DUI Fatalities: The Ugly Truth and Consequences
In recent news, an Illinois man, Joshua Spudich, pled guilty to aggravated driving under the influence and was sentenced to 11 years in prison by Kane County Judge Susan Clancy Boles. In his system, he had a mixture of five different drugs when he got behind the wheel. He then veered out of his driving lane into oncoming traffic striking a motorist which resulted in that victim’s death. Spudich attributed the incident to him taking depression medication prior to him driving. This case highlights the dangers of going behind the wheel while impaired. In representing defendants in DUI cases, the typical case involves a routine traffic stop followed by an officer’s suspicion that the driver is under the influence. That suspicion triggers the officer’s duty to conduct a field sobriety test and then ultimately a breathalyzer to determine the driver’s blood alcohol content. In New Jersey, there are strict guidelines issued by the Office of the Attorney General as to the specific procedures that must be followed in order to ensure that the officers are accurately assessing an individual’s fitness to drive. The end result is often an arrest followed by municipal court charges that result in some form of a license suspension.
There is still the rarer case where there is an accident and death results. The consequences are not a mere loss of driving privileges, but vehicular homicide or manslaughter charges. These crimes will be dealt with not at the municipal court level, but in the higher courts. These cases are the most problematic for defense attorneys. The State usually has hard evidence of intoxication through hospital records regarding the defendant’s blood alcohol level. Moreover, the resulting accidents are often well-documented. This kind of case becomes very difficult to take to trial, and the defendants have little leverage in plea negotiations. The prosecutors will often seek a long term prison sentence.
In the end, the best defense is to prevent such accidents in first place. In this modern age, there are many alternatives when one is tempted to get behind the while after imbibing a few drinks. First, I recommend using online taxi services such as Uber. Leaving your car at a bar or a friend’s home is far less inconvenient than the consequences of getting pulled over while intoxicated. In addition, there are many small breathalyzer devices that are small enough to fit on a key chain. Some such devices even work on your phone to test your alcohol level. One must be forewarned that such devices are not as accurate as the police issued breathalyzers. Nonetheless, if one errs on the side of caution when using them, i.e. if you’re boarder line according to the device, just wait a bit longer before you get behind the wheel. You must be aware that the devices have a greater margin of error that the state issued ones; however, they are helpful in offering a driver some level of assurance, outside of their own judgement, as to whether they are fit to go behind the wheel.