Families Upset Over 10-Year Plea Deal in Cop DUI Death

Cop DUIThe families of two friends who were killed in a car accident by a drunken, off-duty police officer say a potential 10-year sentence by way of a plea agreement is too lenient.

Joaquin Garcia and Fabian Torres lost their lives when last spring when their car collided with a vehicle piloted by officer Terrell Garrett, who was driving the wrong way down Lake Shore Drive. Garrett had been out celebrating his 35th birthday until 4 a.m. before getting behind the wheel. A blood test revealed that Garrett was operating his vehicle with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.184, more than double the legal limit.

Garcia’s brother said it’s inconceivable that someone whose job it is to serve and protect can make such a poor decision.

“Your brother was killed by a person who was supposed to uphold the law, gets drunk and drives on the opposite side of the highway,” he said. “What is that? Are you kidding me?”

Garrett is expected to be in court Friday to accept a plea deal that would see him spend the next 10 years behind bars if the judge agrees, but the families of the deceased said five years a piece for their loved ones is not enough. Relatives have written dozens of letters to the judge asking him to impose a harsher sentence, and some family members are expected to speak at Friday’s hearing.

Garrett is eligible to be sentenced to a maximum of 30 years in prison under the current sentencing guidelines.

Brett Appelman comments

A 10-year sentence for killing someone during a DUI is actually a fairly strong sentence in Illinois. I have personally seen cases of Reckless Homicide based on a DUI where the defendant did not go to prison at all. But making a plea deal is not an exact science for either side.

When making a plea deal the prosecutors have to weigh the evidence and their chances of winning at trial, versus their chances of losing and having the defendant walk scot-free. Defense attorneys make the same types of calculations; can they win the case at trial, or should they try to make a plea deal that will result in an easier sentence than their client would get if they lost at trial.

When the evidence is very close, when both sides think they can possibly win at trial, the negotiating can get very tough. Neither party will give up much, but both want to make the deal happen. In this case there seems to be overwhelming evidence that the police officer was guilty of the DUI. He likely would have lost at trial. But, the prosecutor had no guarantee of what sentence the defendant would have received after a trial. The defendant was facing a potential 6- to 60-year sentence. A judge could have given this police officer much less time than he is getting through the plea deal. Both sides agreed upon ten years; the defendant did so to prevent a much longer sentence, and the prosecutor did so to guarantee a harsher sentence than the minimum would have allowed.

The victims and their families sometimes get angry at plea deals, but without them the legal system would grind to a standstill. The courts simply do not have the time for every case to go to trial. Plea deals move cases through the system much faster and with less expense than trials do.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

Illinois Police To Add Extra DUI Patrols During St. Patrick’s Day Weekend

Illinois DUI Patrols St. Patty's DayThe Illinois State Patrol and local precincts will be adding extra DUI patrols over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend to crack down on drunk drivers.

Sgt. Al Trotsky said the added patrols will help keep dangerous drivers off the road. He cautioned residents to plan ahead to make sure they have a safe ride home this weekend.

“If you plan on drinking alcohol, designate a sober driver before the party begins. Designating a sober driver and not letting friends drive drunk are just two simple steps to help avoid a tragic crash or an arrest for drunk driving,” Trotsky said. “Be responsible or risk being arrested for DUI.”

The extra patrols will begin Friday and last into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, when some St. Patty’s Day partiers will make the ill-advised decision to drive home.

Brett Appelman comments

I always encourage people to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but Illinois drivers need to remember to celebrate safely and smartly, and that means no driving drunk. Laws against drunk driving and DUI enforcement measures continue to be increased each and every year. If you plan to attend a St. Patrick’s Day party then by all means designate a safe driver or arrange to take public transportation to your event.

Penalties for drunk driving can be severe, ranging from thousands of dollars in fines to the revocation of your license if convicted. Not all people realize that a revocation of your license is different than a suspension of your license. Revocation means as far as the state of Illinois is concerned, you are not allowed to drive at all ever again unless you are successful in a petition to have your license reinstated.

Tips for Staying Safe

Remember these tips for a happy and healthy holiday weekend:

  • Don’t drink and drive.
  • Designate a sober driver.
  • Take a bus or taxi.

