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December 2009 Archives

A new application for Apple's wildly popular iPhone helps drivers calculate their blood alcohol content based on a number of factors, including the person's weight and type of drinks drunk, then provides phone numbers for local taxi services if driving is not an option. It's a great idea (KKTV, Southern Colorado), but unfortunately it's not yet localized for Chicago drivers.

In other words, the app works just fine for anyone who's had a few drinks and is concerned about their ability to drive without getting busted. The Colorado-specific app just doesn't provide one-click access to Chicago taxis.

Much has been made about the dangers of texting while driving and indeed its dangers are well-documented. Many observers thought the following public service announcement aired in the UK went a little too far, but it certainly makes its point:

While texting drivers are 23 times more likely to get involved in a collision than non-distracted counterparts, according to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, it may surprise you to learn that other distractions might be even more of a concern.

A drunk driver in Grundy County broadsided the car of 27-year-old Amanda Jahn, killing her and her two young children (CBS 2 Chicago). Driver Ann Marie Getz, who has several prior DUI convictions, was treated for non-life-threatening injuries and faces felony charges.  

Sound familiar? That's often all you hear about the victims of drunk driving accidents, the above tragedy occurring more than a year ago.

Surviving husband and dad Josh Jahn has made it his mission to spread the word about drunk driving, retelling the horrible details from Nov. 6, 2008 to anyone who cares to listen.

Clearing Your Record: Expungement 101

A DUI arrest costs time, money and countless headaches associated with navigating the legal system. It also can cost you career opportunities, a setback few can afford in such a tight labor market.

Thankfully, some DUI arrests can be expunged or sealed. Expungement is the process of having an arrest record or some convictions destroyed as if they never existed, while the process to have records sealed is similar to expungement but merely keeps those records off limits to the public.

Under-21 DUI Law: Use It & Lose It

What is the highest blood alchohol content a minor can have if driving a motor vehicle?

The answer may be surprising, especially to European-style families that allow teens to responsibly sip a short glass of wine with dinner. But if a minor pulled over by a police officer has more than a .00 BAC (a few sips of wine would do it) then he or she must be ready to kiss that coveted driver's license goodbye.

Otherwise responsible parents may want to familiarize themselves with Illinois' "Use It & Lose It" zero tolerance law, which become effective 14 years ago. The reasonable cause threshold is rather low, so a simple wine stain on the collar would be plenty enough reason for a breathalyzer test (but a Chicago DUI attorney would be able to provide better detail).

Technically she was charged with an "OWI," which stands for "operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated," but that's Iowa's version of an ordinary drunk-driving charge. What's extraordinary about this case is that the offender is an investigator for the Illinois State's Attorney's Office (Tribune).  

Her passenger was a Forest Park, Illinois police officer and the two of them were attending a class at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. After they were pulled over for speeding (64 mph in a 35 mph zone), Mary Sarna told the cop she was an investigator and had a gun, while her passenger showed him his badge. 

Wake Up! Drowsy Driving Not Unlike DUI

Motorists cutting z's behind the wheel -- even for just a split second --  claim numerous lives each year, as an estimated 5 million Americans drive while drowsy at least once a month (based on a National Sleep Foundation poll).

What does this have to do with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs? A Chicago DUI attorney probably won't be able to help you beat a reckless driving charge if your drug of choice is sleep-deprivation, but drowsy driving is not all that different from drunk driving.

A person who has been awake for 18 hours is just as impaired as a motorist with a blood alcohol level of between .05 percent and .10 percent, according to many researchers. But it's not clear if that also applies to someone who received a generous eight to 10 hours of sleep the night before or maintained alertness throughout day from regular trips to the local coffee shop.

Beer Company Launches Anti-DUI Campaign

Call it enlightened self-interest, but a campaign launched during the holiday season by beer giant MillerCoors (PR Newswire) aims to keep the roads a little safer this year. It's quite brilliant from a sales and brand marketing point of view: Please indulge in our products and, by the way, we care enough to send you home safely.

If the campaign proves successful, Chicago DUI attorneys may get less business than usual at the start of the New Year.

Drunk Cop Kills 29-Year-Old Man

It has finally been confirmed: The off-duty Lockport cop who caused a fatal crash on the Far South Side of Chicago allegedly was drunk (everyone's innocent until proven guilty) at the time, his blood alcohol test showing that he was nearly three times the legal limit (Sun-Times).

