New DUI forfeiture opinion upholds forfeiture of Wife’s Harley driven by Husband

The Illinois Supreme Court has reversed an Appellate Court ruling that I previously discussed on this blog.

In the case, a husband and wife went drinking.  The husband’s license had already been suspended for drunk driving.  The wife claimed that she had been the driver of the motorcycle, but when the left the bar to go home, her husband, who had a key fob, got on their Harley Davidson first and refused to relinquish control.  He was later arrested with DUI with a BAC of twice the legal limit, and the vehicle was forfeited.

The Appellate Court held that the forfeiture was unconstitutional, considering that the wife had paid $35,000 for the bike and that she was not the one violating the law.

On further appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, the Court noted that the actual value of the vehicle at the time of the forfeiture had not been proven during the forfeiture hearing, only the cost of purchase four years earlier.  It also held that the wife bore some degree of culpability for this occurrence, because she knowing consented to her husband driving even though she knew that his license was suspended and that he was intoxicated.

Read the Opinion here:  The People of the State of Illinois ex rel Matthew Hartrich v. 2010 Harley Davidson, 2018 IL 121636 (February 16, 2018).

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

Illinois Supreme Court Upholds Vehicle Forfeitures for Aggravated DUIs and Driving While Revoked

Vehicle forfeitures have become an increasingly popular way for our legislature to be “tough on crime” while at the same time raise additional revenues without raising taxes.  What’s not to like?  So long as you are a State rep and not a family member of someone charged with an aggravated DUI or driving while revoked (DWLR).

Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld a constitutional challenge to the Illinois Vehicle Forfeiture law.   Here is a link to the case: People v. One 1998 GMC, et. al., 2011 IL 110236.

The challenge alleged that the statute was defective because it did not provide for a fast, preliminary hearing to determine whether there was probable cause to hold the vehicle pending trial.  In dismissing the challenge, the court noted that the statute has been recently amended to require such a preliminary hearing within 14 days of the seizure.  720 ILCS 5/36-1.5.

More disconcerting, the Court also stated the following:  “The seizures in the cases before us occurred simultaneously with the aggravated DUI and DWLR arrests for which the police must have probable cause. This probable cause determination is made by trained police officers without a personal economic stake in the matter. Their evaluations are not the type prone to error.”  2011 IL 110236, par 68 (Emphasis added).

It is hard for me as a defense attorney to fathom this comment.  Police officers regularly misevaluate DUI cases.  Just this week, the Chicago Tribune, in a story of the increased frequency of police officers using Tasers, described a case in which a passenger was tased for being unruly while his wife was being subjected to field sobriety tests.  The results of her breath test?  0.000.

Remember TLC’s DUI show?  The show where three of the first twelve defendants had their cases dropped, and a fourth one reduced, as a result of breath or blood tests.  That’s a 33% fail rate right there.

Nor should I have to mention the several Chicago Police Officers who have been caught faking or exaggerating facts in DUI cases over the past few years.

But the bottom line is this: drive while revoked, or get a DUI when you didn’t have a valid driver’s license, or have had two prior DUIs, and you will not only face a serious criminal offense, but additionally you may be faced with a lawsuit seeking forfeiture of the motor vehicle that you were driving when you committed the offense.