DUI sentencing laws infect an Illinois non DUI sentencing hearing. Have good intentioned DUI laws turned into an uncontrollable emotional frenzy?Podcast Episode number 038 of the Criminal Nuggets Podcast discusses the recently reversed prison sentence in People v. Daly, 2014 IL App (4th) 140624.
We have a family celebrating a birthday in rural Illinois. In the early morning hours, a 24 year old female defendant was driving an ATV with four passengers.
Defendant made a right turn. The vehicle skidded and overturned. The 19 year old passenger in the passenger’s seat suffered severe internal injuries and she died.
Defendant admitted to drinking alcohol at the party.
Defendant was charged with Aggravated DUI for being under the influence and driving an all terrain vehicle, while under the influence of alcohol, and a death results. See 625 ILCS 5/11-501(d)(1)(F).
This is Class 2 Felony offense with an enhanced sentencing range of 3-14 years in prison. Additionally, there is this weird presumption for prison.
The sentencing section says this:
…unless the court determines that extraordinary circumstances exist and require probation, [Defendant] shall be sentenced to: (i) a term of imprisonment of not less than 3 years and not more than 14 years if the violation resulted in the death of one person…”
The flips around the normal presumption for probation for a felony offense. See 730 ILCS 5/5-5-3(c)(2).
Prosecution Was not The Problem
The prosecution needs to be given credit for trying to do the right thing in this case. The State had agreed to accept a plea to reckless homicide. This sounds like a more serious crime.
However, reckless homicide was a Class 3 Felony offense. More importantly, the presumption of probation kicks back in. See 720 ILCS 5/9-3(d)(2).
The judge declined that plea.
The judge cited the enormous public policy imbedded in the statute demanding prison. Judge was referring to the DUI statute not the reckless homicide statute.
The Sentencing Hearing
Once the judge rejected the sentencing plea, it was clear the defendant was either going to have to have a trial or cold plea to something and face the same judge for a sentencing.
Defendant cold plead to the reckless homicide charge.
Her mitigation was substantial –
- Registered Nurse
- 24 Years Old
- 20 Month Old Child
- Lived With Baby’s Father
- Zero Criminal History
- No History of Alcohol or Drug Abuse
- 9 Character Witness
- Suffering From Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Fully Engaged in Counseling
- Accepted Responsibility
- Support of Victim's Family
It was the State at sentencing who told the judge he could and should impose probation because she did not plead guilty to the DUI but to a lesser charge. The State told the court all the mandatory sentencing requirements he was reading into this case simply did not apply.
The Judge’s Sentence
“In sentencing defendant, the trial court rejected both parties' recommendations and alluded again to the public policy of the aggravated DUI statute.” ¶ 18.
Judge began by saying he has considered the mitigation then went on to talk about –
- The Deaths and Injury Caused by Drinking
- The Other DUI Cases He Has Dealt With
- The Most Recent DUI Case Involved a Fireman
- The Overuse of the Word “Accident” in This Case
- Deterring Deaths from DUI
The judge then sentenced Defendant to 3.5 years in prison. Boot camp was quickly suggested by the parties but rejected by judge immediately.
“[T]he appellate court was never meant to be a rubber stamp for the sentencing decisions of trial courts. A reviewing court may disturb a sentence within statutory limits if the trial court abused its discretion in imposing a sentence.” ¶ 26.
The appellate court said that in their –
“review of the record in this case shows little to indicate the trial court considered ‘the nature and circumstance of the offense,’ ‘the history, character and condition of the offender,’ or defendant's rehabilitative potential in fashioning its sentence. Instead, the record shows the court considered the nature and circumstances of an offense to which defendant did not plead guilty.” ¶ 30
Appellate court pointed out that the record did not reveal that defendant was intoxicated. All the record showed is that seatbelts were not being worn.
She wasn’t even speeding.
The appeals court also pointed out that a trial judge is not allowed to –
- Compare one case to other cases
- Refuse sentencing alternatives to a whole class of offender
- Disregard probation in general
- Consider factors inherent in the crime charged
The appellate court concluded the trial judge abused its discretion.
The sentence was reduced to probation and remanded back to the trial level for resentencing. The court wisely ordered the case go before a different judge.
Have DUI Sentencing Laws Gone Crazy?
Does this case demonstrate that we are getting a little too crazy with DUI sentencing laws?
Not trying to be controversial. In general, I agree crime and punishment is a deterrent. I agree DUI deaths are a problem that should be discouraged by the law.
But can’t we do that with one simple law we all know, understand and execute?
The judge in this case was suppose to be the rational party. The court is suppose to stay detached, neutral, and apply the law applicable in the case before the court.
Simple task and the court couldn’t do it.
Judge was the most emotional party in the case. I'm not trying to belittling the loss by the victim and her family. But the victim's family seemed to be calm and collective about the criminal side of things.
Defense attorneys have quietly (and some loudly) been saying this for years now. In general, they fight it on a case by case basis in court.
What is different in this case, is that the prosecution got a feel for what happens when a frenzy takes over. Rationality and doing the right thing get lost.
Here, the prosecution’s interest aligned with defendant's interest.
Maybe this case can give us some insight into the current state of affairs.