Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Not Required in Drug DUIs in Illinois
625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(6) is one of the few strict liability statues in Illinois. This particular statue only requires the State to prove that ANY amount of ANY illegal substance is present in the accused system in order to prove them guilty. There is no need for the State to prove that the accused was under the influence of the any illegal substance at the time of the incident only that it was in their system. This is quite different from 625 5/11-501(a)(1) where the State has to show the accused alcohol level was above the legal level of .0.08. This is also in stark contrast to 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(2)-(a)(5). In each of these charges the state must prove that the accused was driving under the influence of either alcohol, alcohol and drugs, drugs or an intoxicating compound.
Traces of cannabis can stay in one’s system for up to thirty days. This means that someone that ingested cannabis days or weeks prior can be found guilty of 11-501(a)(6). It is not necessary to show a certain level of a drug was present in the accused system. It is also not necessary for the state to use circumstantial evidence in order to show that the accused was driving under the influence a drug.
This type of statue can greatly affect and change the life of someone who was involved in motor vehicle accident and has a trace of an illegal substance. A strict liability law that has the possibility of revoking a license, sending someone to jail or prison should not exist in 2013. This law needs to be reexamined by our lawmakers.
A recent case of mine, Deandre Wolfe is illustrative of how this Draconian law can change the life of a young man forever. Mr. Wolfe at the time of the incident was a 16 year old who had just obtained his drivers license. On an evening returning home after picking up a Mother’s Gift a four year old chased a ball out into the street. Deandre did not see the child and had a tragic accident. Even though Deandre was not under the influence of alcohol, speeding, driving reckless in any fashion or under the influence of drugs he was later charged with 11-501(a)(6). Deandre did not leave the scene instead he stayed with the child and cooperated completely with the authorities. Yet trace amounts of a THC metabolite were found in Deandre’s system.
The Michigan Supreme recently revisited their version of 11-501(a)(6) and found that the THC metabolite found in that case was not illegal therefore not a violation of their strict liability statue. With medicinal marijuana recently passing in Illinois it will very soon be necessary for lawmakers to revisit this law in Illinois. The technology and knowledge is available to construct a legal limit for cannabis or any drug for that matter. Officers can and should also be trained to properly detect someone under the influence of an illegal substance.
A strict liability law that has such serious ramifications should not exist in the United States in this day and age. The law does not discourage the use of illegal substances but only illustrates that many lawmakers have never stepped inside of a criminal courtroom or they did not bother to even talk to anyone who have ever stepped in inside of a criminal courthouse. The criminalization of Illinois’ citizen only affects the future of our great state. Mr. Wolfe’s case ended in a plea, a conviction that will stay with an 18 year old the rest of his life.
The family in this case was strong and benevolent enough to suggest probation for Mr. Wolfe. And it is a very difficult topic as a very young child lost her life. But the truth of the matter that is very difficult for some to understand is that sometimes accidents happen. Sometimes accidents are horribly tragic. This is one of those incidents. What is even more difficult to discuss is that Mr. Wolfe was not under the influence of cannabis. He exhibited no characteristics of one that would be under the influence of drugs. His response or reaction time was not affected. Some may say at least he gets to live his life. But does he really? He will bear a scarlet letter of a felony that will follow him his entire life. This will affect his ability to get student loans and to get work. One may say he made the choice to ingest cannabis. Yet there was a metabolite found in his system that could come from passive inhalation or other natural products. In addition lets say he did ingest cannabis days or weeks before this happened. How many citizens have at some point in their youth experimented with some type of illegal substance? Yet many were fortunate enough not to be involved in a tragic accident to face some dire consequences. This accident could have happened to any of us. I feel great pain, compassion and empathy for the family of the young lady. Yet I also feel pain for my client. I have been humbled as an attorney. This is a case that will stay with me my entire life. May God be with the victim’s family but also may God be with Deandre and his family as well as he attempts to navigate life with a felony conviction.
You can read the article in the Chicago Tribune here: