Exclusively Practicing Criminal Defense for
Two Decades
David Olshansky

Driving Under the Influence

Driving under influence is a controversial offense in Illinois. Due to political reasons, prosecutors are reluctant to give a good deal to the defendant because it looks bad in the press. The judges are similarly careful in acquitting the accused, especially if the DUI results in bodily injury or death of another person.

Unlike the possession of alcohol or public drinking charge, a DUI always involves a motor vehicle stop by the police. Law-enforcement officers are authorized to test drivers who are suspected to be under the influence and make arrests if they have reason to believe that the driver is intoxicated.

State Legislation

Illinois legislation for drunk driving is covered under 625 ILCS 5/11-500. The law prohibits a person from driving any vehicle within the state while:

  • Under the influence of alcohol.
  • Under the influence of any intoxicating compound or combination of such compounds which leave the person incapable of driving safely.
  • The alcohol concentration in the person’s body or breath is 0.08 or more based on the definitions in the legislation.
  • Under the influence of other drugs or medication that render the person incapable of driving safely.

A person caught for driving under influence may be charged with an aggravated offense if he or she is caught:

  • Driving a school bus with one or more passengers.
  • For the third or subsequent time for the same driving under influence violation.
  • For the violation and was previously involved in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in bodily harm, permanent disability, disfigurement or death of another person.
  • Driving over the speed limit in a school speed zone.
  • Driving while his or her driving privileges have been revoked or suspended in connection with similar violation or homicide due to reckless driving.

Driving under influence is a Class A misdemeanor. The first offense of DUI results in license suspension for six months. The court may also impose a penalty of $2,500 and a prison sentence of 1 year at maximum.

A second offense of DUI carries a similar prison term and fines. The license may be revoked for a period of 5 years.

A third offense of DUI can be charged as a Class 2 felony and results in a prison sentence of 3 – 7 years and 10 years of license suspension.

Aggravated DUI may be charged as a Class 4 felony when the driver is arrested in a school zone or causes great bodily harm to another person. This can lead to a prison term of 1 – 3 years.

Aggravated DUI that causes the death of another person is taken very seriously and can lead to a prison term of 1 – 12 years in the case of one homicide or 6 – 28 years in the case of multiple deaths.

Examples and Court Cases

DUI charges may be tricky to contest in court because the evidence can be quite damning. People under the influence are not able to think straight and make confessions to the police that can make their case more difficult.

Consider the case of Randy Hill from Danville. He was involved in a crash while driving under the influence in 2015. The crash resulted in the death of Merit Hicks 23.

The police reported that Hicks was trying to cross the street when he was struck by a speeding car that was driven by the defendant. Hicks was pronounced dead at the scene.

The police later arrested Hill who admitted to being drunk at the time of the incident. He pleaded guilty to the charge of aggravated DUI. He could be sentenced for 3 – 14 years in prison.

In another case a drunk driver was arrested by the police after her car got stuck on a railroad crossing. The police found Jacqueline Gonzalez in Riverside at 3 am in the morning.

Her car was stuck on the tracks with both gates down and the lights flashing.

Gonzalez admitted to the police that she had been drinking the night before. She was charged with a Class A misdemeanor and her license was suspended.

People who get arrested for drunk driving get a blood test to determine the level of alcohol in the body. The blood alcohol level is used as evidence in court and it can be pretty difficult to argue against hard evidence like this.

Possible Legal Defenses

DUI charges are interesting because there are many possible defenses available for the accused. The prosecution must prove two things.

  • The defendant was intoxicated and over the minimum limit.
  • The defendant was driving a vehicle.

The defense could argue with the strategy to annul one of these two points. For instance, if your vehicle is parked and you are not actually driving it you can argue that you are not in violation of the law.

Take the example of Jacqueline Gonzalez posted above. Her vehicle was found in a dangerous area, but she was not actually driving it at the time that the police found her. Gonzalez may have argued in court that she was asleep in her vehicle.

Being drunk while asleep in your car is not an offense. At most, she may have been charged with parking in a dangerous spot. An experienced legal team that understands the laws can help defendants find a strategy that works.

Another defense available for people is to argue that the police had no probable cause for stopping your vehicle or arresting you. This defense works for people who are able to maintain a steady frame of mind. They could be driving perfectly when they get stopped by the law enforcement officers on suspicion.

People come in different sizes and alcohol tolerance levels. We have seen hundreds of people who are able to drive perfectly and complete the sobriety tests even when they are well over the .08 alcohol level while there are others who lose their frame of mind at a level of .01.

If the defendant behaves with complete sobriety at the time of the stop and passes all the tests it would be very difficult for the police to justify an arrest in court. The defense may be able to get the case dismissed by challenging the officer’s testimony.