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Illinois Appeals Court Rejects Defendant’s Plea For Reduction of Sentence in Aggravated DUI Case

After a jury trial, defendant Jeannine Jenkins was convicted of aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Following Jenkins’ direct appeal, the Illinois Court of Appeals for the First District remanded the case to the trial court for a hearing on Jenkins’ pro se motion for a reduction of her sentence. On remand, the trial court denied the defendant’s motion. Jenkins appealed. The appeals court affirmed the judgment against the defendant in an unpublished opinion.

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At trial, the evidence established that in April 2012, the defendant picked up her granddaughter from daycare. The daycare workers reported that the defendant was possibly intoxicated. The Palatine police were called and located the defendant within minutes. The defendant appeared to be under the influence. The defendant’s granddaughter was not strapped into a car seat and was “sitting loose” in the car. The defendant was arrested and charged with aggravated DUI. Following a jury trial, the defendant was found guilty of aggravated DUI.

In August 2013, the court held a sentencing hearing. The defendant had six prior DUI convictions, as well as several other prior convictions. In aggravation, the State presented testimony from Officer Ed Borgstrom, who testified that, in December 2001, he was called to the Motel 6 in Palatine for a guest who sustained an unknown medical problem. When he arrived, he found the defendant passed out inside the motel room, surrounded by an empty gallon jug of wine and a 12-pack of beer. The defendant’s seven-year-old daughter was unattended and searching for help because her mother had fallen. DCFS was called, and the defendant temporarily lost custody of her daughter.

In mitigation, the defense called several members of the defendant’s Alcoholics Anonymous (“AA”) group. These witnesses testified that they saw Jenkins at meetings two or three times a week and explained that they had not seen the defendant drink alcohol since 2002. They further testified that Jenkins served as the secretary and the treasurer of the group, and she sponsored other recovering alcoholics during her 10 years in AA.

The defendant’s brother testified that he did not see Jenkins drink alcohol since 2002 and that during the previous 10 years, Jenkins worked during the day and attended college at night, all while caring for both her daughter and granddaughter. The defendant’s father sent a mitigation letter corroborating the defendant’s brother’s testimony. He also asked for leniency, mentioning that Jenkins was attacked by an inmate at the Cook County jail and received medical care for a concussion she sustained.

In allocution, Jenkins explained how she overcame her alcohol problem and took on the challenge of returning to school as an adult while also working. The defendant stated that the 2002 event when she lost custody of her daughter was a wake-up call for her to stop drinking. Jenkins denied that she was drinking on the day of the incident. She asked the court for leniency so that she could return to caring for her daughter and her two grandchildren.

Considering the information in the pre-sentence investigation report, along with the evidence presented in mitigation and in aggravation, the court imposed a sentence of 12 years. The court also imposed a $25,000 fine pursuant to 625 ILCS 5/11-501 because the defendant committed the offense while transporting a person under the age of 16 years in her vehicle.

On appeal, Jenkins first argued that the trial court erred on remand when it refused to allow her newly appointed counsel to file an amended motion to reduce the sentence and limited counsel to arguing only claims contained in the defendant’s pro se motion to reduce the sentence. The appeals court rejected these arguments. First, it held that the court’s statements explained the scope of the mandate, and, despite the defendant’s insistence that these statements prohibited counsel from amending the defendant’s pro se motion, the court did not prevent counsel from filing a motion to supplement or amending the defendant’s pro se motion. Furthermore, the record illustrated that the trial court did not limit defense counsel to arguing only claims contained in the defendant’s pro se motion for a reduction of her sentence.

Jenkins next contended that she was deprived of the benefit of counsel during the remand, a critical stage of the proceedings. The appeals court held to the contrary. It reasoned that the record indicated that counsel, although unsuccessful, vigorously argued for and represented the defendant before and during the hearing. Counsel met with the defendant to prepare for the hearing and learned about the defendant’s familial obligations, her health conditions, her accomplishments, and her lack of disciplinary tickets. Furthermore, counsel advised the court about Jenkins’ mitigating circumstances, argued the defendant’s points contained in her pro se motion, added new claims, and reorganized the defendant’s arguments. Accordingly, Jenkins was not denied counsel’s assistance at this stage of the proceedings.

Jenkins next argued on appeal she was prejudiced because the trial court denied her motion without a consideration of all the relevant mitigating evidence beyond her pro se motion. The appeals court held to the contrary that the lower court denied the defendant’s motion while specifically stating that it considered “all the factors in aggravation and mitigation and the new factors” that counsel presented at the hearing. Therefore, the lower court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to reconsider her sentence.

The defendant next argued that the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing the defendant to 12 years in prison. The appeals court disagreed. Jenkins was eligible for a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison for aggravated DUI, meaning the 12-year prison sentence was well within the statutorily permissible range. While the defendant argued that the trial court did not adequately consider her demonstrated rehabilitation ability, the record reflected that the court properly considered this factor and rejected it.

The evidence at trial indicated that the defendant, while severely intoxicated, picked up her granddaughter from daycare and almost dropped her while exiting the facility. The defendant did not buckle the child into a car seat, and the car seat was not buckled into the car. The daycare workers instructed the defendant to stop driving, but she continued driving while one of the workers held onto the defendant’s window. The defendant crashed into another car while leaving the daycare parking lot. Although nobody was hurt, the defendant’s conduct threatened serious harm to her granddaughter and potentially many others. While rejecting the defendant’s argument that she rehabilitated herself, the court observed that the defendant’s actions were not consistent with someone who had substantially changed and not had anything to drink since 2002.

The court balanced the seriousness of the offense with the evidence presented in mitigation, indicating that it considered the defendant’s work and educational accomplishments as well as her involvement with the AA when imposing the sentence. The court noted that it read and reviewed the pre-sentence investigative report, in which the defendant’s education, employment, and connection with AA were also detailed. Considering the totality of the circumstances, the appeals court could not find that the trial court abused its discretion.

For these reasons, the appeals court affirmed the conviction.

If you have been charged with a DUI offense 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 and representing drivers with revoked licenses before the Illinois Secretary of State. To learn more, and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us toll-free at 1-800-829-8513.

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