Illinois plea deals may leave many dangerous DUI offenders on the road

Many drivers in Chicago find reassurance in the fact that Illinois establishes harsh penalties for people who drive under the influence. These sanctions serve to keep dangerous drivers off the road while discouraging future incidents of drunk driving. Unfortunately, a recent report indicates that many people arrested for DUI near Chicago, including repeat offenders, may stay on the road by making plea deals.

Offenders avoid license loss

In Illinois, DUI offenders are supposed to face mandatory license loss or, at a minimum, a month of license suspension, according to the Chicago Tribune. Even people arrested for DUI without a conviction lose their licenses for this length of time. However, plea deals may allow many people arrested for DUI in cities near Chicago to keep their licenses or face a shorter suspension period than they should.

In 2011, for example, half of motorists arrested for DUI in one town didn't even lose their licenses for a day. Of the motorists who lost their licenses, half regained their driving privileges in much less time than state law mandates, according to a Tribune investigation. In Bloomingdale, Downers Grove, Naperville and Elmhurst, between 22 and 55 percent of drivers arrested for misdemeanor DUIs the same year were offered a plea deal that allowed them to avoid or minimize license loss.

Controversy over plea deals

Proponents of the plea deals contend that long-term license loss burdens offenders who are trying to keep their jobs, pay off DUI fines and complete court-ordered activities, such as counseling. They also hold that many offenders need rehabilitation more than punishment, or that mandating the same punishment for every case is unfair.

At the same time, critics worry that prosecutors are more focused on generating revenue through fines than keeping the public safe. Specific stories of offenders who have avoided license loss suggest that the safety risk involved in leaving these drivers on the road may be significant:

  • One offender, whose blood-alcohol content was measured at twice the legal limit, struck another car hard enough to push it into an intersection, injuring the driver.
  • One repeat offender, who last pled guilty to DUI two years before the most recent arrest, had a BAC that was three times the legal limit.
  • In two cases, an offender was arrested for the third time and refused chemical testing, an action that should trigger license suspension; however, the lack of chemical test evidence was later cited as the reason the plea deals were offered.

These specific cases suggest that plea deals aren't just available to first-time offenders; people with an established history of negligent and reckless actions may also qualify. Sadly, the consequences for innocent motorists may be devastating. In 2012, alcohol use played a role in 321 fatalities in Illinois, or more than one-third of all traffic deaths in the state, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Anyone who has been injured due to the actions of a drunk driver should consider meeting with an attorney to discuss pursuing compensation.