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New plea option for DUIs

Ordinances appearing in several McHenry County municipalities might change the way driving under the influence charges are negotiated in court.

Some DUI cases have a lack of evidence, leaving prosecutors wary of failing to get convictions at trial. Like most criminal cases, most DUI cases are resolved via pleas, and defendants and defense attorneys are hesitant to plead guilty to driving under the influence when the case is weak because of long-term consequences.

Prosecutors and defendants often settle on a reckless driving conviction during those negotiations, but that disposition is going out of vogue.

A new “careless driving” violation carries lesser consequences than the Class B misdemeanor reckless driving charge, often reached during plea agreements for DUI cases. The violation has been added in at least four McHenry County municipalities and is up for a vote in at least four others.

Dave McArdle, of Zukowkski, Rogers, Flood & McArdle, which represents those eight McHenry County municipalities, said the careless driving violation is another tool at lawyers’ disposal. He said prosecutors still will consider reckless driving during negotiations.

Matt Haiduk, a criminal defense lawyer based in Crystal Lake, said reckless driving has been used in DUI plea agreements so frequently that the two are viewed legally in the same light.

“Almost every prosecutor on the planet is going to know it’s a DUI,” Haiduk said of a reckless driving charge. “Anyone who knows anything about it knows legally it’s an insignificant difference.”

Both a DUI and reckless driving allow court supervision on a first offense, which keeps the offense out of the eyes of insurance companies, Haiduk said. But that would change on a second offense, he said.

He said the new violation won’t have the same lasting consequences.

“Careless driving shouldn’t have the same effect on your record,” Haiduk said.

In Woodstock, where the ordinance passed Tuesday evening, the violation will carry a $750 maximum fine. It also will allow the city to assign rehabilitation such as drug and alcohol counseling and victim impact panels – though, McArdle noted, rehab is often a part of plea agreements already.

Instating a careless driving violation also carries financial implications for McHenry County municipalities.

Whereas a municipality would receive only a portion of a fine assessed for reckless driving, it will receive the entirety of the fine for a careless driving violation, Woodstock Police Chief Robert Lowen said.

But Lowen said money wasn’t the city’s primary motivation. “We’re not looking at it at that angle at all,” he said.

The violation could cost drivers more in Lake in the Hills, where the village passed the ordinance last week with a maximum fine of $2,500, Director of Public Safety James Wales said.

Wales said the “potential is there” for this to generate significant additional revenue. “But we don’t look at it as a revenue stream, never have,” he added.

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