Thirty-four-year-old officer Eddie Stapinski, charged with an aggravated DUI and reckless homicide, was ordered held on $750,000 bail during a hearing in Bridgeview.

Mike Wong, a 29-year-old immigrant from Vietnam (but of Chinese descent), was killed in the accident just an hour after Stapinski's weaving car hit the median at about 80 mph, launched into the air and made impact with Wong's car in the other lane.

Drunk Driver Kills 19-Year-Old

It only takes one-too-many drinks and a split-second lapse in judgment to deprive someone of their life and a mother of her son. Sometimes getting arrested for a DUI is nothing compared to the ultimate price paid by innocent motorists who find themselves at the wrong place and time.

Nineteen-year-old Kevin Benes had just started his career as an electrician after graduating high school in 2008, where he was active in sports. On Dec. 11, 24-year-old repeat offender Michael Bourdage ran a red light and broadsided Benes, killing him (Sun-Times). Results of a breathalyzer test show Bourdage was drunk at the time of the accident.

Chicago gangs essentially run the city's Cook County Jail and the only "perk" is that you can smoke cigarettes, according to a recent two-star review by "Frank G" on Yelp.

What, you thought Yelp reviews were only for restaurants and coffee shops? Any more than two stars and you'd have to ask just how much of a punishment prison really is.

Of course, the real goal of incarceration should be as much about rehabilitation as it is punishment. So many petty criminals lead a life of serious crime after taking notes and making connections in the Big House.

So it's inspiring to read about innovative programs that empower inmates while reducing recidivism.

Take, for example, Cook County Jail's 13,000 square-foot organic vegetable garden (Chicago Garden), which coordinator Mike Taff claims reduced recidivism by 17 percent (the national average is 54 percent).

Cars and trucks are potentially deadly weapons in the best of conditions, even more so if they're operated by a drunk driver. DUI accidents often result in death and/or serious injury if the offender is too wasted to slow down before impact.

Fatal DUIs usually result in charges of aggravated DUI and involuntary manslaughter. But a recent accident that left Maria Worthon dead and her six-year-old son critically injured (Tribune) has been charged as first-degree murder.

Thirty-year-old defendant Ralph Eubanks allegedly slammed into Worthon and her son, Jeremiah Worthon, as they were crossing the street. She was thrown nearly a half of a block and died, according to a witness, while Jeremiah was rushed to the ER in critical condition.

Humiliated Until Proven Guilty?

Suppose you were pulled over on suspicion of a DUI because, let's say, you swerved to avoid hitting a squirrel in your path. The cop behind you didn't see the squirrel, so he stopped you to see if you'd been drinking. For the sake of argument, let's say you haven't had a sip of alcohol in the past three days.

The officer asks you to step out of the car and engage in some "tests," but maybe you're just a little clumsy and nervous. The officer still isn't sure about your condition and he simply laughed at your "I swerved to miss a squirrel" defense, so he asks you to blow into the breathalyzer.

Low and behold, it registers a .09! You're hauled into the station, incredulous and understandably angry. Usually, a suspect would receive a second breathalyzer test with the bigger and better unit housed at the station but for some reason the officer failed to so do. Let's assume the breathalyzer was malfunctioning in this scenario, which will be proven later.

 

DUI arrests in the US declined by about 2 percent between 1998 and 2007 overall, according to statistics by the FBI (PDF). That's not much but at least it's not increasing. The real story, however, is the marked increase of DUIs among women.

While drunk driving arrests among men actually decreased by 7.5 percent during the 10-year period ending 2007, DUI arrests spiked by a whopping 28.8 percent among women.

Why such a surge among female drivers?

The story of a Tinley Park man's arrest, conviction and sentencing for a DUI incident in Indiana (Southtown Star) that killed a 30-year-old Wisconsin man illustrates the life-changing effects of drunk driving on the victim, the victim's family and the accused.

Fifty-five year old Michael Michalski retired from his job at the Chicago Ford plant, got divorced and sold his Tinley Park home after the Oct. 11, 2008 accident on Interstate 94. He told victim Ben Larson's family members during sentencing how sorry he was and how he prayed for them.

He will serve four years in prison for his aggravated DUI conviction, although prosecutors had sought an eight-year sentence.

