Thursday, July 31, 2014

Christensen receives Avvo Client Choice Award

Wheaton DUI Defense attorney, Brent M. Christensen has been recognized by AVVO, the premier on-line Attorney rating agency, as a Client's Choice Award Winner for the year 2014 with distinction for DUI defense.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Laws to Take Effect Will Increase DUI Arrests

     With the new year also comes the effective date of new laws in Illinois.  What was legal to do on December 31st will not be legal to do the following day.  Two of these new laws are of particular interest to me in my capacity as a DUI defense lawyer.  They should also be of particular interest to Illinois motorists who would like to avoid having to employ the services of a defense lawyer such as myself.

     Both of these new laws will provide all Illinois police officers with fresh reasons to pull you over, even if your seat belt is on, you're obeying the speed limit, and your driving is otherwise perfect.  Once pulled over for these new offenses, if the police reasonably believe that you are under the influence of alcohol or other substances, you could be on your way to a DUI arrest.

     The first of these new laws concerns hand-held mobile phone use.  As of January 1, 2014, if the police in Carol Stream, Naperville, Downers Grove, or any of the many other municipal police agencies who concentrate resources on traffic enforcement catch you holding your phone up to your ear while driving, you are likely to be stopped.  Mobile phone use will be allowed only with hands-free, blue tooth operation, where you can dial either by voice or pressing one button.

     As an attorney with over twenty-years' experience in defending Illinois DUI cases, I can comfortably predict that police agencies will be VERY aggressive in using this new law to justify traffic stops that they hope will lead to more DUI arrests.   My advice therefore, along with the other advice I give clients and potential clients, is to turn your mobile phone off completely before getting behind the wheel.  The temptation to check your phone when you receive a message alert may be too difficult for you to resist.  And one of the times when you succumb to that temptation will be when you are being watched by a diligent, eager police officer.  If that diligent, eager police officer smells alcohol on your breath, your next phone call will likely be from the police station.

     While "hands-free" use is allowable, if the police can prove your phone was in use AND if the police are somewhat less than honest, I can predict a scenario where a driver is using his phone "hands free" but where the diligent, eager, and less-than-honest police officer will testify that he "saw the phone in the driver's hand."  Is such a scenario likely?  Not very.  But I wouldn't bet against it.   Such a potential scenario can be avoided if the driver simply turns the phone off.  This would be of particular importance if the driver has consumed any alcohol.

     The second law will affect fewer people potentially, but will also result in an increase in traffic stops and potential DUI arrests.  As of January 1, 2014, tossing a cigarette butt out the window of car is much more likely to result in a traffic stop than it was in the past.  HB-3243 amends the Illinois Litter Control Act, changing the definition of "litter" to include cigarettes.  While such nefarious littering activities are already prohibited by many local ordinances, in my experience as a DUI defense lawyer, tossing a cigarette out the car window, is the black swan of police excuses to make a traffic stop.  Possible - but I've never seen one.  Well, that is, at least until 2014.  This seemingly minor change to the definition of "litter" under state law will provide the eager DUI patrol officer with yet another reason to follow you - if not pull you over - on what he is hoping will be another DUI notch on his belt. Yet another reason your New Year's resolutions should include quitting smoking.

     In any case, as always - be smart and be safe.  Happy New Year from the Law Offices of Brent M. Christensen.

Friday, May 3, 2013

When Pulled Over by the Police Avoid Common Excuses

We always advise clients to talk as little as possible during a police encounter - including a traffic stop.  By all means be polite - but do NOT think that you will be able to talk your way out of anything.  Police Officers have heard it all before and they are trained to use the statements made in this voluntary chatter against you.

Responses men and women give to police after being pulled over for driving infractions provide interesting insight into the differences between men and women. And from a DUI defense lawyer's perspective, a valuable insight into the things arresting officers hear most often.

For More Info:
Males are far less likely than females to give the excuse that they were lost in an attempt to explain away their wrongdoing, according to a recent survey by

On the other hand, men more than women try to shirk culpability by blaming the navigation system or claiming to be chivalrous. They’ll say, “I’m just helping someone out,” as in going to pick up a drunk girlfriend.

Men are also quicker to claim they weren’t being dangerous or reckless.

Besides saying they are lost, women tell police that they didn’t see a sign or had to go to the bathroom far more often than men do. commissioned the survey of 500 licensed drivers aged 18 and over, in which they were asked what excuses, if any, they have given to the police after getting pulled over.

The Law Offices of Brent M. Christensen advises that this type of information is useful knowledge for people to have if they are pulled over for any reason.  Having some knowledge about what the police hear all the time could help you when formulating your response to the initial police contact.  Decisions you make at this stage can make a big difference in the outcome of a case.  If you or a loved one would like to discuss a pending DUI case or the steps that you need to take to avoid a DUI in the first place, contact the Law Offices of Brent M. Christensen, Wheaton, IL at 630-510-3252.

Here is a list of the most common ones in order of popularity, followed by the percentage of men versus women who used the excuse.

