Probation Denied in Aggravated DUI Case

Case Name: People v. Winningham (.pdf)

Court: Appellate Court of Illinois, Fourth District

Date Decision Filed: 6/5/09

This case is a sentencing case stemming from the defendant’s open guilty plea to Aggravated DUI.   The felony DUI charge the defendant plead guilty to was filed against him, even though he had no criminal history,  because  he caused an accident that killed another person.  The sentencing statute that was  applicable to the defendant’s case requires a trial court to impose a prison sentence anywhere from 3 to 14 years “unless the [trial] court determines that extraordinary circumstances exist and require probation.”  The defendant argued for probation.  He received a three-year sentence in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

On appeal, the defendant first attacked his sentence on the grounds that the words “extraordinary circumstances” in the sentencing statute were unconstitutionally vague both as applied and on the face of the statute.  The appellate court rejected these constitutional challenges and then turned its attention to the issue of whether the trial court abused its discretion when it did not find that extraordinary circumstances existed for the purpose of giving the defendant a sentence of probation rather than imprisonment.

For sentencing purposes, there was plenty of evidence that weighed in the defendant’s favor:

Defendant (1) did not have a criminal record, (2) was employed as a [. . .] fire department lieutenant, and (3) had saved numerous lives as a firefighter.  After the accident, defendant (1) completed 50 hours of alcohol counseling and (2) continually expressed his sincere remorse and regret that his actions caused [the victim’s] death and her relatives’ injuries.  At defendant’s request, the trial court admitted into evidence (1) a letter from counsel for [the victim’s] estate, which showed defendant’s willingness to assist counsel’s pursuit of a dramshop suit against the tavern where defendant had been drinking and (2) approximately 80 to 90 letters from family, friends, and firefighters describing defendant’s positive impact on their lives.

While the trial court did decide to sentence the defendant to the shortest prison sentence possible,  it also decided that this evidence did not constitute the sort of extraordinary circumstances that would allow the defendant to avoid a prison sentence.  The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision and concluded that the trial court did more than not abuse its discretion — it also imposed a reasonable sentence.

Jeremy Richey

Jeremy J. Richey, Attorney at Law
© Jeremy J. Richey and The East Central Illinois Criminal Law & DUI Weblog, 2008-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.