Former Yankee catcher Jim Leyritz was charged with reckless homicide as a result of a traffic crash in Florida. Both he and the driver of the vehicle with which he collided had blood alcohol levels about the legal limit of .08.
In order to convict Leyritz of reckless homicide, a felony, the prosecutor was required to prove that his intoxication caused the crash. The evidence cast doubt on whether Leyritz or the other driver ran the red light.
Because the jury was unable to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that Leyritz ran the red light, he was found not guilty of the reckless homicide charge. Leyritz was found guilty of DUI and sentenced to probation with no jail time.
A DUI charge is criminal in nature. As such, the prosecutor (in Illinois he is referred to as the state’s attorney, not to be confused with the attorney general) must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged committed each part of the offense. In Illinois, the offense consists of 2 parts:
1. That the accused was in actual physical control of a vehicle; and
2. That at the time the accused was in actual physical control of a vehicle, the accused was under the influence of any alcohol or drug or combination of drugs to a degree which rendered the accused incapable of safely driving.
In the Leyritz case, there was no doubt he was in actual physical control of a motor vehicle. The proposition in question was whether he was “under the influence” of alcohol to such an extent that he was incapable of driving safely.
It is important to notice that the state does not have to prove you were “drunk”, a concept that confuses many people. In fact, years ago, the charge was “Driving While Intoxicated” (thus the shortcut DWI). Hearing that term, the public and juries interpreted it as meaning that unless you were “falling down drunk”, you were not DWI.
The offense was renamed “Driving Under the Influence” (DUI). The charge sticks if the state can show that a result of your consumption of alcohol, your ability to drive safely was effected in any manner. They do this in several ways.
First, the police observe your physical condition for signs of alcohol-related impairment- bloodshot eyes, slurred speech. They will also note whether you have trouble standing, walking, following simple instructions and performing common tasks such as removing your license from your wallet.
They will also ask to you engage in more specialized physical tasks that allegedly determine whether you are impaired from alcohol. These are known as standardized field sobriety tests.
The second thing they will do is ask you to take a breath test. If you take the test and register .08 or higher, they will charge you with driving above a .08 limit.