Driving Under the Influence of Drugs? Watch Out

   By Diane S.W. Lee (Illinois Statehouse News) - 4/25/2011 - If you get behind the wheel with traces of illegal drugs in your body, you potentially could face a prison sentence. The Illinois Supreme Court on April 21  handed down the opinion in People v. Martin, reinstating Aaron Martin’s original conviction of aggravated driving under the influence and a six-year prison sentence.
    Peoria County Circuit Court prosecutors convicted Martin of a charge of aggravated DUI because he was driving with methamphetamine in his body when his car crashed into an oncoming car, killing two people on Christmas night 2004.
   The six other state justices unanimously concurred with Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis’ 10-page opinion, which overturned the appellate court decision that ruled there was no “causal connection” to prove the drug had caused the crash, since the effects of the drug had likely worn off.
   “In this case, it was shown that defendant driver caused the accident. Thus, there was no need to prove that he suffered from any degree of impairment which caused the accidental fatalities,” according to the high court's opinion.
    Under the state‘s vehicle code, it is a crime for any person to drive under the influence of alcohol, intoxicating compounds or drugs, including marijuana and meth that would make them unable to drive safely. 
   If they are involved in an accident resulting in a death, then it would “aggravate” the sentence.
   Ronald Smith, professor at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, said the law has harsh consequences for those who are unaware.
   “The legislature, for whatever reason, decided to go this far,” Smith said.
    The Supreme Court notes that causing physical injury to others by driving under the influence of drugs would turn a misdemeanor DUI into a felony.
    "Any misdemeanor DUI can become aggravated DUI if the violation causes a death," according to the high court's opinion.
    Martin drove home from a Peoria bar at night on Dec. 25, 2004, when he crossed the center of a two-lane state highway, and collided with a car, killing two people. He was hospitalized and given a narcotic painkiller.
    The Illinois State Police tested Martin's blood and urine samples. A forensic scientist found “trace amounts” of methamphetamine in his urine, but no alcohol.
    Martin denied using meth the night of the accident, even though he admitted to using it before. He insisted the state needed to prove whether key ingredients ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, which are used to make medicine and meth, were in his system instead of meth itself.
    "There was evidence, however, that he had used methamphetamine, and evidence that no other substances in his urine could have yielded a false positive result," according to the high court's opinion.
    People are taking a risk if they are under the influence of illegal drugs behind the wheel, Smith said.
    “It sends a message: If you do methamphetamine or some of these other drugs and you drive,” Smith said.   “Regardless, if it has any impact on the way you drive — you have committed a felony, and you can go to prison.”
    Story courtesy of Illinois Statehouse News (originally published April 21, 2011)