On April 21, 2011, the Illinois Supreme Court, in a unanimous 7-0 opinion, issued a ruling important to Illinois DUI lawyers. Understanding the decision requires some knowledge of Illinois DUI law.
The state has several methods at its disposal to sustain a DUI charge. The traditional means is to prove that as a result of your consumption of alcohol, your ability to drive was impaired. This is the “actual impairment” DUI.
Prosecutors were finding it too hard to prove actual impairment. Therefore, in order to stack the deck against those charged with DUI, the Illinois General Assembly passed DUI laws that make it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, which was originally .10 but is now .08.
This number represents the percent of alcohol in your bloodstream. Prosecutions that rely upon the .08 are known as “pro se alcohol” violations.
The per se blood alcohol legal limit can be measured by actual blood samples, which is expensive and time-consuming. So, to make it easier for the state to convict you of DUI, the law allows the police to demand that you give a breath sample by blowing into a mouthpiece connected to a machine (the Breathalyzer). This machine supposedly converts the breath sample into blood alcohol level equivalents.
Sometimes the police claim that a person is under the influence of illegal drugs. This is also illegal but hard to prove as it requires proof of actual impairment from the drugs.
Likewise, you may be taking legally dispensed prescription medications. The police may suspect your medications are impairing your driving. If so, you are guilty of DUI. But again, actual impairment is hard to prove.
Maybe the police think you are under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs and prescriptions drugs. If they can prove actual impairment, it’s DUI.
All this actual impairment evidence, while protective of the rights of the accused, was just too much work for the police and prosecutors. Therefore, a law was passed that said, if you have ANY AMOUNT of a drug, legal or illegal, in your “blood, breath or urine” you are guilty of DUI. This is the “per se drug” law.
If you commit a DUI offense and someone is killed, you are guilty of a felony and face imprisonment. In the Supreme Court case, the driver had an accident that caused two people to die.
The driver was not impaired, but had used drugs a few days earlier. Some tiny traces of that drug were still in his system at the time of the incident.
He gave a blood and urine sample. The blood sample showed no drugs but the urine sample, after some detailed testing, showed a very small amount.
The issue in the Supreme Court case was, in order to throw the driver in prison, did the state have to prove that the trace amounts of drugs taken days earlier and found in his urine caused the accident? The court said no, as a result of which the driver is going to prison for 6 years. If you are involved in an accident where someone is killed and if you have used any drugs, even legal ones, in the previous 30-60 days, do not agree to provide blood, breath or urine samples.