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Accused claims that Illinois DUI law is unconstitutional

In 2011, the Illinois Supreme Court handed down its decision in People. v. Martin, 2011 IL 109102. The issue involved a fairly technical legal question known as “causation”.

Causation refers the notion that in the criminal law, a person is responsible for the outcome of an event only if the state is able to prove that something he did in an illegal manner caused the outcome. For instance, if your headlight is not operating properly and someone rear ends you, the state cannot say that you were the cause of the collision even though your car was not in proper working order. In other words, your non-functioning headlight, while illegal, was not in any manner responsible for your being hit from behind.

This idea came into play in the Martin because of the manner in which certain DUI laws are written. Under 625 ILCS 5/11-500, you can be charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in a number of ways.

One way is prove you were “under the influence” of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two. Another is to prove that you were driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater. A third is to show that you were under the influence of other intoxicants (huffing for instance).

One can make an argument that if your blood alcohol content is above .08, you are potentially a dangerous driver. The state should not be limited to proving your impairment by reference to your physical condition, actions and conduct at the time of the alleged offense.

Your blood alcohol content alone should be sufficient to show you ought not to have been driving. It would seem that since the purpose of the DUI laws is to keep dangerous drivers off the public roadway, this is a reasonable law.

However, there is one situation in which the state need merely show that you were operating your motor vehicle at a time you had any amount, no matter how small, of a prohibited drug in your system. 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(6) Unlike alcohol, which leaves your system relatively quickly, some drugs remain in your body long after (sometime for weeks) you ingested them and well after their presence in your system would impact the mind and body in ways that could make you an unsafe driver.

But 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(6) does not require any evidence of actual impaired driving in order to support a charge of driving under the influence. Nonetheless, in 2009, an appellate court stated that because possession of a controlled substance is unlawful per se (see 720 ILCS 570/402), the state must establish simply that the driver used a controlled substance before driving. People v. Rodriguez, 398 Ill.App.3d 436, 442, 339 Ill.Dec. 158, 926 N.E.2d 390 (2009) (“unlawfulness is not a separate element of the offense”).

That issue having been decided, the question before the Illinois Supreme Court in People v. Martin was whether, upon showing that the accused had even a trace amount of meth in his system and was involved in a crash that caused the death of two people, the state had to prove that the meth in his system caused the accident. In other words, was the state required to prove causation?

To the surprise of many, the Supreme Court held that the state was only required to prove the meth, without proof of impairment from the meth, or proof that the meth in any manner contributed to the crash, in order to support an aggravated DUI charge, sending the accused to prison for 6 years. The most troubling aspect of the case was the court’s reasoning, because if taken literally, it means that if you are legally parked and someone runs into and the resulting crash causes a fatality, you could end up in prison if you used a small amount of marijuana a few days before the crash.

To push back against this result, one defendant is claiming that the law is unconstitutionally vague and violates due process because it could apply to someone who is from a state in which medical marijuana is legal. These claims are likely to fail, since marijuana in any form is illegal in Illinois.

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