The Illinois Senate is considering a bill that would treat impaired wrong-way driving as an aggravating factor when judges are making sentencing decisions are made in impaired driving cases. The representative who sponsored the legislation said that he decided to take action after being approached by a Cook County police chief. Supporters of the bill point out that wrong-way accidents have claimed more than 50 lives and left more than 300 road users injured in Illinois since 2005, and only seven representatives voted against the measure when it was passed by the Illinois House on Feb. 22.
Judges in Illinois may currently impose harsher sentences in fatal drunk driving cases when the defendants involved have a prior history of impaired driving or were exceeding posted speed limits by 20 mph or more before getting into an accident, but they may also order probation instead of incarceration in extraordinary circumstances. If the bill is signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner, Illinois would become the first state in the nation to consider wrong-way driving an aggravating factor in drunk driving cases.
The proposed law is being championed by the mother of a Chicago Ridge police officer who was killed in a wrong-way drunk driving accident in 2015. The 27-year-old Marine reservist was off duty when his vehicle was struck by an intoxicated driver on Interstate 294. The 22-year-old woman behind the wheel received a custodial sentence of 5 years.
Emotions can run high when lives have been lost in drunk driving accidents, and experienced criminal defense attorneys could seek to settle these cases rather than risk the wrath of a jury. However, guilt in criminal proceedings must be proved beyond reasonable doubt, and defense attorneys may argue vigorously that drunk driving charges should be dropped when the evidence gathered by police officers could fall short of this standard.