Illinois is a governor's signature away from becoming a state where medical marijuana is legal. The possibility of passage raises concerns among courts, law enforcement agencies and the public about what constitutes impaired driving.
State DUI punishments are severe, especially when impairment is linked to accident injuries or a fatal crash. Many Cook County residents don't realize drivers may be charged with wrongdoing under the influence of any illegal or legal drug.
Marijuana can be detected in toxicology tests days or weeks after a person smokes the drug. A recent Tazewell County conviction shows Illinois drivers do not have to be high during an accident to be guilty of DUI.
A 34-year-old mid-state man was shocked when he learned he was going to jail for up to 12 years over a fatal accident. The sentence for aggravated DUI causing death seemed extreme to him.
The Leroy man admitted he smoked marijuana regularly but was not under the drug's influence while driving to work in December with a co-worker. The construction worker told authorities the men got "lost" while trying to find a new job site near Mackinaw.
The 41-year-old passenger apparently unsnapped his seat belt to access a cellphone to call the men's boss. The defendant said that's when an animal "jumped out in front" of the van. The passenger died after being thrown from the swerving, spinning vehicle.
The sentencing judge said the man with a string of prior criminal offenses and probation violations was a "train wreck waiting to occur." The defendant also was driving with a revoked license.
The defendant must serve more than 10 years of the sentence before he is considered for release. The victim's family had hoped for the maximum 14-year penalty.
Disappointed family members have the opportunity to seek damages through a wrongful death lawsuit. The separate civil action could result in compensation to ease financial hardships.
pjstar.com, "DUI driver gets 12 years" Michael Smothers, Jun. 21, 2013