Few legal offenses are more pervasive in Illinois than driving under the influence. DUI charges cut across all demographic boundaries; it seems almost everyone knows someone who has been stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence. Yet, many members of the public are relatively uniformed regarding the evidentiary and legal elements of a DUI charge. What do Illinois statutes say about DUIs? What kind of evidence goes into proving a DUI charge, and how is it obtained? This information is of interest for all motorists, and is especially important for those who are facing DUI prosecution.
Basic Illinois Law Regarding DUIs
Driving under the influence is defined in Illinois as operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol, other drugs or intoxicating compounds and/or methamphetamine. A driver is legally considered to be under the influence if he or she has a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher. However, an individual with a BAC between .05 and .08 may still be convicted of DUI if additional evidence shows the driver was impaired (for BACs below .05, a conviction is also possible, but by statute a driver with a BAC lower than .05 is presumed not to be under the influence of alcohol, making a prosecution unlikely). Higher BACs can mean increased penalties in the sentencing phase.
Under Illinois statute, every person operating a motor vehicle is deemed to consent to chemical tests of blood, breath or urine to determine the content of alcohol or other drugs in the driver’s blood. Refusing to submit to testing results in an automatic suspension of driving privileges for a year (failing a chemical test, on the other hand, results in a 6 month suspension). These statutory summary suspensions for refusing or failing a chemical test do not replace criminal penalties, which may be more severe if charges are proven later. After the 31st day of suspension, first time offenders may be eligible for a Monitoring Device Driving Permit, which allows them to operate vehicles installed with a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (a mechanism that tests BAC before a vehicle can be started). If a person under arrest refuses to submit to a chemical test, evidence of the refusal is admissible in any civil or criminal action arising out of the incident.
Evidence Necessary to Maintain DUI Charges, and How it is Obtained
There is no “magic bullet” that always allows the government to maintain charges in a DUI case, but there are several layers of evidence that often are used most often. Chemical tests are presumed admissible by Illinois statute, but are not always helpful to the prosecution; oftentimes, a DUI defense is strengthened by low or borderline results. Faulty, inaccurate or improperly administered tests may also hamper the strength of chemical tests as evidence. Whatever the results, chemical testing is often central evidence in a DUI case.
Further evidence in DUI cases may come directly from the arresting officer. A police officer must have some reason for stopping a vehicle, which may or may not add weight in maintaining DUI charges (swerving across the center line may point toward DUI, but a broken taillight would not). If alcohol use is suspected during a stop, the driver is asked to submit to field sobriety tests, which may include the One Leg Stand, Walk and Turn or Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (nystagmus is an involuntary jerking or bouncing of the eyeball that occurs when alcohol hinders the ability of the brain to correctly control eye muscles). An officer’s testimony as to performance on field sobriety tests, suspicious behavior or comments from the driver, or other indicators of DUI (open alcohol containers in the vehicle, strong smell of liquor, etc.) can be instrumental in proving a case.
If an officer develops probable cause based on his or her observations, the driver is arrested, taken to the police station and asked to submit to chemical testing. Results of the testing are usually admissible in court, as is a refusal to submit to testing. A driver may obtain additional testing at his or her own expense to submit to the court as well.
A single aspect of DUI evidence can rarely maintain a charge; rather, cases that are pursued have solid evidence when examining the complete picture. For example, even without a chemical test, DUI charges can be maintained on strong officer testimony. On the other hand, a chemical test means little if the state has nothing to back it up, especially if there is some question as to the test’s reliability. Whether it is a question of what the arresting officer is ready to testify to, the results of any blood work, damage to a vehicle or images on video tending to prove or disprove impairment, strong DUI cases involve a diverse combination of reliable sources of evidence.
Hundreds of Illinois motorists are killed each year in alcohol-related accidents, and the penalties for DUI can be very serious. It is never a good idea to drink and drive. But, if you find yourself facing DUI charges, it is important to seek the assistance of an attorney. Your attorney can help you assess the strength of your case, and ensure a fair outcome by protecting your rights. When it comes to DUI charges, an experienced attorney is essential in untangling the complexity of your case and helping you obtain the best results based on the circumstances of your situation.