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Should Illinois focus more on treatment for DUI offenders?

The focus of efforts in Illinois to reduce offenses for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) has taken three directions. The first is the criminal justice system, which has made DUI a serious crime.

Even a first DUI conviction is a Class-A misdemeanor subject to a fine of as much as $2,500.00 and up to 364 days in county jail, or both a fine and jail. 625 ILCS 5/11-501. A second offense carriers additional penalties and a third offense is a felony.

The law has also created other aggravating factors that pile on additional penalties, mandatory minimums and other “feel good” provisions. Some of the variables include the age of passengers, the severity of the injury, the number of people who perish in a fatal accident, the location of the offense such as a school zone, and other politically appealing scenarios.

The second “hammer” the law applies to DUI matters is directed at driver’s license consequences. The mere fact you are arrested puts you at great risk of suffering a driver’s license suspension.

You are asked to take a breath test. You take the test and if the results are .08 or greater, your driver’s license will be suspended for anywhere from 6 to 12 months. And the results of the breath test reading can be used against you in the criminal prosecution.

You have the option of refusing the test. In that case, the prosecutor will argue that your refusal is “evidence of a guilty mind”, or in other words, if you thought you were sober, you would take the test in order to prove your sobriety.

In addition, there will be a driver’s license suspension and as punishment for refusing to take the test, your suspension will be longer than if you had taken the test. For a first offender, the suspension will be for one year. For a non first offender, it will be three years. During the entire three years, you are not allowed to drive at all for any reason.

And that’s only what happens from being arrested. If you end up being convicted of the DUI, your license will be revoked. Since your license is revoked, you can only get it back through a hearing with the Illinois Secretary of State. 625 ILCS 5/2-118
It’s during this hearing process that the focus turns less to punishment and more to rehabilitation and treatment as means to avoid future drunk driving behavior. The type of intervention required depends upon several facts.

One is the number of DUI offenses. Another factor is the abuse and dependency symptoms. 77 Illinois Administrative Code §2060.101; 92 Illinois Administrative Code §1001.10
The lowest risk offenders are only required to engage in driver risk education (DRE). DRE is ten-hour course to educate you on the dangers of drinking and driving and how to avoid doing so again.

A slightly higher risk offender will be required to complete the DRE as well as twelve hours of courses that focus on early signs of potential alcohol abuse. Its purpose is to head off alcohol problems before they start.

The next risk level assumes that the offender has developed an alcohol abuse problem but is not an alcoholic. Those people must complete DRE and also twenty hours of courses that are supposed to address the alcohol abuse problems that the offender’s driving record and other information suggests already exists.

Alcoholics, the highest risk level, are referred for 75 hours of alcohol treatment, the purpose of which is to educate them on how to stop drinking forever. In addition to formal treatment classes with a specialist, alcoholics must show they have a support program to help them from ever drinking again.

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