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Illinois Supreme Court Considering Whether Defendant Can Rebut Presumption of Impairment in “Drug Driving” Case

Illinois law is clear that the state need not prove impairment to convict a driver under the influence of drugs of aggravated DUI . The area of disagreement is whether the driver can offer evidence to counter the presumption of impairment. Last month, the issue was argued before the Illinois Supreme Court. People v. Ida Way is one of 21 cases (nine criminal) that the Illinois Supreme Court heard last month.

Way was charged with aggravated DUI in January 2012. The crash injured Way’s son, her passenger, and a woman in another car, who happened to be pregnant. Her 14-year-old son told police that his mother “fell asleep” shortly before the crash.

The state presented evidence that Way was driving under the influence of cannabis. A chemical test confirmed that she had THC in her system at the time of the accident.

In the December 2012 trial, the state filed a motion in limine, arguing that according to Illinois Supreme Court precedent in People v. Martin, they did not need to prove that drug impairment proximately caused the victims’ injuries. Instead, they only needed to prove that the injuries were caused by Way’s driving.

In Martin, the Illinois Supreme Court held that since it is impossible to measure the extent to which the presence of methamphetamine in a person’s system causes impairment, misdemeanor driving under the influence of a drug is a strict liability crime that can be proved by the presence of any amount of the drug in the defendant’s system when the crash occurred. And when a driver with trace amounts of methamphetamine in his system causes a fatal accident, he could be convicted of aggravated DUI without proof of impairment.

Using Martin as support, the motion in Way’s case argued that Way should not be permitted to argue that there were other reasons aside from drugs that she fell asleep prior to the accident. Way submitted that the state need not prove she was impaired, but she argued it was unconstitutional to prohibit her from introducing some evidence to rebut the presumption that she was impaired.

The trial court sided with the prosecutor and ruled Martin clearly established strict liability when there are drugs in the defendant’s system when the crash occurred. Following a bench trial, the judge ruled that since proof of impairment was not necessary, there was sufficient evidence to find Way guilty. Way was subsequently sentenced to 18 months in prison.

At the sentencing hearing, Way’s counsel indicated that she has low blood sugar, which could have caused her to “fall asleep” prior to the accident. In support, counsel pointed to civil law addressing accidents caused by “an act of God,” or those that could not have been prevented by human care. In Evans v. Brown, the Illinois Court of Appeal for the Fourth District held that whether an “act of God” occurs should be determined by the trier of fact. For this reason, Way’s counsel argued, Way should have been permitted to present evidence of her low blood pressure at trial.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal agreed. While the state argued that the “act of God” defense was only found in civil cases, the appeals court reasoned that there is a significant overlap between civil and criminal cases in the realm of proximate cause. Specifically, the Illinois Supreme Court has consistently used identical definitions for proximate cause and foreseeability in both civil and criminal cases. The court found no reason not to extend the civil law analysis regarding the “act of God” defense to the criminal realm.

The appeals court reasoned Martin had little relevance to Way’s case. Specifically, the Martin court was not presented with the issue before it, which was the evidence a defendant may seek to introduce at trial to rebut the presumption of impairment.

The court concluded that it was erroneous for the trial court to deny Way a chance to argue her low blood sugar, rather than THC, caused the accident. If the trier of fact found that there was no illness, or that low blood sugar was not the proximate cause of the accident, the state would prevail. Put simply, the evidence should have been submitted to the trier of fact. It was reversible error for the lower court to rule otherwise. The state appealed.

Following oral arguments last month, the issue is now under submission by the Illinois Supreme Court.

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 at 217.525.0520.

More Blog Posts:

Illinois Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bill into Law, Illinois DUI Lawyner Blog, September 1, 2016.

Illinois Appeals Court Rejects DUI Defendant’s Claims of Ineffective Assistance as Matters of Trial Strategy, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blog, August 1, 2016.

Supreme Court Holds Fourth Amendment Permits Warrantless Breath Tests, But Not Warrantless Blood Tests, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, July 1, 2016.

Illinois Appeals Court Upholds DUI Defendant’s Summary Suspension Despite Hearing Delay, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, June 2, 2016.

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