I couldn’t see the sign telling me not to do it: 20.4%
Men: 38%
Women: 62%

I’m lost and unfamiliar with the roads: 15.6%
Men: 35%
Women: 65%

I didn’t know it was broken (as in headlight or taillight): 12.4%
Men: 39%
Women: 61%

Everyone else was doing the same thing: 6.4%
Men: 56%
Women: 44%

I’m having an emergency situation in my car (i.e., spilled hot drink in lap): 5.4%
Men: 67%
Women: 33%

I missed my turn/exit: 4.8%
Men: 54%
Women: 46%

I had to go to the bathroom: 4.6%
Men: 35%
Women: 65%

I didn’t do anything dangerous: 4.2%
Men: 71%
Women: 29%

I was on my way to an emergency: 4%
Men: 55%
Women: 45%

My GPS said it was the right thing to do: 2.2%
Men: 82%
Women: 18%

I’m just helping out; I wasn’t even supposed to be driving: 2%
Men: 90%
Women: 10%

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Primer on a Misunderstood Field Sobriety Test

Of the three standardized field sobriety tests - the Horizontal Gauze Nystagmus (HGN) is the one least understood by clients who've been arrested for DUI in Illinois.

Unlike the One Leg Stand Test and the Walk and Turn Test, the HGN test,  does not have anything to do with coordination and little to do with instructions (although the failure to follow the instruction to "keep one's head still" is frequently cited by prosecutors as evidence of impairment).

Nystagmus is an uncontrollable tremor of the eye. All people have some nystagmus but intoxication causes it to become more readily observable in most people. The HGN test involves an officer holding a stimulus (a finger or a pen) in front of the driver's face while watching the driver's eyes. Before the HGN test begins the officer looks for nystagmus while the eyes are resting. If the officer sees resting nystagmus the HGN test is not to be relied upon.

To begin the test, the officer has the driver hold their head still while following the stimulus with their eyes. The officer smoothly and slowly moves the pen or finger back and forth across the driver's face and slightly above their eye line. First the officer looks to see whether the driver's eyes smoothly track the stimulus, then the officer sees whether the driver's eyes quiver while focusing on the extreme left and right, and finally the officer looks for nystagmus when the eyes focus on the stimulus at less than a 45 degree angle.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the HGN is failed if the officer observes nystagmus in both eyes under at least two of the three conditions (e.g. eyes do not track smoothly and nystagmus at the extreme left or right).

However, a driver may exhibit nystagmus for several reasons other than intoxication, including medical conditions and officer error.  For example, if the officer holds the stimulus too high it can create nystagmus. If the officer moves the pen too quickly back and forth it can cause nystagmus. If the test is administered in a location where there are quickly moving objects within the driver's field of view (e.g. cars on the freeway) it may cause nystagmus. If an officer performs the HGN test repeatedly or takes too much time performing the test, the driver's eyes may become fatigued and exhibit nystagmus.

Because the questionable correlation between intoxication and nystagmus many Illinois judges do not give great weight to HGN tests in a DUI trial. However, if you were given the HGN test make sure to talk to an attorney to determine whether the test was administered accurately and whether it may be used at trial, or in a hearing to rescind Statutory Summary Suspension.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI or would like more information on what to do if pulled over for a DUI, please contact the Law Offices of Brent M. Christensen please send us an e-mail or call 630-510-3252.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Legal Plight of Lake County DUI Lawyer Illustrates the Two Sides of a DUI Case

DUI lawyer for Ditka sons faces own legal fight

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Robert Ritacca
Robert Ritacca (Gurnee Police Department photo)
The attorney who represented two sons of Mike Ditka in recent DUI cases was cited Sunday for driving on a suspended license, which resulted from the lawyer’s own arrest for DUI in October, according to court records and police.
Attorney Robert Ritacca, 62, of Wadsworth, was pulled over in Gurnee at about 11:15 a.m. Sunday, Police Commander Jay Patrick said.
Ritacca had been found not guilty of a drunken driving charge filed against him in Highland Park on Oct. 27, according to court records. But despite being ultimately cleared of the DUI, Ritacca lost his driver’s license for a year because he declined to take a breathalyzer or field sobriety test.
Ritacca denied he’d been drinking. He said he refused the tests because he was feeling effects of a medical condition from which he suffers called cerebral vasculitis, which has caused him to become “disoriented and lose focus.”
The attorney did have a permit enabling him to drive if he had a breath alcohol ignition interlock device, or BAAID, installed in his vehicle, Patrick said. The BAAID device was not installed in Ritacca’s 2005 Corvette at the time of his arrest, Patrick said.
Ritacca said the Corvette had been in his garage for the past five months because it “doesn’t do good in the snow.” He said he took it out Sunday to get gas, and said that he had an appointment Wednesday to have the BAAID installed.
After being stopped, Ritacca was taken to the Gurnee police station, where he said he was handcuffed to a desk until 3:30 p.m.
“They wouldn’t let me talk to anybody and wouldn’t give me anything to drink,” he said.
Ritacca also said he was “strip searched” and “patted down” five times.
Patrick said Ritacca was cuffed with one wrist to a ring on the booking desk for brief periods during booking but was also given the option of waiting in a cell, which he said Ritacca declined. Patrick said Ritacca was given “at least two, possibly three phone calls” while in custody.
“I believe his claim of being patted down five times and being strip searched is inaccurate. The entire process was video recorded,” Patrick said via email.
According to Patrick, