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Judge Rules Seizure Of DUI-Offender Cars Unconstitutional

DuPage County Judge Thomas C. Dudgeon ruled (Sun-Times) recently that the Illinois law allowing police to seize the vehicles of repeat DUI offenders runs counter to the state's constitution. Anti-drunk driving groups were left fuming.

While the judge says the law was overly broad and unfairly impacted co-owners of cars or where the repeat offense is only a misdemeanor, MADD Illinois executive director Susan McKeigue insists the seizure law is crucial (as quoted in the Sun-Times article):

"The only reason their vehicle is being forfeited is because they're a repeat offender. If someone else is loaning their car or someone else has a stake in it, it's overruled, I think, by the fact they're going to kill somebody some day."

As with all precedent-setting legal decisions, the ruling stems from claims by three DUI defendants who said the seizure law did not allow them to get back their seized vehicles until their cases were heard, sometimes more than two years after the seizure. Illinois DUI lawyer Donald Ramsell, who represented the three men, told reporters that this often adversely impacts co-owning spouses and employers.

Essentially, the ruling underscores the concept that the forfeiture is a punishment in itself, even before the defendant has had his or her trial.  

Regardless, DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett has expressed his intention of blocking the ruling with an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. The seizure of repeat DUI offenders' vehicles effectively lowers the rate of repeat drunk driving, he claims.

This is just another example of the tension between liberty and public safety and may be a close decision if the state's high Court takes it up. At least Chicagoans have decent public transit options.