Case Law Update – Aggravated DUI

Is a defendant guilty of aggravated DUI where an accident occurs and any amount of drugs or alcohol are in the driver’s system? Can another intervening cause be used as a defense against the assertion that it was the consumption of alcohol or drugs that was the direct cause of the accident and thus requires a guilty finding? In People v. Way 2015 IL App (5th), the Appellate Court explored the assertion that the statute provides for a strict liability interpretation. The defendant was find guilty, after a bench trial, of aggravated driving under the influence. The facts of the case relevant to the decision were that the defendant was involved in a two-car accident wherein her fourteen years old son, a passenger in her vehicle, was seriously injured as a result of the accident. She was charged with the aggravated driving under the influence with the State presenting evidence alleging that she had consumed alcohol and had smoked marijuana on the day of the accident. After a bench trail, following numerous motions, the Court found the defendant guilty asserting that the Illinois Vehicle Code § 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(6) is a strict liability statute where the proximate cause of injuries is not relevant. During the course of motions before the trial, the defendant’s attorney attempted to present evidence of possible alternative causes of the accident based on the defendant’s medical condition at the time of the accident. The court ruled that this evidence of the alternative proximate cause of the accident was disqualified. The defendant appealed the guilty verdict. The Appellate Court determined that the defendant should have been allowed to present her medical evidence, as to an alternative approximate cost of the accident and the injuries, allowing her to put on a proper defense as to the charge of the aggravated driving under the influence. The Appellate Court refused to interpret the statute as if the general assembly had intended for the particular paragraph of the statue to be read as a strict liability standard – where no alternative proximate causes of the related accident were allowed to be introduced at trial to determine guilt for the DUI charge. The Appellate Court found that the language in the statute stating “when the violation was the proximate cost of the injuries” made it fairly clear that it was the intent of legislators to provide for a causal connection to be proven at the time of the trial. On the other hand this same language would allow for the defendant to provide evidence of alternative causes of the accident as a defense – such as a medical problem as in this case.

DUI – Breathalyzer Below .08

Can a person be charged with DUI even if his blood alcohol content is below .059 and thus below the legal limit, but on the contention of the police officer that the defendant had shown evidence of intoxication and impairment. In People v. Phillips, the 1st District Appellate Court here in Illinois was tasked with making this determination. The defendant was charged with driving under the influence pursuant to 625 ILCS 5/11-501 (a)(2) which is a charge of driving while under the influence, but this particular paragraph makes no statement as to the blood alcohol concentration. Instead (a)(2) relies on the assertion that the driver was driving in an impaired condition based on a totality of the evidence at the time of the traffic stop. Upon being found guilty by the trial court, the defendant appealed. One of the issues on appeal was the contention that the State failed to meet its burden of proving him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on the argument that since he did not blow .08 there is a presumption of a lack of impairment. Therefore, the defendant contended that if he did not blow .08 then the statute stated that the court needed to start from a presumption that he was not impaired and thus could not be charged. The appellate court ruled on the contrary stating that although under the Illinois vehicle code someone who is stopped for suspected DUI, and is given a breath test, and blows less than .08, but more than .05 the statute makes no presumption of impairment, but neither does it infer a lack of impairment. The court ruling basically confirms what has been the state of affairs related to this particular form of DUI charge – that when someone’s BAC, based on a breathalyzer test, is below .08 it is the totality of circumstances, the total facts of the case, that will control in the ultimate court’s decision. Therefore, the testimony of any witnesses, the arresting officer, any other officers, and anyone else as to the facts and circumstances of the DUI stop. This may include the appearance of the defendant, whether there was a smell of an alcoholic beverage on the person, whether they were able to go through the field sobriety tests sufficiently well, and any other facts and circumstances allowing the court or the jury to make an informed decision on whether or not the defendant was guilty. In this case it was the smell of an alcoholic beverage on defendant, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, general disorientation and lack of awareness of his surroundings, and finally difficulty with the field sobriety tests which were sufficient for a finding of guilty.