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Illinois Bar Journal

The Magazine of Illinois Lawyers

June 2011Volume 99Number 6Page 280

June 2011 Illinois Bar Journal Cover Image

Lawpulse

Trace amount of methamphetamine supports aggravated DUI conviction

By
Helen W. Gunnarsson

After People v Martin, the state need only prove that the driver who causes a fatal accident had methamphetamine in his system, not that it impaired his performance.

A mere trace amount of methamphetamine in a person's body will support a conviction of aggravated driving under the influence under 625 ILCS 5/11-501(d)(1)(F), the Illinois Supreme Court has held. The case is People v Martin, No 109102, 2011 WL 1499909 (Ill Sup Ct).

Martin facts

On the way home from a Peoria bar one Christmas night at 10 p.m., Aaron L. Martin's car crossed the center line and struck an oncoming car, killing both people in it. Tests revealed that Martin's blood contained neither alcohol nor controlled substances, but his urine contained methamphetamine and amphetamine. Martin was indicted on one count of aggravated DUI.

Evidence at trial established that Martin had admitted ingesting methamphetamine at some unspecified time before the date of the accident. A forensic scientist for the Illinois State Police testified that she performed three tests on Martin's urine: a preliminary screening test, which indicated the possibility, but not the certainty, of an amphetamine; a gas chromatography mass spectrometry test, which showed nothing significant; and a more specific spectrometry test, which revealed the presence, but not the quantity, of methamphetamine.

The defendant's toxicology expert testified that after he reviewed the state's report, he concluded that Martin's urine sample did not contain detectable or realistic amounts of amphetamines and the test result should have been negative.

The jury found Martin guilty. A divided appellate court reversed the conviction for aggravated DUI and remanded for resentencing on misdemeanor DUI. The supreme court granted the state's petition for leave to appeal.

Proximate cause issue is driving, not impairment, the court rules

625 ILCS 5/11-501 not only forbids driving while under the influence of alcohol or any other drug to a degree that renders the person incapable of driving safely, but also forbids driving with any amount of a substance in breath, blood, or urine resulting from methamphetamine, among other substances. See 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(6). A first violation of subsection (a) is a class A misdemeanor.

Even more serious than DUI is aggravated driving under the influence, a class 4 felony defined by section 11-501(d). A person who violates section 11-501(a) while "involved in a motor vehicle…accident that resulted in the death of another person, when the violation of subsection (a) was a proximate cause of the death" is guilty of aggravated driving under the influence. 625 ILCS 5/11-501(d)(1)(F).

At issue before the high court was whether the proximate cause requirement of the aggravated DUI offense meant that the state must prove that the defendant's drug use, rather than his driving, caused the deaths. The state argued that section 11-501(d)(1)(F) required simply a causal connection between the misdemeanor DUI and the deaths. Martin argued that the section additionally required the state to prove impairment.

The court found that no proof of impairment as a result of methamphetamine ingestion was necessary. Quoting from the opinions of other courts, the court said that although the DUI statute approves a blood alcohol test for measuring alcohol impairment, there is no useful indicator of impairment from drugs. Therefore, the statute presumes impairment after a person has ingested any amount of a controlled substance and creates an absolute bar to driving afterward.

"A driver with controlled substances in his body violates section 11-501(a)(6) simply by driving," the court wrote. "When an aggravated DUI charge is based on a violation of that section," as it was in Martin's matter, "section 11-501(d)(1)(F) requires a causal link only between the physical act of driving and another person's death." Martin at *6.

The central issue, then, was not impairment but proximate cause, the court said. In Martin's matter, the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Martin's driving was a proximate cause of the victims' deaths. Therefore, the court found the state proved Martin guilty of aggravated DUI.

Drug traces from “years ago”?

Maura Possley, assistant press secretary in the office of Attorney General Lisa Madigan, said, "We're pleased with the Court's unanimous decision, which gives effect to the General Assembly's zero-tolerance policy toward offenders who mix driving and drug use, and which clarifies the State's burden at trial." The Office of the State Appellate Defender, which represents Martin in his appeal, declined to comment at presstime, citing its intent to file a petition for rehearing.

But in posts on ISBA's electronic criminal and DUI law discussion group, west suburban defense attorney Donald R. Ramsell and other ISBA members weren't bashful about expressing their views.

"Can you imagine what will happen when modern science is so accurate that they can find an amount of drug in your system from years ago (they can already use your hair to go back about one month per inch of length)?" Ramsell wrote.

Read Ramsell's full post and members' reactions, and weigh in with your own, by visiting http://www.isba.org/discussions. Once you've logged in, look for the thread dated April 21, 2011, and headed "The new Illinois Case on DUI Drug Death is an Embarrassment."

Helen W. Gunnarsson is a lawyer and writer in Highland Park. She can be reached at <helengunnar@gmail.com>


June 2011 Lawpulse


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