Cook County Judge Thomas V. Lyons ruled that Playboy's Miss May 2009 shouldn't have been arrested for a DUI (Sun-Times). Crystal McCahill was stopped by police on the Near North Side earlier this year after running a red light.

Prosecutors can still pursue their case against McCahill if they choose to appeal the judge's ruling but, as her Illinois DUI attorney Michael J. Monaco was quoted in the article, their case is "severely undermined."

Her admission of taking three shots of liquor before leaving the nightclub where she works, the smell of alcohol on her breath, her mumbling to the cop and her "red-bloodshot and glassy eyes"--not to mention the results of a breathalyzer test--are not in dispute.

So what swayed the judge, besides McCahill's considerable charm?

At first glance, it looks like another case of the pot calling the kettle black. Just ahead of the winter holiday season, which tends to consist of more driving and increased drinking, the American Beverage Insitute (ABI) put out a press release calling for an end to sobriety checkpoints.

"Sobriety checkpoints are expensive, ineffective at catching drunk drivers, and target moderate drinkers instead of the root cause of today's drunk driving problem--hard core alcohol abusers," ABI managing director Sarah Longwell said in the release.

ABI is a trade organization representing restaurants and other establishments that serve alcohol.

Technically, St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese was arrested for a DWI, the Missouri equivalent of a DUI in Illinois. The letters stand for "driving while intoxicated."

He's lucky he didn't totally derail his career, his life or another motorist's life, since a breathalyzer test incidates he had a blood alcohol concentration of .232 percent (KPLR, via Tribune). That's nearly three times the legal limit of .08 percent. Even more embarrassing are details in the police report that Freese had no clue where he was or where he was headed when police stopped him at 2:00 a.m.  

A motorist allegedly under the influence of marijuana slammed his Chevy Cavalier into a squad car (Tribune) at the intersection of Western Avenue and 65th Street. Police say the driver, 22-year-old Dion Reno, then got out of his car and ran.

He didn't even hear or see the siren and flashing lights of the squad car, which was responding to an unrelated emergency call, according to the article. Reno didn't get too far after attempting to flee and was caught shortly thereafter.

Don't Chance a DUI: Call a Cab Instead

Here's a novel idea to reduce the number of drunk drivers out on the roads during the alcohol-soaked winter holiday season: Offer vouchers for taxi rides during the month of December.

The Lev Foundation is doing just that (AP, via San Jose Mercury News) in an effort to reduce DUIs, but only in Southern California.

Based in Beverly Hills, the Lev Foundation is named after Daniel Levian, who was killed last year while riding in a car driven by a drunk driver. In addition to its ThinkSmart taxi voucher program, the group also allows party organizers to register and distribute the vouchers to guests.

Los Angeles is thousands of miles from Chicago, of course, but this type of approach could work anywhere. 

Perhaps most Chicagoans aren't all that interested in the finer points of drunk driving laws until they end up on the wrong side of the law. And usually by that point, they've learned everything they need to know from an Illinois DUI lawyer. There's nothing quite like personal experience in providing a real-world education.

But for anyone interested in learning more, the Secretary of State's pithy 2009 Illinois DUI Fact Book contains a wealth of information, including the history of the state's drunk driving laws.

Drunk driving is one of those things that nearly everyone is against (even those who end up drinking and driving themselves), particularly politicians, which means that once a DUI law is in place it can only get more and more strict.

Drive-Through Doubles as Sobriety Test

This story is a great reminder of life in college, when weekend parties would give way to late-night junk food cravings. We always had a designated driver, but a 27-year-old Aurora man found a DUI charge (Sun-Times) along with his burrito after getting his car stuck in a Taco Bell drive-through lane.

Not sure if Aaron Dawson had a chance to eat his late-night snack before having his picture taken.

Lake County Judge Defends DUI Charges

Illinois DUI attorney Douglas Zeit says he plans to challenge the blood-alcohol test and other procedures connected to the April 26, 2008 arrest of Lake County Judge David Hall for suspicion of driving under the influence (Tribune) and resisting arrest.

DUI cases very rarely go to trial, since results of a breathalyzer test give relatively conclusive evidence. But Judge Hall's attorney is fighting the case because he believes he can win on a technicality.

Zeit does not dispute the fact that his client's blood-alcohol level was .107 percent and over the limit when stopped by police in Vernon Hills.

