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Prosecutors Fight to Convict Fatal Hit-and-run Driver of DUI

On Sunday morning, at around 3:30 a.m., Tundun Lawani was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Knox County, Illinois. The Knox College junior was pronounced dead later that morning at Cottage Hospital. Surveillance footage helped police identify 33-year-old Lakeesha Smith's blue 1997 Ford Taurus. According to the Knox Student, she admitted drinking between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. and her blood alcohol content was 0.72 four hours after the incident.

Smith currently faces charges for leaving the scene of a fatality, two counts of aggravated DUI, and the reckless homicide charge that was added on Monday.

One wonders how much the delay in testing her blood alcohol content will affect the prosecution of the DUI charges. Though the test read below the legal limit, prosecutors will argue that her BAC was above the legal limit at the time of the accident and that the four hour difference allowed her body to process the alcohol.

On the other hand, the defense could argue that there is no proof of what her BAC was at the time of driving. They might also suggest that more alcohol was consumed in the intervening hours, or that her BAC was rising at the time of the accident due to rapid consumption of alcohol and that if it ever peaked above the legal limit, it happened after the accident.

When a person ingests alcohol, the effect on the person's blood alcohol content isn't instantaneous. The body takes time to digest the beverage and the person's BAC rises. As the body processes the alcohol further, the BAC lowers. In other words, it's a curve. The BAC curve varies according to each person's metabolism, the beverages consumed, the rate of alcohol ingestion, and other factors. This is why it is so important to test a driver's BAC as soon as possible. Obviously, that's made more difficult by hit-and-run drivers.

BAC Curve Sample
Sample BAC curve, courtesy of alcotox.com

The four hour delay will allow both sides to argue about the rising and falling BAC. Had her BAC been below 0.05 at the time of testing, there would have been a presumption by law that she was not intoxicated. If it had been above 0.08, there would have been a presumption that she was intoxicated. Her measurement was 0.72, which is right in the "sweet spot" for arguing either way.

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