Reasonable Doubt and DUIs In Illinois

DUI burden of proof

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Reasonable Doubt and DUIs In Illinois

The burden of proof for all DUI cases is beyond a reasonable doubt. However, a jury or judge’s definition of “reasonable doubt” varies significantly from judge to judge and jury to jury.

Reasonable doubt is required in criminal cases under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court of the United States has stated that it is “a fundamental value determination of our society that it is far worse to convict an innocent man than to let a guilty man go free.” This is why the burden of proof is the responsibility of the prosecution.

One of the most difficult cases for an attorney to try can be what we call a “No Fields, No Blow” where the client is stopped for a traffic violation, denies (or admits) to consuming alcohol, and refuses to submit to Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) and a chemical breath, blood, or urine test. These are the type of cases where the judge’s professional and personal experiences come into play because most DUI attorneys feel that there is little or no evidence to support a conviction for DUI.

However, there are cases in which a judge in Illinois found defendants guilty under these circumstances by relying heavily on a police officer’s observations from the scene. Judges will typically rely on the officer’s observations of three points in a traffic stop: the physical characteristics of the driver, the motion of the vehicle on the road, and the movement of the driver as they exit the vehicle.

Behaviors of the driver the officer may cite:

  • Strong odor of alcoholic beverage on their person

  • Red or glassy eyes

  • Slurred speech

  • Alcoholic beverages inside the vehicle

  • Defendant admitted to drinking earlier in the evening

Motion of the vehicle that the officer may cite:

  • Weaving outside of the lane

  • Excessive speeding

  • Driving too slowly

Movements of the driver as they exit the vehicle:

  • Leaning on the door or vehicle

  • Fluidity of walking

  • Any stumbling or falling

The problem with these observations is that the interpretation of the severity may vary from person to person. Excessive speeding might mean 5 mph over the speed limit to one person, 15 mph over the speed limit for another. What does ‘strong odor of alcoholic beverage’ mean, exactly? Some people might say one drink on the breath is strong, for others it may take five.

How can it be the case that beyond a reasonable doubt applies to all DUI cases if reasonable doubt is different for every human being? In Illinois, there is no definition for reasonable doubt. Judges and jurors often have very different life experiences and these experiences translate into different perspectives and impressions of people and circumstances.

This is why if you suffer an unfair DUI charge, we strongly encourage you to hire an attorney. Contact Richard Fenbert at Fenbert & Associates, LLC so he can assist you in fighting this charge.