When a police officer tells you that "anything you say may be used against you in a court of law," he's doing you a favor. Sure, we've all seen crime dramas and are fully aware of what it means to read one's rights. But keeping your mouth shut -- other than "Good evening officer, is there a problem?" -- is almost always smart practice.

So what if you've had a drink or two (or six?) and you're feeling a little more brazen and unrestrained than normal? Well, then you really want to put a leash on the yapper.

Under no circumstances should you tell an Indiana state trooper (Chicago Tribune): "Dude, I do this every night; I'm straight up and not drunk!" Police say 24-year-old Northwest Indiana resident Zachary Duis did just that.

Here's a bit of advice: If you're planning on delivering illegal drugs by car, wait until after the delivery to get drunk. In a stroke of brilliance, 26-year-old Skokie resident Anthony Jackson (Tribune) was charged with a DUI after he blew through a red light in Evanston and caused a five-injury accident.

Thankfully no one was killed when Jackson's Pontiac sedan broadsided a Nissan Ultima, continued on its course and then knocked down a traffic pole.

Nearly five years ago, 75-year-old Jacqueline Harman and her daughter, 50-year-old Rebecca Nighsonger, were killed just north of Chillicothe when a pickup truck driven by 24-year-old Aaron Martin crossed the divider line (Peoria Journal Star) and struck them. He was found guilty of aggravated DUI because his blood screen showed traces of methamphetamine.

But the 3rd District Court of Appeals earlier this summer ruled that prosecutors failed to prove that the meth was in fact the "proximate cause" (The Free Dictionary) of the Christmas Day collision. 

Now the Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to take up the case (Peoria Journal Star).

It's no mystery why December of all months is designated as National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month (Centers for Disease Control). The dark and cold of winter combined with holiday festivities and vacation time provide plenty of excuses to drink, or use drugs, more heavily than usual.

What you sip or chug in front of the fireplace of your own home is your own business (within certain limits), but once you get behind the wheel it becomes everyone's concern.

Any young, trend-spotting women out there who just had to get one of those otherwise ugly ankle bracelets adorning the not-so-ugly leg of actor Lindsay Lohan (UK Daily Mail) a while ago may remember that it actually was a device used to remotely monitor blood alcohol concentration.

But who cares about some spoiled, attention-hungry diva? Apparently you do, dear reader (in other words, I made you click).

Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc., the Colorado company that makes the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor (PDF, fact sheet), or SCRAM, is now urging courts to make greater use of the monitors (Medical News Today) during the DUI-heavy holiday season.

But first, let's get back to Lindsay's ordeal.

Anatomy of a Distracted Driving Charge

Chicagoans know (or should know) by now that Illinois' ban on sending or receiving text messages while driving (CNN) goes into effect on the first day of 2010. Many experts claim (CNBC) that texting and driving is at least as dangerous as drunk driving, but how are distracted driving charges handled by the law?

The Illinois Vehicle Code (Illinois General Assembly) defines distracted driving as follows:

"A person commits the offense of distracted driving by operating a motor vehicle while engaging in text messaging, reading a newspaper, book, magazine, or map, applying make-up, or changing clothes or tying a tie (instead of operating a motor vehicle while doing anything that distracts the driver from driving in a lawful manner)."

We've all heard how dangerous texting while driving can be, but is it reasonable to suspend someone's license for six months and charge them with a potentially costly misdemeanor, the same as for a DUI? That will surely be a topic of debate for years to come but this new law, difficult as it may be to enforce, is not nearly that harsh.

Although the doctrine of "implied consent" means that anyone who refuses a BAC test automatically loses his or her license for 12 months, criminal DUI charges still depend on evidence of intoxication. Prosecutors can rely on other factors, such as evidence of alcohol in the car, but the BAC test is the ideal smoking gun.

Therefore, Illinois police and prosecutors hope a controversial but apparently legal "no-refusal" policy will help.

Any Chicagoan has been charged with a DUI and whose Illinois DUI lawyer was able to put together a rock-solid, pretrial motion-laden defense should take a few moments to remember the late Richard Essen, who died late last month (The Wall Street Journal).

Never heard of him? Don't worry, you're not alone.

Charges in Fatal DUI Crash Upgraded

Benito Ruiz Ramirez, 27 years old, was killed when 21-year-old Anthony Galvan broadsided him on the 5800 block of South California Ave., allegedly under the influence of alcohol and another, unspecified drug.

