According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, a man whose blood alcohol content (BAC) was more than double the legal limit, drove into a group of pedestrians who were waiting to cross a Northwest Side street. After careening into the group of pedestrians, the driver continued north on Central for at least a mile before crashing into a car that was stopped at a red light. He killed one person and seriously injured two other people. The Chicago man was driving with a suspended license at the time of the fatal accident.
Victims of drunk driving accidents are typically innocent bystanders or drivers who have done nothing to contribute to the accident. Injuries resulting from drunk driving accidents can range from moderate to severe, including death. Injured parties are encouraged to contact a local Chicago attorney who can help explain their rights under the law.
In the accident described above, the police charged the driver with multiple counts of aggravated DUI, failure to report an accident involving a fatality, and driving with a revoked or suspended license. According to the Tribune article, the police who arrived at the scene noticed that the driver had bloodshot eyes, a strong scent of alcohol on his breath and exhibited mumbled speech. Once he was taken to the hospital, tests indicated that his blood alcohol level was 0.20 percent, more than double the legal limit. The driver told police that he smoked marijuana and drank three glasses of E&J Brandy before getting into the car.
The victims of this drunk driving accident may be able to bring various claims for damages against the driver, ranging from a wrongful death action by the family of the fatality victim, to assorted personal injury claims. According to the Tribune, one of the victims suffered bleeding to the brain, while another was hospitalized with a fractured hip.
The Tribune’s coverage of the fatal accident doesn’t indicate whether the driver was willing to undergo blood alcohol testing. In many instances, drivers suspected of DUI who are involved in car accidents refuse to submit to such testing. In those cases, the law in unclear as to whether law enforcement may require a non-consensual blood test without first obtaining a warrant.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided to take up the issue and heard arguments in a case arising out of the Missouri courts. The issue before the Court was under what circumstances may law enforcement conduct a non-consensual and warrantless blood draw in a DUI case. In this case, the arresting officer believed the driver had exhibited signs of intoxication. Despite the driver’s refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test and, later at the hospital, a blood draw, hospital employees drew the driver’s blood anyway.
Prosecutors argued that under the Fourth Amendment, if exigent circumstances exist, law enforcement may require a blood test sample without first obtaining a warrant. Prosecutors claimed that the natural dissipation of alcohol in the blood satisfies the exigent circumstances exception to the search and seizure law. That is, if they wait too long, the evidence of the DUI will be gone. The Court is expected to render its decision before the end of the term. Although the ruling will not be local to Illinois, courts in this jurisdiction will be bound to follow the holding under analogous facts.
The Court’s holding will likely affect not only criminal DUI cases, but also civil lawsuits by victims of drunk driving. For example, if police are able to obtain a blood test from an alleged offender, but prosecutors are unable to convict him (because the driver’s BAC does not exceed the legal limit), the test results may still help an injured person prove that the driver was negligent, even if not criminally negligent.