In the unfortunate event that you get pulled over for drinking and driving, remember:

  • Always be polite and courteous to the officers.
  • Never argue with the officers; There was almost certainly a valid reason for stopping you.
  • Do not make any statements about how much and what you might have been drinking. Simply ask to speak with a lawyer.
  • And most importantly, never agree to a breathalyzer test unless you know for a fact that you do not have any alcohol in your system. By doing so you are simply providing more evidence that can be used against you at a trial. You most certainly will be arrested for refusing a breathalyzer, but an arrest is not a conviction. And yes, refusing a breathalyzer test can result in a suspension of your license. It is much easier to defend a client on a DUI case when there is no breathalyzer than when there is clear proof the client may be over the legal limit.

Related source: Naperville Sun

Russian Drunk Driver Has License Suspended For 106 Years

Longest Drunk Driving SentenceA drunk driver in Russia had his driver’s license suspended for a record-breaking 106 years after he was caught trying to evade a police checkpoint.

Although the man’s name was not released, Russian police say he was pulled over in Perm, a city that arrests between 40 and 70 drunk drivers every day. According to Russian authorities, the man is a frequent drunk driver, and this isn’t the first time he’s had his license suspended. Local Traffic Police Spokesman Vladimir Vasenin said the lengthy suspension was “the sum of all driving license suspension rulings ever issued to such a driver.”

New Record

Russian officials said about 10 people in the Ural region have been given extremely long license suspensions as a result of multiple drunk driving violations. Those individuals had their licenses suspended for between 80 and 102 years, but the newest 106-year suspension takes the cake.

“There are some people whose licenses have been suspended for 100, 102 years,” said head of regional traffic police Oleg Churkin. “For 106, the person’s driving license suspended for life for DUI.”

Police said that those individuals who have been given lengthy suspensions often appeal, but a shortened term has never been given. Eventually, they say, the majority of drivers simply sell their car and never drive again.

Illinois Harsher?

Although it’s uncertain how many previous DUI violations this Russian had, Defense Attorney Brett Appelman explains how someone could actually have a longer suspension in Illinois.

Just like in Russia, you can have your driver’s license suspended in Illinois for being arrested for a DUI. You can then also have your license revoked for being convicted of a DUI, which means that there is not just a time period to wait for the return of your license. You must also have a hearing with the Secretary of State to request a reinstatement of your license.

In Illinois, the driver’s license consequences for DUIs are:

1st DUI conviction – 1 year Revocation

2nd DUI conviction – 5 year Revocation (If within 20 years of the 1st DUI)

3rd DUI conviction – 10 year Revocation

4th DUI conviction – Barred from diving for life

So while it seems like a 106-year driver’s license suspension is quite harsh, the Russian system actually is more lenient that our system in Illinois. The defendant in Russia would be barred for life from driving in Illinois, but if he lives long enough, assuming he makes it to 135 years old, he might still get his license back over there.

Related source: RT.com

Riverside Police Not Yet Tweeting DUI Suspect Information

TwitterAs we mentioned in our blog last week, the Riverside Police Department announced that beginning this week, they would tweet out the names, ages, and towns of residence for anyone arrested for driving under the influence, but it appears they have backed off their controversial stance.

It’s uncertain why the police department has put a hold on tweeting out the incriminating information, but it’s certainly plausible that they felt pressure from both advocacy groups and individuals.

Attorney Sean Sullivan said individuals may not like that the Riverside Police Department will share the information on social media, but the arrest data is public knowledge.

“As I have discussed in prior stories, there is a continuing impact of new technology affecting the law and the legal system,” said Sullivan. “Here we see another example of this with the police department tweeting out names of DUI offenders. I am sure most people want to know how can the police do this. The answer is simple. They are just sharing public information. This is no different than police departments publishing the names of people in a police blotter in the local paper or utilizing a ‘Mug Shot Monday’ and releasing people’s mug shots. The police departments have the right to do this. Social media is really just another public forum where Court information can be shared with the general public.”

We’ll continue to follow this story to see if the Riverside PD decides to go forward with their plan, or if they shift gears.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

Riverside Police To Tweet Names Of DUI Offenders

TwitterEarlier this week, the Riverside Police Department announced they will begin tweeting the names, ages and towns of residence for any individual arrested for driving under the influence.

According to Riverside Police Chief Tow Weitzel, taking to Twitter is one way the department hopes to deter young people from drinking and driving.

“I’m hoping that seeing these names, and seeing the amount of arrests that Riverside makes, will send a message,” Weitzel said.

Weitzel added that the tweets will be sent from the account @PDRiverside.

Will It Work?

