Protecting a Defendant's Right to a “Speedy Trial”

 Posted on June 25, 2014 in Criminal Defense

speedy trial, your rights, Illinois criminal defense lawyer, Chicago criminal attorneyDrunk driving in Illinois can legally mean a few different things. Illinois law defines driving “under the influence of alcohol” as a separate offense from driving when “the alcohol concentration in the person's blood or breath is 0.08 or more.” In other words, the state can prove a person drove under the influence without necessarily proving he or she also drove with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit. And while it is not uncommon for prosecutors to charge defendants with both offenses, the state must always obey important constitutional safeguards.

The Illinois Constitution requires a defendant to receive “a speedy public trial” on any charges. Illinois defines “speedy” as “within 160 days from the date defendant demands trial unless delay is occasioned by defendant.” Failure to comply with this deadline means a court must dismiss the charge against the defendant, regardless of the evidence against him or her. For example, in a recent Illinois appeals court decision, the judges agreed with a trial court's dismissal of a DUI charge added more than a year after the case began.

Waiting Too Long to Charge a Drunk Driver

In May 2012, a man was taken to a hospital following an automobile accident. The man was released that night and subsequently arrested for drunk driving. Specifically, the state charged the driver under the general “driving under the influence” law, but not for driving with a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit.

It was not until June 2013—13 months later—that prosecutors added a separate charge of driving over the legal limit. The defendant moved to dismiss under the Speedy Trial Act. The judge granted the motion.

The court explained that the second drunk driving charge was subject to a “compulsory joinder” with the first one. This means that when the state charges a person with two or more crimes arising from “the same conduct,” the speedy trial clock begins when the first charge is filed. Here, the state argued there was an exception because it did not possess evidence of the defendant's blood-alcohol limit until well after filing the initial DUI charge.

The Appellate Court of Illinois, in upholding the trial judge’s decision, said the record showed just the opposite. In fact, the police knew about the defendant's blood-alcohol level the night they arrested him, and prosecutors received confirmation of this fact six months before adding the charge. The appeals court said the state could not simply ignore the speedy trial requirement.

This case shows the necessity of having a knowledgeable Illinois criminal defense attorney who will make sure the courts uphold a defendant's legal and constitutional rights. If you or a loved one is facing a DUI or another serious criminal charge, contact the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney today.
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