The Illinois Supreme Court ruled this spring that the presence of any trace amount of illegal drugs in a person's body is sufficient to charge and prosecute the crime as an aggravated DUI, even if the person was not impaired at the time of the accident.
The case that brought about the ruling arose from a motor vehicle accident in December of 2004. The defendant left a bar in Peoria. On his way home, while rounding a curve on a two-lane state highway, his car crossed the centerline and struck an oncoming car.
The accident killed the driver and the passenger of that car. The defendant was injured, and he was taken to a nearby hospital. Tests revealed that the defendant's blood contained no alcohol or controlled substances, but his urine contained methamphetamine and amphetamine. He was charged with one count of aggravated DUI.
According to the State's forensic scientist, controlled substances initially enter the bloodstream and are eventually eliminated through the urinary tract. She testified she was not surprised to find methamphetamine in the urine samples, but not the blood samples.
The defendant's expert stated that he had reviewed the State's report, and the amount of methamphetamine in the defendant's urine was so small that the test result should have been negative.
The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to six years in prison.
The Court of Appeals
On appeal, the court ruled, "the State must draw some relationship between the presence of methamphetamine in Martin's [the defendant's] urine while he was operating a motor vehicle...and the deaths that resulted from the motor vehicle accident."
The Court of Appeals had read the language from the aggravated DUI portion of the statute,
"the person, in committing a violation of subsection (a), was involved in a motor vehicle...accident that resulted in the death of another person, when the violation of subsection (a) was a proximate cause of the death."
as meaning the violation (here, the presence of methamphetamine) had to be "a proximate cause of the death." If the statute were read that way, the state would need to prove the meth use actually impaired the driver and contributed to the car accident.
The Court of Appeals concluded that the State did not prove a causal link between the trace amount of methamphetamine and the accident and, consequently, did not prove the defendant guilty of aggravated DUI.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court examined the language of the controlling statute, Section 11-501, which says:
(a) A person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any vehicle within this State while:
6) there is any amount of a drug, substance or compound in the person's breath, blood, or urine resulting from the unlawful use or consumption of...methamphetamine....
They focused on the fact that if a person is guilty of any of the underlying factors that make up the DUI charge, the mere occurrence of an aggravating factor was enough to support the aggravated DUI charge.
Because this underlying charge is established by any presence of methamphetamine in one's body, all the state had to do to enhance the charge was to show that the defendant killed another person while driving.
Strict Liability for Drug Use
The Supreme Court stated that the legislature created a "flat prohibition against driving with any amount of a controlled substance in one's system" and this is necessary because of the scientific uncertainty over how much of a substance is too much, and would lead to impaired driving. The legislature's intent was to make a driver strictly liable for any drug use, no matter how small the amount.
The Supreme Court explained that the legislature used the legal fiction that any use of cannabis, a controlled substance, an intoxicating compound, or methamphetamine creates impairment.
Because, "Unlike the blood alcohol concentration test used to measure alcohol impairment, there is no useful indicator of impairment from such drugs because they are fundamentally different from alcohol."
The legislature determined that this fiction was necessary to help control the use of drugs by drivers, and is allowed as part of the inherent power of the legislature to protect the citizens of Illinois. The clear message is to avoid using any amount of illegal substances before and while driving.