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Illinois Court Finds DUI Statute’s Prescribed Observation Period Does Not Require Continuous Visual Monitoring

Defendant, Mr. Chiaravalle, was charged with a DUI in January 2014. His attorneys filed a pre-trial motion to bar the admission of his Breathylzer test, arguing it was improperly administered. The lower court granted the motion and the state appealed. The appellate court agreed with the state and reversed.In February of 2014, the defendant pleaded not guilty and the state summarily suspended his license. He filed a request for a hearing and a petition to rescind the suspension, arguing the arresting officer failed to properly administer the breath test. The trial court judge conducted a hearing and found that the arresting officer failed to comply with the statutorily prescribed 20 minute observation period following the breath test because he turned his back on the defendant several times. Finding that the necessary foundation for the test was not met and that the observation failed, the judge granted the petition to rescind the summary suspension. A subsequent judge adopted these findings at a pre-trial motion hearing, stating that there had been no substantial compliance with the 20 minute observation period. The court granted the defendant’s pre-trial motion to suppress the Breathalyzer results and the state appealed. The appellate court ultimately sided with the state.

The appellate court reasoned that Illinois courts have found substantial, rather than strict, compliance necessary to meet the 20 minute observation period requirement. Likewise, the Second District has found that any failure to strictly comply with the 20 minute requirement was de minimus, or insignificant. The appellate court recounted that the evidence indicated the arresting officer did not always have the defendant in his “line of sight” or in his “peripheral vision.” The question, it found, was whether the condition that the officer “continually observe the subject” mandates unbroken visual observation. The state argued that an officer may monitor a suspect by using all of his senses, not exclusively sight. The court acknowledged that this was an issue of first impression in Illinois.

The court found that because the relevant statute — 1286.310(a) — does not explicitly define “observation,” the words must be given their ordinary meaning. The plain meaning “observation,” the court found, is “the act of noticing or perceiving” and “the act of regarding attentively or watching.” The court found that by using the word “observe,” instead of “keep in line of sight” or “watch,” the state did not require uninterrupted visual monitoring.

The Illinois Supreme Court, the court explained, has indicated that “the purpose of section 1286.310(a) is to ensure that only accurate breath-alcohol tests are admitted into evidence against a criminal defendant.” The reasoning behind the required observation period is to ensure that the defendant does not disrupt the breath test by consuming alcohol or regurgitating. The court believed that this type of monitoring did not require visual observation. The court cited a line of cases supporting the conclusion that observation can mean more than exclusively sight. The court also cited cases finding that unbroken eye contact by the officer is not required: “Interpreting the phrase ‘continually observe’ ‘to require exclusively unbroken visual observation is contrary to its ordinary meaning.'”

The court concluded that, in this case, the evidence suggested that the arresting officer substantially complied with the observation provision — he was alone in the room with the suspect, he repeatedly turned around to observe him, and he did not sense anything to indicate that defendant had vomited or placed anything in his mouth. That the officer at times had his back to the defendant did not render the breath test unreliable. Thus, the trial court erred in granting defendant’s pre-trial motion.

If you have been charged with a DUI crime in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI, DWI, or drunk driving lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation for those 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 at 217.525.0520.

More Blog Posts:

Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Felony DUI Based on Judge’s Improper Response to Deliberating Jurors, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, December 11, 2014

Former Chicago Bears Quarterback Sentenced to Prison for DUI, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, December 2, 2014

Illinois Courts Interpret McNeely, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, November 28, 2014

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