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Illinois Affirms Defendant’s DUI Conviction Despite Blood-Alcohol Level Below Legal Limit

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 11.49.31 AMJermaine Phillips challenged his DUI conviction, claiming that the evidence failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Specifically, he argued that his blood-alcohol level of .059 was below the legal limit, and other circumstantial evidence of his guilt was weak. An Illinois appellate court affirmed Phillips’ conviction, holding that the state presented sufficient evidence that Phillips emitted a strong odor of alcohol, exhibited slurred speech, had bloodshot eyes, and performed poorly on the field-sobriety tests. The court reached this conclusion despite the fact that Illinois law eliminates the presumption of impairment when a defendant’s blood-alcohol level is between .05 and the legal limit of .08, like Phillips’.

In 2010, Phillips was charged with three offenses:  (1) driving under the influence of alcohol; (2) driving under the combined influence of alcohol, other drugs, or intoxicants; and (3) driving with no registration light.

At Phillips’ bench trial, Chicago Police Officer Curia testified that on the evening of November 6, 2011, he observed Phillips’ vehicle traveling without a registration light. He pulled Phillips over and detected a strong odor of alcohol, slurred speech, and bloodshot eyes. In the center console, he observed a cup filled with a “darker liquid.”

Curia then returned to his car to run Phillips’ license through the police database. When he got back to Phillips’ car, he noticed the cup in the center console was missing. The car’s interior “smelled like alcohol,” and parts were wet. Curia then found the cup in Phillips’ glove compartment. Curia asked Phillips to exit the vehicle so that he could perform field-sobriety tests. Curia testified that Phillips “seemed kind of out of it, like a little disoriented.” Phillips failed two out of three sobriety tests.

Curia testified that he had observed people under the influence “thousands” of times. Based on these experiences and his interactions with Phillips, Curia believed that Phillips was under the influence. Curia arrested Phillips.

At the police station, Phillips agreed to to a Breathalyzer test, which measured his blood-alcohol concentration at .059. Phillips admitted to drinking “some wine” and smoking “a half a piece of a blunt.”

The trial court found Phillips guilty of both driving under the influence and driving with an inoperable rear registration light. In reaching this conclusion, the trial court found that Officer Curia’s testimony was “credible.” While the court acknowledged that Phillips’ blood-alcohol concentration was below the legal limit, it determined that “circumstantial evidence” provided sufficient proof of his impairment. The trial court denied Phillips’ motion to reconsider the court’s finding of guilt. Phillips appealed.

In affirming, the appellate court noted that Officer Curia “credibly” testified that Phillips exhibited slurred speech, a “strong” odor of alcohol, and bloodshot eyes. He also noticed that Phillips was “out of it” and “disoriented.” The officer testified that Phillips failed two of three field-sobriety tests. And when the officer returned to Phillips’ vehicle after running his name through a police database, the cup in the center console was missing and later was recovered in Phillips’ glove compartment, facts from  which a juror could “infer Phillips’ consciousness of guilt.” Finally, Phillips himself admitted to drinking “some wine.” The court concluded that, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the state (the standard for reviewing the sufficiency of evidence on appeal), a rational juror could have found that Phillips was driving under the influence of alcohol.

The court reached this conclusion despite the fact that Illinois law provides that a blood-alcohol level between .05 and .09 eliminates the presumption that the driver was under the influence. The appellate court held, however, that while the law “eliminates the presumption of impairment,” it does not “erase the clues or natural probative value off the clues.”

The court therefore concluded that, despite some weaknesses in the evidence, the deficiencies were not so “unreasonable, improbable, or unsatisfactory” as to establish a reasonable doubt of his guilt. It thus affirmed Phillips’ conviction.

If you have been charged with a DUI crime in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation to people in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses. To learn more and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us toll-free at 1-800-829-8513.

More Blog Posts:

Illinois Supreme Court Finds Implied Consent Law Unconstitutional As Applied, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, October 6, 2015.

Illinois Gives Four-time DUI Offenders a Second Chance, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, October 2, 2015.

Florida Judge Recommends Permanent Disbarment for Lawyers Involved in DUI Setup, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, September 10, 2015.

Montana Supreme Court Holds 24/7 Sobriety Program is Constitutional, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, September 1, 2015.

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