Authorities filed felony charges against Galvan (Tribune) for aggravated driving under the influence in an accident resulting in death.

DOT Launches National Anti-DUI Campaign

Drunk driving is of course a nationwide problem but it's usually handled at the individual state level, since DUI laws fall under state jurisdiction.

But a new initiative spearheaded by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation and the White House National Drug Control Policy seeks to unite the 50 states (along with the District of Columbia) in an effort to crack down on drunk driving. It's dubbed simply "Over the Limit. Under Arrest" (StopImpairedDriving.org).

The timing corresponds with the winter holiday season, when DUI arrests and accidents tend to spike.

Jury Acquits: Drunk But Not Driving

It's rare that a drunk driving case actually goes to trial. Usually it's an open/shut case, built around the evidence of a breathalyzer test and settled by an admission of guilt.

So it's worth taking notice when a DUI charge is challenged in court, especially because it often addresses gray areas of the law or disputed facts. In a case from downstate, a Dawson man charged with an aggravated DUI was found not guilty (State Journal-Register) by a jury.  

So-called Holiday Mobilization Grants are designed to help local police departments boost resources geared toward busting more drunk drivers. And if the state is willing to give money to smaller communities that ultimately makes the streets safer, that's a good thing. Right?

Sure, in theory. But an increase in DUI arrests is only the beginning, followed by additional prosecutions and court proceedings that Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti says the court just can't handle (The Courier-News).

Ten-Time DUI Offender Faces Hard Time

Forty-nine year old Hangover Park -- I mean Hanover Park -- resident Richard Niemczyk was popped for his tenth DUI in a case that shows the limits of the system to prevent repeat offenses.

If a suspended license isn't enough to keep him off the road, what can you do?

Not to condone unlawful behavior or anything, but any Chicago motorist who has received a speeding ticket lately should not simply admit guilt and pay the fine by mail. Instead, he or she should fight it in court. After all, the LIDAR (Officer.com) technology widely used by Chicago cops has not held up in Cook County Traffic Court (Chicago Tribune). You don't even need a lawyer.

But this is the Chicago DUI blog, which brings me to a related story written by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown about a man who was pulled over for speeding and subsequently arrested for driving under the influence. Needless to say, the officer used a LIDAR speed gun.

Chicago DUI attorney George Livas publicly stated his intention to dispute the LIDAR evidence, which allegedly clocked his client at 103 mph on a city expressway four years ago.

Proving that the slow, lumbering pace of the Illinois legislature is no match for the fleet-footed agility of technology, the state is just now set to enact a ban on reading, writing or sending text messages while driving (Sun-Times).

So until January 1, drivers may legally text behind the wheel to their heart's content. Not that anyone should engage in such reckless behavior, since distracted driving is a real problem.

This is a case that was not taken up by the US Supreme Court, nor does it involve an Illinois dispute, but strong words by Chief Justice John Roberts certainly signal the tension within the nation's highest Court with regard to 4th Amendment rights and DUI laws.

In the Virginia case, an officer pulled over a motorist (Washington Post) after receiving an anonymous tip that he was driving while drunk. There were no other indications that he was drunk until the officer was able to smell alcohol and witness the driver stumbling to get out of his car. He failed a field sobriety test and eventually was convicted of a DUI.

The Virginia Supreme Court overturned the conviction on the grounds that the officer did not independently verify the motorist's condition before pulling him over. In essense, the Court decided that the motorist's 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure had been violated.

T-Day DUI Suspect Kills Pedestrian

No chance this guy can blame the tryptophan (About.com) for his erratic and sadly fatal driving early on Thanksgiving morning. While it's probably an urban legend that the popular amino acid in turkey puts post-feast diners to sleep, drinking enough alcohol to blow nearly four times the legal BAC limit definitely causes impairment.

The recent DUI fatality is one of six Thanksgiving weekend traffic fatalities recorded in the greater metropolitan Chicago area.

Driving with a suspended or revoked driver's license in Illinois (or anywhere, for that matter) already is a criminal offense. But unlicensed drivers will have their cars impounded under a new Chicago ordinance (Tribune) taking effect on January 1.

The Chicago City Council approved the ordinance last Wednesday in hopes of keeping unlicensed drivers -- often DUI offenders -- off the roads. It also could help the city raise some revenue, since it will cost a $500 fine and $165 in towing costs to get your car back.