Laws & Penalties for a DUI First Offense in Illinois

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Some 86 percent of all persons arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in the state of Illinois are first offenders. A driver arrested for a first offense in the state actually faces two types of penalties, administrative and criminal. While the potential sanctions are less for a first offense than for subsequent convictions of driving under the influence, a first DUI conviction exposes the driver to an array of penalties, including a revocation of driving privileges.

In fact, Illinois classifies a DUI as a violent offense and never expunges the crime from a driver's record. Given this, it is a good idea for anyone driving in Illinois to get a thorough overview of Illinois' DUI laws, including the different types of being "under the influence" that can trigger an arrest.

Driving Under the Influence

Driving under the influence is sometimes called drunk driving. That reflects the fact that the original DUI laws were limited to driving under the influence of alcohol, and most DUI arrests around the country are alcohol based. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 85 percent of DUIs around the country arise from binge drinking.

The emphasis on alcohol DUIs is also partly due to the fact that alcohol is the most popular drug in the United States, and drinking is totally legal for anyone over drinking age. But it is also partly due to the fact that most people, including law enforcement, know what a person looks like when they are drunk. And the breathalyzer device makes it fast and easy to test for alcohol in the blood. Being under the influence of drugs is harder to detect and requires more invasive testing.

Illinois Alcohol DUIs

Like other states, Illinois has a DUI statute that includes two "prongs" for alcohol use. First, a person commits a DUI if they drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 percent or higher. The limit is 0.04 percent for commercial drivers and zero percent for bus drivers and drivers under 21.

But even if a person's BAC level is under the legal limit or has not been tested, they can still be charged with a DUI if they are found to be driving under the influence of alcohol. Prosecution of this type of DUI requires evidence of the person's behavior in and out of the car, and can include a police officer's testimony about how the person looked, smelled or performed on the field sobriety test.

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

Though there are fewer drug DUI convictions than alcohol DUIs, Illinois statutes offer many more variations on the DUI for drugs than for booze. First, Illinois has two types of drug DUIs that include a legal limit, a rough equivalent of the 0.08 percent BAC for alcohol.

There is a legal limit for marijuana's active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in Illinois. Although Illinois allows medical and recreational use of marijuana, that doesn't make it okay to drive while impaired by its use. It is a DUI for a driver to operate a motor vehicle while having a concentration of 5 nanograms or more of THC in their blood or 10 nanograms or more in another bodily substance.

Driving With Controlled Substances in Illinois

It is also a DUI in Illinois for a person to drive with any discernible amount of a controlled substance in the person’s blood, urine or other bodily substance. Does this include prescription drugs? Yes it does, and the right to take a drug, or the fact that it is legally prescribed, is not a defense to the charge of driving under its influence.

Finally, it is also an Illinois DUI to drive while under the influence of any intoxicating compound, drug or a combination of alcohol, drugs or intoxicating compounds. Under the influence here means that the person has taken enough of the substance to render them incapable of driving safely. Like the general alcohol impairment DUI, the general drug impairment DUI is proved by evidence of the person's comportment.

Administrative Penalties First DUI Illinois

As soon as a person is arrested for a DUI offense in Illinois, law enforcement confiscates their driver's license and issues them a receipt to allow them to drive for 45 days. During this time, they can seek judicial review of the suspension.

On the 46th day after arrest, their license is automatically suspended, even before trial on the DUI charge. This is true whenever the driver refuses to take a chemical test or takes a test and fails it. Failing a chemical test means that the test shows that the driver exceeds the legal limit for alcohol or THC, or has discernible amounts of controlled substances in their system.

Refusal to Take a Chemical Test

A driver who does not have a DUI on their record within the past five years will be hit with a six-month statutory summary suspension of their license for refusal to take a chemical test. A first offender is eligible for a monitoring device driving permit (MDDP) that allows the person to drive for any reason during the six months if they equip their vehicle with a breath alcohol ignition interlock device (IID) that tests their breath for alcohol before it allows the car to start.

Why is it illegal to refuse to take a chemical test? A chemical test of breath, blood or urine is required to identify what types of substances the driver has imbibed and how much is in their system. Under Illinois’ implied consent law, drivers in the state are deemed to consent to a chemical test whenever law enforcement has probable cause to believe that the driver is under the influence.

A violation of this law in the form of refusal to submit to a chemical test results in a statutory summary suspension of the license. For a first refusal, the period of license suspension is one year, and these drivers are not eligible for a MDDP.

Criminal Penalties for First-Time Offenders

The criminal punishment for a DUI in Illinois depends on the DUI offender's prior record and the circumstances of the DUI. Punishment increases significantly for a first offense DUI if there are aggravating circumstances, such as having a passenger in the car under the age of 16, having a BAC above 0.15, or causing injury or death to others.

Without any aggravating factors, a first-time DUI is a Class A misdemeanor, the most severe categorization of misdemeanors in Illinois. The maximum imprisonment to which a first offender can be sentenced is one year in jail, while the maximum fines are $2,500 plus court fees. The person's driver's license will be revoked – not temporarily suspended, but actually revoked – for one year, and they will have to pay for reinstatement after the term.

Court Supervision and Community Service

Generally a first offender doesn't get jail time. Rather, they can opt to be placed in a court supervision program for at least one year and assigned at least 100 hours of community service. Minimum fines of $500 are usually imposed. Note that court supervision is only possible for those without a prior record of DUIs.

If the first offender successfully completes the court supervision, the DUI conviction is not entered on the record, and the person's license is not revoked. The administrative penalties do apply, however, regardless of the outcome of the criminal DUI trial.