See People v. Way, 2015 IL App (5th) 130096 (August). Episode 097 (Duration 11:33).
This proximate cause DUI Defense was not allowed to be raised by this defendant. Have you ever even heard of the proximate cause DUI defense?
When you read this one you’ll have to do a double take to let it all soak in.
This is What Happened
Defendant was driving in her car when according to her son, who was in the passenger’s seat, she started to fall asleep.
In a moment, she starts to drift across the center lane.
Her son struggles to grab the wheel to turn them back into their own lane.
… but he’s too late.
The car collides head-on with another car being driven by a pregnant lady.
- Nobody died
- The son and the lady are seriously injured
- Baby is born a-okay
Defendant was charged with aggravated DUI –625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(6), (d)(1)(C).
The 501(a)(6) section is the normal misdemeanor DUI for any amount of cannabis whether it’s under the influence or not.
The (d)(1)(C) part is the “aggravated” part for causing great bodily harm, a class 4 felony. This section reads, in part:
“…Every person convicted of committing a violation of this Section shall be guilty of aggravated [DUI] if the person in committing a violation of subsection (a) was involved in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in great bodily harm … to another, when the violation was a proximate cause of the injuries…” 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(6), (d)(1)
Defendant was still sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Her Attempted Defense
Let me try to put into normal words what Defendant was trying to say in her defense.
Paraphrased, I think she was saying:
“Yes, I had cannabis in my system, and yes I was driving the car at the time of the accident. However, I was not under the influence at the time of the accident and the cause of my accident was not the cannabis in my system. Instead what caused the accident was a medical condition. I have low blood pressure and the loss of consciousness I sustained while driving that day was the sole cause of the accident.”
Defendant was arguing that since, the cannabis did not contribute to the accident that she could not be guilty of an aggravated DUI, normal DUI maybe, but not no aggravated DUI.
It’s Strict Liability Right?
…if your gut level reaction is that she has no claim, then you would have been siding with the prosecution and the trial judge.
I too would have agreed that there was nothing to see here and that we should all move it long.
We are wrong!
But isn’t this a strict liability case?
I thought the State was not required to prove impairment to sustain convictions under (a)(6)?
How Can We Be Wrong?
This is exactly what we have been all up in arms about.
This is what the “change the legislation” movement is all about. Remember…
- This Is Not Fair
- It’s Not Constitutional
- We Are Imprisoning Stoners & Pot Smokers &
- Innocent People for No Reason
How long have we been complaining that criminalizing driving with cannabis in your system without a requirement of impairment is illogical and stupid?
State’s Argument: The Law Is The Law
Under this view, the State need prove only that the defendant’s driving was a proximate cause of the deaths or injuries. Since, she was definitely driving and definitely drifted over the center lane causing serious injury she is guilty of aggravated DUI.
Obviously, the trial judge barred her defense and held that…
“’further causal connection is not required’ because the statute ‘established a system that makes any driver responsible for the outcome of an accident if there is any level of drugs in the system’ of that driver.” ¶ 5
The case comes down to what we mean by “proximate cause of the injuries”.
The State didn’t just ignore that language. They just said that since she was driving, her driving was the proximate cause of the accident.
Actually, Defendant and the State both agreed that the State does not have to prove that the accident was caused by Defendant’s impairment from consuming cannabis.
Defense is just saying that…
…we can’t just make up our own definition of proximate cause. The law says the State must prove that her driving was a proximate cause of the accident.
The law uses that term! It’s in there, see above or look it up.
That term has got to be used for a reason.
Proximate Cause Involves Foreseeability
If we stop and take a deep breath…
…we see that the legal definition of proximate cause – as it has developed in Illinois courtrooms – includes an element of foreseeability.
Now there is some law school stuff here, but don’t lose me.
This is definitely a civil thing, and most of us went into criminal law to avoid this stuff, but ….
…just to summarize it; it goes something like this:
The factual component is the “but for” aspect. You know. But for the defendant’s actions it would not have happened. This seemed to harsh in some circumstances so they invented the legal or foreseeability component.
That part just says that even in situations when someone physically or actually causes something, if the injury or damage is not foreseeable then no liability exists.
Back To Defendant’s Case
Defendant is saying…
…that we can’t forget what proximate cause really means.
Since the statute uses the term, we have to apply its legal meaning.
Consequently, the Supreme Court of Illinois has repeatedly held that:
” ‘the analogies between civil and criminal cases in which individuals are injured or killed are so close that the principle of proximate cause applies to both classes of cases.’ ” People v. Hudson, 222 Ill. 2d 392, 401 (2006) (quoting People v. Lowery, 178 Ill. 2d 462, 466 (1997)).
This conviction was reversed and remanded.
The defendant should have been allowed to present her proximate cause evidence that an unforeseeable sudden illness rather than her driving was the sole and proximate cause of the accident.
Of course, the State would have been allowed to attempt to discredit or rebut that evidence, and the trier of fact should have been allowed to evaluate it.
The defendant was denied her right to present a defense at trial.
Just like we have been complaining all along, that part is strict liability.
- Episode 453 – People v. Mumaugh, 2018 IL App (3d) 140961 (January). Episode 453 (guy wins his case because he was not the proximate cause of the accident, in fact his driving was perfedt)
- Additional DUI Resources and Opinions