The goal of the program is to alert young adults to the dangers of drinking and driving. The reason the Riverside Police Department believes Twitter is the perfect medium to distribute their message is two-fold. According to Weitzel, drivers under the age of 30 account for the majority of drunk driving arrests, and they make up most of the department’s following on the social media site. Weitzel believes if the targeted Tweets prevent even one person from driving drunk, the campaign will be a success.

Although social media shaming has its fair share of critics, Weitzel emphasized that the department isn’t releasing any information that isn’t readily available under public information laws.

“It’s nothing that we’re not already giving out,” he said. “It’s just that we’re going to be sending it out ourselves, through our social media account.”

As noted above, the Twitter account will share the names, ages and towns of residence for anyone charged with a DUI after they post bond or make their first court appearance. The department will also tweet the names of drivers who are charged with possession of illegal drugs, and those who have been caught driving with a suspended or revoked license as a result of a previous drunk driving charge.

Weitzel announced that the tweets would begin Monday.

Interlock Devices Now Equipped with Cameras in Illinois

CC image ignition_interlock by VCU CNS and US DoT on FlickrLaw enforcement officials have taken another step in the fight against drunk driving by adding mandatory cameras on all Blood-Alcohol Ignition Interlock Devices (BAIID), which are required for any offender convicted of a DUI.

Although some people might frown upon the idea that “Big Brother” is watching you while you drive, of the 11,000 motorists in Illinois who have a BAIID in their vehicle, more than 3,000 are caught each year trying to drive after they’ve had too much to drink. When asked to explain why they got behind the wheel with an elevated BAC, many claim that a friend or family member was actually driving the car. The addition of mandatory cameras will take the guesswork out of determining who was driving.

“We get an inordinate amount of people telling us it wasn’t them (blowing into the Breathalyzer),” said Susan McKinney, administer of the state’s program. “They say it was anybody but me. Now, the technology will allow us not to have to make a judgment call.”

How it Works

Motorists who are required to use a BAIID will not notice much of a change to the new system. They’ll continue to be required to blow into the machine when starting the car and three times per hour while driving, but the device will snap a picture each time a person blows.

If a person registers a 0.05 or above, the device will send the reading to the Illinois secretary of state for review. The secretary’s office will then send a letter to the motorist, asking for more information about the situation in order to determine if a violation occurred.

Some people believe the mandatory cameras are a privacy infringement, but others, like Susan McKeigue, Illinois Executive Director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, believe you lose some privacy rights when you’re convicted of a DUI.

“Driving is a privilege,” said McKeigue. “ It’s not a right, and if you have abused your privilege by being arrested, tried and convicted of drunk driving, then the right to privacy argument is babble.”

The End of Social Drinking

Privacy concerns aside, most will agree that installing cameras onto BAIIDs will help deter drivers from getting behind the wheel when they’ve had too many. Reducing traffic fatalities is a goal everyone can work towards, but some feel the device could negatively impact responsible social drinkers.

Because the device sends information to the Secretary of State if a person blows above a 0.05, a person could be reprimanded even if they weren’t legally drunk. In addition, the NTSB has already recommended the legal limit be dropped from 0.08 to 0.05, which means a person could be over the limit with just one or two drinks.

People on both sides of the fence are trying to figure out a reasonable solution; some say information should only be sent if a person registers over a 0.08, while others say the legal limit should be 0.05 across the board. Sarah Longwell, managing director for the American Beverage Institute, said lowering the legal limit could bring an end to social drinking.

“It decimates the restaurant and hospitality industry,” said Longwell. “A wiser approach would be to extend greatly the length of time a motorist arrested for drunken driving must operate his or her vehicle with an ignition interlock device.”

Longwell concluded by saying responsible drinkers could be hurt most if the legal limit was dropped.

“Then it’s moved from an anti-drunken-driving mentality to an anti-drinking agenda.”

Attorney Brett Appelman comments

These in-car breathalyzers were first mandated in Illinois in 2009, and the technology of alcohol detection is advancing very quickly. With the addition of a camera, the hope of the Secretary of State and MAAD is that less people will be tempted to try to fool the breath device.

If you have been arrested for a DUI, you must have one of these devices installed in your vehicle in order to legally drive. Up until now there was no way for the device to determine who was blowing into the device; the driver, or someone else. While the penalties for attempting to fool the device are severe (felony charges for both the driver and whoever blew into the device on their behalf), prosecutions are extremely rare.

The cameras will take the guesswork out of the process of deciding if the driver was trying to fool the device or not. Aside from losing their permit to drive with the device, the driver, and their friend, will now more likely face criminal charges. The hope is that with these severe penalties in place, there will be less attempts to fool the device, and therefore less intoxicated drivers on the road.

On the other side, the privacy concerns are a legitimate complaint. No one wants the government constantly filming their actions, or listening in on their conversations. Are these cameras just the beginning of a slippery slope that ends with cameras in ALL cars, regardless of the owner’s criminal history? Will the customers even be told that there are cameras in the cars? There is a very valid argument to be made that cameras will infringe on people’s constitutional protections against unlawful searches.

In the case of these cameras, the privacy argument will likely lose out to the safety argument. These cameras should, in theory, reduce the likelihood of drunken driving by people with the devices in their cars. Since driving is a privilege, not a right, the State can realistically demand that if you have a prior DUI, and you want to drive, then you must install a breath device and a camera in your car.

Related source: Chicago Tribune

DUIs Down, Speeding Citations Up During 4th of July Weekend

CC image Wikipedia.orgThe Illinois State Police Department said DUI citations were down over the 4th of July weekend, but speeding citations were up from 2012.

The DUI numbers are encouraging, especially since recent data revealed the 4th of July is statistically one of the most deadly holidays for alcohol-related fatalities. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the five most deadly holiday weekends for alcohol-related crashes are:

  • Independence Day
  • Labor Day
  • Memorial Day
  • New Year’s Eve
  • Thanksgiving

The Illinois State Police said they responded to 14 crashes during the holiday weekend, which was up five from last year, but only one accident involved an impaired driver.

Speeding Citations Rise

Everyone knows traffic in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs can be a pain, especially during weekends of heavy travel. When you finally get an open strip of road, it can be tough to resist the urge to hit the gas.

Sometimes a State Trooper like Dustin Pierce will give you the benefit of the doubt if you’re a couple miles over the speed limit, but an officer isn’t going to be as lenient if you’re speeding a construction zone, which is one of the main reasons Pierce believes so many people were cited for speeding last weekend.

“You know, it is a big project,” said Pierce. “It’s going to be going on for a long time. We’re having a lot of problems with people speeding through there. We’re putting a lot of troopers in that construction zone to help cut down on the problems.”

Pierce added that officers will be ramping up patrols in construction zones along Interstate 74, so use caution if you’ll be traveling on I-74 in the near future. If you mind the posted speed limits, you won’t need to use our five tips to get out of a speeding ticket.

Related sources: WMBD/WYZZ-TV, CBS 31

Chicago Bears Fullback Cited for DUI

Chicago Bears fullback Evan Rodriguez was cited for driving under the influence, speeding and an improper lane change in connection with a traffic stop at 3:30 a.m. last Friday morning.

CC image Wikipedia.org

Rodriguez apologized for his actions, saying that he made “a very poor decision”, but he might have a tough time keeping his roster spot after his latest incident.  The second-year pro was arrested in March on charges of resisting an officer and disorderly intoxication. The previous charges were eventually dropped, but the incident wasn’t treated lightly by the team.

“I am deeply sorry for the incident that occurred the other night.  I want to apologize to the entire Bears organization, my teammates, coaches and Bears fans everywhere,” Rodriguez said in a statement.  “I realize I made a very poor decision.  I know more is expected of me, and I let a lot of people down that are counting on me.  I will make positive changes in my life so that this doesn’t happen again.”

Rodriguez was pulled over in the wee hours of the morning on Friday after authorities saw him committing multiple traffic violations.  The latest arrest could make it very difficult for the young player to keep a spot on the 53-man roster, especially when you consider he is coming off a less than spectacular season where he totaled four catches for 21 yards in 12 games.

The Bears released a statement following his arrest.

“We are aware of the reports regarding Evan Rodriguez,” the team said in a statement. “We are currently gathering information to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the situation.”

Criminal Defense Attorney Brett Appelman comments

It is disturbing that so many of our “heroes”, such as professional athletes, rock stars, and actors continually get into trouble with the law.  It may be attributed to their higher profile; that the police are always looking to arrest a big name.  It might be the fact that many of these stars have been coddled their entire lives, were always told they were special, and never really had to face any consequences for their bad actions in the past.  They might have grown up feeling entitled; that the rules don’t apply to them.

The actress Reese Witherspoon was arrested recently and while being handcuffed she threatened the cop saying, “Do you know my name sir?” When the police officer responded that he did not know her name she then stated “‘You don’t NEED to know my name? You’re about to find out who I am.” This entitled attitude only made her situation worse, and she eventually pled guilty to Disorderly Conduct.

Evan Rodriguez is a professional athlete who has now been arrested twice in only a few months, both times on alcohol related charges.  While neither case has had serious legal ramifications for him, he is clearly showing a pattern of alcohol abuse and disregard for the law.  The Bears need to discuss his problems with him and get him alcohol treatment immediately.  A second DUI or something worse will have long lasting effects on his ability to play football.

Related source:  ESPN

Feds Seeking to Lower Legal Driving Limit to .05

DUIThe National Transportation Safety Board has issued a recommendation that the legal BAC for drivers should be lowered from .08 percent to .05 percent.

Not surprisingly, the move is being met with skepticism across the national, especially in Illinois.

“I believe it works, and it’s been proven for several years now. We should keep that in place,” said Illinois state Representative Mike Smiddy. “Where I live, we don’t have public transportation. So, yeah, it would be a major issue.”

In defending their claim to lower the legal driving limit, the NTSB cited over 100 countries that have adopted the .05 legal limit.  They also said numerous European countries have seen a reduction in traffic fatalities within ten years of lowering the legal limit to .05 percent.

“Our goal is to get to zero deaths because each alcohol-impaired death is preventable,” said National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said. “Alcohol-impaired deaths are not accidents, they are crimes. They can and should be prevented. The tools exist. What is needed is the will.”

While the NTSB hopes officials at the state level will take the recommendation seriously, the change would have the potential to greatly impact social norms.  Some people may refrain from consuming alcohol while out at dinner or at sporting events, because studies have shown some people can surpass the .05 level after only one drink.

The legal limit isn’t likely to change in the immediate future, but if federal subsidies are tied to lowering the legal limit, (like they were the last time the legal limit was dropped) some state mays decide to acquiesce to the NTSB’s request.

Related source:  NWI.com, Fox News

Chicago Limo Driver Charged With DUI While Driving Teens to Prom

CC image Wikipedia.orgA Chicago limousine driver who was over the legal limit was arrested for DUI earlier this week when he drunkenly shuttled more than 20 area teenagers to their prom.

Richard L. Madison, 54, was charged with driving under the influence and reckless driving after students reported that he was driving erratically while chauffeuring the students to prom.

According to the police report, Madison allegedly backed into a ditch and slammed on the brakes numerous times during the ride.  Kelly Dano, who was aboard the limo, said Madison’s driving put everyone in danger.

“”He hopped over a median and cut off 3 cars and then…he took us to the wrong hotel, he took us to the Hyatt hotel instead of Abbington Place so we had 5 more miles to go,” said Dano.

Some fearful students even called their parents during the ride to inform them of Madison’s behavior.  Students later alerted two off-duty police officers about Madison’s driving once they arrived at Abbington Place.

Madison eventually submitted to a Breathalyzer test.  He blew a 0.22, nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Madison claimed mechanical issues caused the ride to seem erratic.

“I’m not guilty, but it is what it is,” said Madison. “The bus needs wheel alignment and that’s why it was moving the way it did.”

A spokesperson for the limousine company said a full inspection was ordered, and no mechanical issues were revealed.  The company fired Madison earlier this week.

Brett Appelman comments

A limo, taxi, bus or truck is considered a “Commercial Vehicle” in the state of Illinois. To be licensed to drive a commercial vehicle in Illinois, you must test for and receive a Commercial Driver’s License, commonly referred to as a “CDL”.  The standards of driving while licensed with a CDL are much more stringent than with a regular license.  A DUI will get your CDL revoked, and make it very difficult to ever get it back in the future.

Aside from the licensing issues, this driver is facing an Aggravated DUI charge.  Aggravated means that there were special circumstances that make the charges worse; they carry heavier penalties.  Committing a DUI with children in the vehicle is an automatic aggravator.  If any of the prom-goers were 16 or under, this driver is facing mandatory jail time and community service, on top of the usual DUI penalties, such as fines, and alcohol treatment.

He immediately lost his job, and likely will lose his CDL if he is convicted on the DUI charges.  He needs to find a lawyer that is experienced in DUI defense, and with CDL issues, to try to save his livelihood.