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Peoria woman involved in fatal DUI faces prison absent proving “extraordinary circumstances”

In addition to making Driving Under the Influence (DUI) illegal, Illinois DUI law also has a class of offenses known as “aggravated” DUI. 625 ILCS 5/11-501(d) Aggravated DUI is a standard DUI with certain factors that the General Assembly has determined make it “worse” than standard DUI.

Aggravating factors include a third or subsequent DUI “violation”. In most instances, adverse actions under the Illinois Vehicle Code require a conviction. In those situations, other than when dealing with the law pertaining to Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLS), supervision is thus not a factor in the equation.

However, in order to receive court supervision, you must admit that you committed the violation. Therefore, since the aggravated DUI law requires only a violation as opposed to a conviction, supervision does count.

Another aggravating factor is that in committing a DUI, the person caused a motor vehicle accident that resulted in great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to another. Someone who has previously been convicted of reckless homicide in the operation of a motor vehicle in which alcohol was a factor, or who was previously convicted of aggravated DUI involving death or an accident that resulted in great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement to another is also guilty of aggravated DUI.

There are also DUI enhancements where the driver was DUI and was involved in an accident while operating in a school speed zone that caused injury to any other person or the DUI driver was in an accident that caused injury to an occupant under the age of 16.

Aggravated DUI also occurs if you commit DUI at time you know you do not have insurance or at a time you do not have a valid driver’s license. Another aggravating offense is a second DUI committed while transporting an occupant under the age of 16 years.

A DUI fatality (formerly known as reckless homicide) is a felony as well. It is a Class 2 felony..

Unless the court for determines that “extraordinary circumstances” exist that require probation, the person convicted of fatal DUI must be sentenced to between 3 and 14 years of prison if one person died and to 6 to 28 years if two or more persons died. The term “extraordinary circumstances” is not defined by the law. It has been left to the judges to determine when those circumstances exist. A Peoria County woman involved in a fatal crash must sort through case law on this subject.

Thus, in People v. Winnigham, the defendant did not have a criminal record, (2) was employed as a Williamsville fire department lieutenant, and (3) had saved numerous lives as a firefighter. After the accident, defendant (1) completed 50 hours of alcohol counseling and (2) continually expressed his sincere remorse and regret that his actions caused Teresa’s death and her relatives’ injuries.

The judge also reviewed (1) a letter from counsel for Teresa’s estate, which showed defendant’s willingness to assist counsel’s pursuit of a dramshop suit against the tavern where defendant had been drinking and (2) approximately 80 to 90 letters from family, friends, and firefighters describing defendant’s positive impact on their lives.

Despite all of this evidence, the defendant was denied probation and sentenced to 3 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. He served 33 months and upon his release he has taken it upon himself to speak to high school classes about the dangers of drunk driving.

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