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Laws can be tricky

Laws can be tricky

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While most in the legal community have nothing but praise for tougher DUI laws, some judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys say Illinois' DUI laws are more confusing. What used to be a few paragraphs has evolved into several pages of different scenarios with hundreds of potential sentences.

But others believe the laws are needed to keep judges from being lenient.

McLean County Judge Ronald Dozier, who started one of the first anti-drunk driving groups in McLean County when he was state's attorney, said lawmakers have filled the DUI code with unnecessary laws, many times in reaction to tragedies in their home districts.

Some of the laws are practical and probably deter drunken driving, Dozier said. Laws that lowered the legal driving limit from 0.10 to 0.08, keep drunken drivers from getting court supervision more than once and upgrade certain DUIs to felonies have helped.

But other laws are repetitive and require specific fines and penalties leaving judges with little or no discretion on how they can sentence a defendant for DUI, Dozier said, adding the Legislature has been micromanaging judges too much in recent years.

Dozier, who served on former Gov. Jim Edgar's committee that recommended the 0.08 alcohol limit for Illinois drivers, said there are so many DUI laws and mandatory punishment ranges now that he's confident some defendants are being sentenced incorrectly.

McLean County State's Attorney William Yoder said, "Anything that's going to make it tougher on DUI offenders I'm in favor of ?| but I think discretion is an important part of our jobs. Not every case fits into the cookie-cutter approach, which is what the Legislature is trying to do now with the DUI codes."

George Heroux, a Springfield attorney and victim advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, helped lawmakers write many of the DUI laws Illinois passed in the last five years. MADD has pushed for tougher sentences because, he said, there's been too much leniency from judges over the years during DUI sentencing. That's why laws for specific offenses and specific penalties go into effect each year, Heroux said.

"I think some judges have to be required to mete out sentences. There are guidelines for a reason, and judges need them too," Heroux said. "Some people need to be put in prison sometimes. Most laws are about deterrence. Making an example of someone is what deterrence is all about."

But the new laws have made Illinois' DUI code convoluted and lawmakers need to consider finding a way to simplify it, Dozier said.

Circuit Judge Donald Bernardi, who was Livingston County State's Attorney from 1982 to 1991, agrees there's too much confusion on how to sentence someone under current laws.

The Institute for Legal and Policy Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield recently studied the complexity of sentencing someone for DUI. Their findings produced seven sentencing flow charts that fill two volumes about four inches thick.

According to the institute's study, Illinois judges have 340 different sentences - a mixture of prison and jail time, fines, community service - they can give to motorists convicted of DUI.

To illustrate the difficulties of DUI sentencing, Bernardi has used tape to piece together a flow chart of the possible penalties a judge can give a person convicted of their third DUI. With Dozier holding one end and Bernardi holding the other, the chart measures 13 feet in length.

"I have no quarrel with those 340 penalties. I just wish it were simpler for everyone involved. The complexity is not good for the public," Bernardi said.

"The law is best that's certain and clear. It's a help to the guy drinking at the bar, the defense attorney, prosecutor and the people with MADD to know exactly what the penalties are for driving drunk."


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