The Need to Change the Illinois Aggravated DUI Statute
If a person is charged with Driving Under the Influence in Illinois and that DUI results in the death of another, the law provides that a person shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less that 3 years and not more than 14 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections unless the judge finds that extraordinary circumstances exist that require probation. It should be noted that if the DUI results in the death of 2 or more persons, the law requires that the person be sentenced between 6 and 28 years in the Department of Corrections. 625 ILCS 5/11-501.1(d)(G). 85% percent of that sentence must be served.
The Problem with the Statute
The problem with the Illinois DUI statute can best be seen through an example. For purposes of this example, let’s assume Dave and Jim go out drinking for Jim’s 21st birthday. Dave is also 21 and smoked marijuana a few days prior to Jim’s birthday. Dave doesn’t drink all night while taking Jim around. At the end of the night, Dave takes Jim home at his request. On the way home, Dave skids on some ice and into a streetlight. The impact kills Jim. Dave is injured, he is taken to the hospital and they find trace amounts of THC in his system. Dave is charged with Aggravated DUI that results in the death of Jim.
Dave is arrested and he has a high bond set. He is incarcerated in the local county jail until the case is resolved. What are the penalties that Dave is looking at? Well, the statute specifically addresses that a person should not receive probation unless extraordinary circumstances exist.
Illinois courts have interpreted “extraordinary circumstances” to mean that the accused has family obligations which will place a hardship on the defendant’s family. For instance, the defendant is a single parent who have children who depend upon them. However, the trend in Illinois has been to narrowly construe this provision. This, in essence, mandates prison time.
The Minimum Sentence
Let’s assume that the court will not find that extraordinary circumstances exist for Dave. He is now looking at a 3 year minimum sentence to be served at 85%…and that is the minimum. Dave could be sentenced up to 14 years at 85% for this offense of which he would have to serve approximately 12 years in prison.
In implementing this statute, judges have been hesitant to sentence people to the minimum. In fact, the trend is just the opposite. Offenders are being sentenced between 8-12 years for the first offense. The state always has the same argument: the courts need to send a message that driving under the influence is dangerous and this case will be a deterrent for future motorists.
This argument has had a profound impact on Defendants because the courts are accepting it. People with no criminal history and no prior DUIs are getting high prison sentences. We understand that a person has died. It is a tragedy. However, from a legal standpoint, the DUI death statute is far too draconian.
Comparison to Other Crimes
If Dave is convicted and he receives the minimum prison sentence, he will serve more time than a person who is convicted of Criminal Sexual Abuse or their Fifth DUI and receives the minimum sentence. What is the problem with that? Dave did not intend to drive under the influence. He may not have even known that he had THC in his system. However, the courts have ruled that does not matter.
We submit that the law should be changed so a person can receive probation. In addition, instead of the sentence being served at 85%, we would change it to a 50% offense. These changes would give the court system more flexibility with people like Dave. Ultimately, we believe justice would be served by some changes.
However, our solution will likely never be implemented. This is because legislators want to appear to be tough on crime to their constituents and reducing the penalty for DUI is not good for their public image. When this is coupled with lobbyists groups like Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, it simply will not happen.
If you have or a loved one have been charged with Aggravated DUI, contact our Criminal Defense Lawyers today for a Free Initial Consultation at (217) 414-8889. As always, please Like Us on Facebook.