Illinois Supreme Court Asked to Review Aggravated DUI Statute

Illinois Supreme Court Asked to Review Aggravated DUI Statute

Anyone charged with a crime has a fundamental constitutional right to due process. What encompasses due process regarding Illinois law on aggravated driving under the influence is the subject of a petition recently submitted to Illinois Supreme Court.

On June 29, 2012, the attorney for Sandra Vasquez filed a petition to the state's highest court, asking it to examine a sentencing provision contained in Illinois law regarding aggravated DUI. Vasquez claims that a part of the statute violates her due process right by containing vague language.

The case arose from an incident on Feb. 11, 2007. Vasquez, then 23, carried nine people in her car, most of whom were under 18, in an attempt to drive the passengers home from a party. Many of the passengers were drunk or high. On the ride home, Vasquez hit a utility pole and five teens died in the crash. Vasquez measured over the legal limit for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Any driver with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher who seriously injures or kills another as the result of intoxicated driving can be charged with an aggravated DUI in Illinois. Vasquez was convicted of such a charge in Kendall County court and sentenced to 15 years in jail, 85 percent of which must be carried out.

"Extraordinary Circumstances"

An aggravated DUI conviction carries incredibly stiff penalties: If the violation resulted in the death of one person, then the sentence must be for "not less than 3 years and not more than 14 years." If two or more people died, then the imprisonment must be for "not less than 6 years and not more than 28 years." However, there is an exception whereby the convicted individual may be put on probation if "extraordinary circumstances" exist. The relevant statute does not in any way indicate what amounts to extraordinary circumstances and gives no further guidance on what factors to consider when deciding whether this exception applies.

Vasquez's attorney appealed her conviction, claiming that because the statute does not indicate what constitutes "extraordinary circumstances," there was no way for Vasquez to mount a defense on her behalf. The attorney did indicate, however, that Vasquez had no previous criminal history, has two children and cared for developmentally disabled individuals for her job. Nonetheless, the appeals court upheld the conviction on June 6, 2012, holding that the exception did not lead to chaotic sentencing. Vasquez's attorney recently petitioned the state Supreme Court to consider the issue. If the Illinois Supreme Court does consider the case and reverses the decision, it would go back to the trial court to decide sentencing, and perhaps prompt the Illinois legislature to elaborate on the statute's meaning.

Whatever the outcome, this case demonstrates how vital it is to obtain an attorney when confronted with a DUI charge. Even in circumstances where no one was injured, a DUI charge still potentially carries severe penalties that can have lasting consequences for those convicted. If you have been charged with a DUI, contact an experienced DUI attorney to defend your rights.

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