An encounter with the police may begin with a short trip to the store for a pack of cigarettes or maybe a taco. Not too far from home, not planning to be gone for long. Left wheels barely crossing over the center line after a wide right turn. Sitting a little to long after the traffic light turns green, lifting a head off the steering wheel. Hitting a bump too hard, then a hard pull to the right, while the warped wheel rolls flat. Might be best to pull off the road awhile and rest tired eyes.
These are some of the scenarios leading to DUI charges against my clients: weaving and crossing over the double yellow line, stopped in the middle of the intersection, driving on a flat tire, sleeping on the side of the road. Like them, you too may one day find yourself faced with a DUI and needing a defense.
Most people know it’s a crime to drive while intoxicated. The signs tell us that .08 is the limit. A breathalyzer reading showing an alcohol concentration of .08 or above is proof of intoxication regardless of one’s personal capacity. The commercials bombard us with messages that drunk drivers lose their license, go to jail and pay thousands of dollars in fines, court costs, and attorneys fees.
What some people don’t know is that it’s a crime to drive while impaired by alcohol, drugs or other intoxicating compounds. Cannabis doesn’t show up on the breathalyzer but a trained officer can recognize the signs. Prescription drugs, legally taken, can lead to a DUI charge if they render a person incapable of safely driving.
Even sleeping it off on the side of the road or in a parking lot won’t prevent a DUI charge. All that is required to support a conviction for DUI is proof that the intoxicated person was in “actual physical control” of a vehicle anywhere within the State of Illinois. Judges have found “actual physical control” to exist where an intoxicated driver was sleeping in the back seat of a car but was capable of starting the engine and moving it almost instantly.
If suspicious of drunk driving, police officers can stop a car for driving infractions or equipment defects. Evidence for intoxication can be glassy bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, a strong odor of alcohol, poor balance, and inability to perform field sobriety tests.
The most common field sobriety tests are the HGN (horizontal gaze nystagmus) test, which looks for involuntary jerking of the eyeball trying to follow an object from side to side. Additionally, the Walk and Turn Test will be used, which requires the driver to walk heel to toe for nine steps, pivot and walk back heel to toe. The One Leg Stand is another test which requires the driver to keep one foot raised off the ground for 30 seconds, while counting one-one thousand, two-one thousand, etc. Failure to satisfactorily perform the field sobriety tests without losing balance is evidence of intoxication, which the judge or jury may rely on, even if no breath, blood or urine test was done.
The penalties for DUI are severe and increase drastically with each additional offense. A first offense is a misdemeanor that carries a minimum sentence of court supervision, fines & court costs, alcohol or substance abuse counseling, a maximum fine of $2,500, up to one-year in jail, and possible suspension of driving privileges.
A second offense includes a mandatory conviction, mandatory jail, and revocation of driving privileges. A third offense is a felony, punishable by up to 7 years in prison and a fine up to $25,000. The penalties continue to increase with each subsequent violation with a sixth offense punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The penalties are even worse when a child is in the vehicle, an accident occurs resulting in injuries or death, or the person is driving on a suspended or revoked license.
Attorney Greg Martucci of Martucci Law has been successfully representing defendants charged with DUI for more than 30 years. In some cases, he may find a technical defense to defeat the charge. In others, the evidence may be insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and justify contesting the charges in a bench or jury trial. Where the evidence of guilt is strong, however, the best outcome may be to negotiate a favorable plea agreement involving a reduced charge or lenient sentence.