t change: Drink. Drive. Pay.

Why the 30 day hard-time rule for first offense DUI offenders is outmoded and should be replaced

This weekend, there was a Chicago Tribune story about how “activists” are trying to get rid of the 30 day “hard-time” rule that keeps DUI arrestees from getting a driving permit until after their license has been suspended for 30 days.

What is the history and purpose of the hard time rule?

When our statutory summary suspension laws went into the books in the 1980s, the stated reason for the hard-time period was that it would created a “cooling off” period in which “drunks” would be taken off the roads.  Ultimately, a judge could issue him or her a Judicial Driving Permit to allow him or her to drive to work.  In reality, it was as much of a “tough on DUI” measure as anything else.

The 30 day hard-time rule was required under Federal Highway subsidy laws.  A state would have to have a 30 day hard-time period in order to get federal funds.

Why is it time to change?

Several years ago, Illinois changed its DUI suspension law, doubling the length of time of suspension, in return for a more “liberal” driving permit, which allows a person to drive 24/7 so long as he or she installs a BAIID in his or her car.

The BAIID removes the need for the 30 day period, since you can’t drive drunk if you have a BAIID.  The BAIID prevents a person from starting a car with a BAC of 0.025 or higher.

As mandatory BAIID laws became popular, the federal government removed the 30 day hard-time rule from its highway funding bills for states that required them.  But Illinois didn’t do anything when this happened.  Instead, they kept the 30 day hard time.

As a result, people who are accused of DUI have to worry about that hard-time period.  How will they get to work?  How will they get their kids to school?  What if their mom needs to go to the doctor?  They put pressure on their attorneys to get that suspension lifted so they don’t lose their job because our legislature has failed to act.

There can be no question that the 30 day hard time rule is outdated and needs to be removed.  Let people get Monitored Device Driving Permits from day one of their suspension.

Proposed new law will help Chicago Police to conduct preliminary field tests of suspected narcotics

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office is about to get a bill passed that will save police and prosecutions all the time and effort of accurately determining whether someone actually possesses narcotics before charging them with a felony.  If the law passes, they will be able to get felony charges approved using the results from less accurate field kits.

From the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin:

SPRINGFIELD — A proposal to equip Chicago police with field drug tests is one step closer to becoming law.

The legislation, which passed unanimously through the House Judiciary-Criminal Committee on Wednesday, would create a pilot program for Chicago police officers to test suspicious controlled substances at police stations instead of waiting for a result from a crime lab.

It would also deem the tests — which can check for marijuana, heroin and cocaine — admissible to establish probable cause in preliminary trial hearings.

Under current law, probable cause hearings in illicit substance cases cannot happen until an Illinois State Police chemistry lab sends drug test results back to a state’s attorney.

That process, according to the bill and Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney John P. Carroll Jr., takes about two weeks.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Michael J. Zalewski, D-Riverside, said implementing the field tests would not only expedite that process, it would also lessen crime labs’ burdens so they can focus on more important tests such as rape kits…

Carroll said field-testing benefits would be twofold.

Administering a field test could potentially allow a defendant to leave the police station as soon as it indicated a negative result, he said, and it would save money because the Cook County Department of Corrections spends $143 per day per defendant to hold someone while awaiting the same results from a crime lab.

He pointed to 2013 preliminary court hearing numbers to highlight the time that could be saved by allowing field drug tests. About 6,000 of that year’s 22,000 preliminary hearings resulted with a no probable cause finding.

He said a vast majority of those cases involved low-level narcotics.

“I think this represents a really good bill that would move low-level narcotics cases through the system much faster,” he said

While the bill would allow the tests to establish probable cause in a preliminary hearing, an official lab test would still be necessary for trial. Once a field test comes back positive and establishes probable cause, Carroll said, only then would the state’s attorney call for an official lab report from the state police.