A St. Clair County program that pairs assistant state's attorneys with police officers gives the officers the opportunity to request a search warrant for a blood draw from drivers suspected of being under the influence when the driver refuses to submit to a breathalyzer.
"The search warrant for a blood draw has been used primarily for repeat DUI offenders, but can be used on any suspected drunk driver particularly those that pose a threat," St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said. "Some may find this intrusive, but it's legal and it is helping to protect the public."
He said drivers with a history of DUIs know that juries are more reluctant to convict a driver for a DUI when the blood alcohol content is unknown.
"These drivers will refuse to (use the breathalyzer) to improve the chances they can slip through the cracks," Kelly said. "There are ways to convict without a blow depending on the circumstances of the case, but the blood alcohol content is clearly a significant and helpful piece of evidence to the people in a trial and one which puts us in a stronger position in terms of a plea."
The courts have upheld search warrants for a blood draw from a driver where there is probable cause to believe the driver is under the influence, according to Kelly.
In April 2011, Kelly implemented a DUI hotline to link police officers with prosecutors. Since then, 12 search warrants have been issued allowing the nurse at the county jail or another qualified medical professional to draw blood from a suspect for the purpose of determining if the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Kelly said the hotline resulted in prison time for a repeat DUI offender, Timothy L. Leininger, 48, of Fairview Heights, for the first time.
In that case, an O'Fallon police officer smelled alcohol on Leininger and observed blood shot eyes. However, Leininger denied he had been drinking and refused a field sobriety test and a portable breath test.
At the Police Department, Leininger also refused to provide a sample to the breathalyzer. At that time, the O'Fallon officer used the DUI hotline and contacted an assistant state's attorney who drafted a search warrant for a blood draw. A judge signed the warrant and a St. Clair County jail nurse drew the defendant's blood. The lab results later showed Leininger's blood alcohol content was .120, well over the legal limit of .08.
"Absent that blood draw this would have been a more challenging case in terms of evidence," Kelly said.
Leininger pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and driving while license revoked and was sentenced to two years in prison by St. Clair County Judge Jan Fiss on Oct. 17. He is serving out his sentence at Menard Correctional Center.
There has been about 180 calls to the DUI hotline on a variety of traffic and DUI related investigations since April 2011, according to Kelly.
"The communication between the cop on the street and a prosecutor has produced some excellent results," he said.
Since the program's inception, Kelly said the number of DUI cases resulting in jail time has increased from 45 in 2010 to 78 in 2012.
In addition, the average fine for a DUI case has increased from $1,242 in 2010 to $2,002 in 2012, according to Kelly.
"It's not a silver bullet, but more repeat offenders that could have just received another slap on the hand are being held accountable," he said.
The Illinois Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving fully supports the DUI hotline program.
"It's working to close the gap for the people that know how to beat a DUI. It's giving the prosecutors and officers the tool they need. If someone refuses a breathalyzer, they will get a warrant," said Kristi Hosea, a victim services specialist for the state office of MADD based in Springfield.
Hosea described the program as a "great tool to protect the public. It's getting more repeat offenders off the road."
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.