People v. Kathan, 2014 IL App (2d) 2121335 (August).
In a drug driving case, it is the circumstantial evidence that leads to conviction. A statement that a person took pills plus bad driving with evidence of impairment is enough for the state to win.
Officer responds to a reckless driver call. He says Defendant weaving in and out her lane. She crosses the lines of her lane of travel several times. She is removed from the car. She denies that she had been drinking.
The officer sees front end damage to her bumper. Defendant says she hit a curb but could not state where that happened. She failed all field sobriety tests. The officer could smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage. However, he could not identify if it was from Defendant’s breadth, clothes or just the inside of her car.
Overall, the officer’s opinion was that she was “very incoherent” and “very confused on where she was, where she was going.”
At the Police Station
Defendant blew in the breathalyzer. It reported that she had no alcohol in her system.
When asked if he had taken any medication that day, she told the officer that she had taken two Xanax pills and one Vicodin pill before driving. She said that they were prescribed. She said she was advised to exercise caution before driving while on the medications.
Was there sufficient evidence presented to support the conviction for driving while under the influence of drugs?
Defense counsel responded that section 11-501(a)(6) required “some blood, urine, or breath analysis” to show evidence of drugs or an intoxicating compound in defendant’s system and that no such evidence had been presented. Defendant argued that the State did not prove this drug driving case.
Legal Prescription No Defense to a Drug Driving Case
Anyone taking prescription medications should be aware that:
“The fact that any person charged with violating this Section is or has been legally entitled to use alcohol, other drug or drugs, or intoxicating compound or compounds, or any combination thereof, shall not constitute a defense against any charge of violating this Section.”
For more Illinois DUI Information, check out this great resource page.
Was Her Statement All They Had?
Defendant argued that the only evidence presented on the issue of whether or not Defendant took any drugs was her statements to the police. Counsel argued nothing else was presented. According to defendant, the bulk of the testimony presented in this case was about impairment, which was irrelevant under section 11-501(a)(6).
The reviewing court pointed out that while section 11-501(a)(6) does not require evidence of impairment, impairment is relevant as circumstantial evidence of guilt. In other words, admitting that impairment is not an element of the offense is not the same as saying that it is irrelevant.
Circumstantial Evidence Can’t Be Ignored
Case law supports the conclusion that circumstantial evidence is relevant to prove the
presence of a substance in a defendant’s breath, blood, or urine.
Besides her admission, her level of impairment provided circumstantial evidence that the prescription drugs were in her breath, blood, or urine when she was driving.
When the court added up all the other circumstantial evidence of guilt in this drug driving case, it listed this way:
First, defendant was weaving while driving.
Second, defendant could not locate her license even when plainly visible in her wallet.
Third, Officer Pedraja observed defendant to be “very confused” and “very incoherent” as to what was occurring.
Fourth, defendant could not explain the damage to her vehicle.
Finally, defendant failed the field sobriety tests in that she swayed throughout the process and had a hard time keeping her balance. The HGN test provided a basis to conclude that defendant had a high level of alcohol intoxication or impairment by drugs. Based on all of this evidence, the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that drugs remained in defendant’s breath, blood, or urine under section 11-501(a)(6).