People v. Swift, 2016 IL App (3d) 140604 (October). Episode 249 (Duration 8:33)
New cannabis law only gets a passing mention in this proximate cause aggravated DUI case.
Defendant was convicted of aggravated DUI (625ILCS 5/11-501(a)(6), (d)(1)(C)) for having cannabis in his system.
He was involved in an accident resulting in great bodily harm.
Defendant hit the victim's trailer when he stopped to adjust some equipment. The victim was standing outside near his trailer. He sustained a number of injuries, including a broken femur, a broken disc in his lumbar spine, and three breaks in his pelvis.
His injuries required eight or nine surgeries.
Defendant admitted that he had smoked marijuana a month prior to the accident and had taken a marijuana capsule for pain relief two weeks prior to the accident. His hospital record confirmed that cannabinoids were in his system.
The jury was instructed that “the defendant’s act of driving a vehicle while there was any amount of a drug, substance or compound in his blood or urine resulting from the unlawful use or consumption of cannabis was the proximate cause of the great bodily harm.”
The court continued: “The term ‘proximate cause’ means any cause which in the natural or probable sequence produced the great bodily harm. It need not be the only cause nor the last or nearest cause. It is sufficient if it occurs with some other cause, which in combination with it causes the great bodily harm.”
Here, the indictment failed to include proximate cause language as was required. The failure to include an essential element of the charge would seem to be a clear substantive defect, which requires a broadening of the indictment to include that element.
However, because defendant waited until the trial to begin he had to show prejudice to win a dismissal.
The record shows that defendant was aware of the proximate cause element, despite the State’s failure to include it in the charging instrument and suffered no prejudice in the preparation of his defense.
Thus, the trial court properly denied defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment.
In regards to the proximate cause element, our supreme court has clarified that the proximate cause element refers not to the presence of drugs referenced in subsection (a)(6), but only to a defendant’s driving.
In other words, the State must prove only a causal link between defendant’s driving and a person’s injuries.
The concept of proximate cause encompasses two separate requirements, cause in fact and legal cause.
Cause in Fact
Cause in fact exists where there is a reasonable certainty that a defendant’s acts caused the injury or damage.
Legal cause is essentially a question of foreseeability; the relevant inquiry is whether the injury is of a type that a reasonable person would see as a likely result of his or her conduct.
Foreseeability is added to the cause-in-fact requirement because even when cause in fact is established, it must be determined that any variation between the result intended and the result actually achieved is not so extraordinary that it would be unfair to hold the defendant responsible for the actual result.
A defendant may escape liability by showing that an intervening event was the actual proximate cause of an accident.
An intervening event does not break the chain of legal causation, however, where that intervening event is foreseeable.
In fact, there may be more than one proximate cause to an injury. Furthermore, the precise nature of the intervening cause need not be foreseen, and where varying inferences are possible, foreseeability is a question for the jury.
Here, the defendant drove his truck into a parked trailer-truck.
There is no doubt he was the proximate cause of the accident even though the victim may share in some of the responsibility for stopping his trailer-truck on the side of the roadway.
A rational juror could reasonably have found that defendant’s driving proximately caused the injuries.
Such a juror could surely conclude that it is foreseeable that a vehicle may be pulled over onto the shoulder of a road.
Moreover, a rational juror could certainly find it foreseeable that when the shoulder of a road is narrow, such a stopped vehicle may partially obstruct the roadway. Finally, a rational juror could also conclude that when a driver takes his eyes off the road, whether to stare into a cornfield, or to pick up sandwiches, it is foreseeable that a traffic accident might occur.
Interestingly, the new cannabis legislation was merely cited in a footnote. The issue if the charge was appropriate was never raised. Defendant was sentenced to 2 years IDOC and maybe a motion for new sentence is in order.