This week a man was sentenced by Champaign County court to 45 years in prison after being convicted of his 8th DWI charge.
48-year-old Carter Puckett was arrested last summer for aggravated DUI – the eighth such offense in his lifetime. Puckett was pulled over after police witnessed him swerving erratically in and out of his lane. The arresting officer reported that Puckett’s speech was slurred, and his breath reeked of alcohol.
Puckett blew a blood alcohol concentration of .15 – almost double the Illinois legal limit of .08.
Due to his record of 7 prior drunk driving charges, Puckett could have been sentenced to anywhere from 6 to 60 years jail time. The judge ultimately decided to sentence him to 45 years.
Brett Appelman Comments
An eighth DUI is charged as a Class X Felony, the highest criminal charge in Illinois, aside from Murder. The legislature decided that having that many DUI convictions means that you are such a danger to society that you need to be locked up for a long period of time. The absolute minimum time you would spend in prison based on this charge is six years. This charge is not eligible for probation or any type of suspended sentence – if you are convicted for an eighth DUI you WILL go to prison for a minimum of six years.
Even though in this case the defendant did not cause an accident, injure anyone, or do anything else that would have aggravated his charges, the fact that it is his eighth DUI case mandated that he be charged as a Class X. Even a second DUI charge carries a mandatory minimum of five days in jail or 240 hours of Community Service.
If you are pulled over for DUI in Illinois you do NOT have to take the breathalyzer test. There are consequences for refusing, but you do have the right to refuse breath testing.
Under Illinois law driving is a privilege, not a right. As such, the government can put restrictions and rules on your ability to drive. One of these rules is called “Implied Consent.” The implied consent rule states that by the very act of driving on an Illinois road you have given your “consent” to being tested for alcohol or drugs if you are pulled over. But this consent can be withdrawn by refusing to give a breath test.
Since you are required to consent to the testing, if you refuse there are penalties that come into effect against you: your driver’s license will be suspended for 12 months. If this is your second time refusing to give a breath test within five years, your license will be suspended for 3 years.
These license suspensions can be challenged in court at a “Rescission hearing.” At this hearing you can challenge the legality of the suspension based on 5 different grounds:
- Whether you were properly placed under arrest for DUI.
- Whether the police had reasonable grounds to believe you were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Whether you were properly warned about the consequences of giving or refusing the breath test.
- Whether or not you refused the breath test.
- Whether the tests showed that you had a BAC (blood alcohol content) above the legal limit (0.08) or had drugs in your system.
Most challenges to the suspensions are not successful. The law does allow a suspended driver to apply for and install a breathalyzer in their own car (known as the MDDP). With this device the suspended driver can drive at anytime and anywhere, as long as they first blow into the device to prove that they are not under the influence. However, during the first 30 days of the suspensions there is no driving allowed at all. This period of “hard time” is mandated by federal law.
You do in fact have the right to refuse testing in Illinois if you are pulled over for a DUI. You just need to be mindful of the consequences when you make your choice.
Field sobriety tests are conducted by police officers when they suspect a driver may be intoxicated. Police use these tests to gain evidence of a person’s intoxication so they can make an arrest for DUI. However, these tests are often a poor indication of a person’s actual level of intoxication. Many people are simply uncoordinated and can’t pass the tests dead sober.
Here are three of the most common field sobriety tests:
- Walk & Turn. This is a very simple test in which you walk in a straight line, heel-to-toe for about 10 paces, before turning (pivoting off the front foot), and retracing your steps. Sometimes an officer will have you count the number of steps you’re taking as well. This is to test your ability to multitask.
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. In this test, the officer will place a pen in front of your face and ask you to follow it with your eyes as he moves it right to left. You are only allowed to move your eyes to follow the pen, moving your head will result in failure. Here the officer is checking for nystagmus – the involuntary jerking of the eyes that intensifies with alcohol consumption.
- One legged stand. This one is just what it sounds like. The officer will ask you to raise your foot six inches from the ground and count out loud. Additionally, you are required to keep your arms down at your sides (instead of using them for balance). Here the officer is looking for your ability to balance your body. Swaying, flailing your arms, or putting your foot down, are all seen as signs of possible impairment. This test is very subjective, as some people simply have terrible balance and wouldn’t be able to ace the test sober.
As you can tell, these tests are incredibly subjective. Officers only use them to gain reasonable suspicion that you’ve been drunk driving, so they can arrest you and administer a BAC test. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to know your rights, and contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
This weekend, 18-year-old Luis Romo was charged with 2 counts of felony DUI after a car accident that injured 3 people.
Romo allegedly ran a stop sign and struck another vehicle that was carrying three men. Police estimate that Romo’s blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was 0.17 – over twice the legal limit of 0.08.
The injured men were all taken to the hospital, but none sustained life threatening wounds.
This case brings up an interesting legal topic – underage DUI. How do the charges differ if a drunk driver is under the legal drinking age?
According to Illinois DUI attorney, Brett Appelman, “This young man is in serious trouble. Besides a charge of DUI, he is likely facing multiple charges of Aggravated DUI, due to his elevated BAC level and the fact that injuries resulted from the crash. He is also facing a long term suspension and possibly a revocation of his driver’s license. If you are under 21 and get a DUI you can be barred from driving under the state of Illinois’ ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy.
“It is likely that he will not face any jail time for these charges, if this is his first DUI. While the accident and injuries appear quite serious, DUIs tend to be considered as reckless behavior (that is, not having been planned or with done with malice). So the sentences, at least for first time offenders, can be lighter than most people expect them to be.”
The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and State Police Department are increasing DUI enforcement this weekend in an attempt to keep roads safer over the Labor Day holiday.
350 local law enforcement agencies will also be helping crack down on drunk driving through Monday September 3rd.
“Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” is the tagline for the weekend.
Over last year’s Labor Day weekend, 9 people were killed in car accidents – 3 of those deaths involved at least one drunk driver.
“IDOT is committed to improving safety on Illinois roadways, protecting innocent motorists from those who make the wrong choice to drink and drive, and driving zero fatalities to reality,” said Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann L. Schneider. “This Labor Day weekend, law enforcement across the state is cracking down on impaired drivers and seat belt law violators, as it is proven this approach consistently and effectively improves traffic safety, prevents motor vehicle crashes and fatalities as well as minimizes potential injuries on Illinois roadways.”
The legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit in Illinois is 0.08. Anything over that limit can result in a DUI charge, bringing possible jail time, fines, and the revocation of your driver’s license.
Sometimes these increased DUI enforcements result in police officers violating drivers’ rights in order to make an arrest. Be sure you are familiar with your rights just in case you get pulled over this weekend.