Illinois State Bar Association Challenging DUI Law

The state bar association is seeking to change Illinois’ zero-tolerance DUI law through a bill that’s already been submitted to the state Legislature.

The measure cites a December 2011 Lake Island incident in which a father was charged with homicide after his 10-year-old son died in a crash caused by a distracted driver. A blood test determined Scott Shirey had marijuana in his system, but his attorney says it was from smoking the substance one month prior to the fatal accident.

Illinois drivers with any amount of an illegal drug in their system can be charged with a DUI, even if they weren’t under the influence or at fault when a serious accident occurred, the Daily Herald reported.

“Nothing can possibly illustrate this idiotic law more than the Scott Shirey case,” defense attorney Patrick O’Byrne said. “It’s incomprehensible how bad the law is. It’s a worst-case scenario, charged with the homicide of your own son for smoking pot that had nothing to do with the accident.”

The Illinois State Bar Association agrees that the DUI law, which was written in the 1980s, shouldn’t apply to drivers who weren’t impaired during the time of an accident.

“Our position is, if it’s in your system and it doesn’t impair you, it shouldn’t be part of the DUI law,” said Larry A. Davis, a Northfield defense attorney who helped write the bill.

Donald Ramsell, a Wheaton defense attorney who specializes in DUI cases, believes the law is “draconian and ridiculous.”

“First, you have someone who was in an accident where someone was seriously hurt. But they then punish the other driver simply because they had some amount in their system even if it had nothing to do with the accident at all,” he said. “It creates two victims.”

But prosecutors, law enforcement officials and Attorney General Lisa Madigan still support the state law.

“I don’t see any problem with the law as written,” said Limey Nargelenas, deputy director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. “If you have any amount of marijuana in your system and you don’t have a medical marijuana card and we take a blood test and it’s in your system, you’re going to go to jail.”

Authorities are required by law to take blood samples of all drivers involved in crashes that result in death or serious injury.

Shirey was charged two months after the fatal crash due to trace amounts of marijuana found in the blood test. The fact that he was not impaired when the other driver ran a red light and crashed into his car was not allowed as a defense, according to O’Bryne. Shirey eventually pleaded guilty and received 30 months of probation.

“We had no choice. We had no defense,” O’Byrne said. “Thank God the judge gave him probation instead of prison.”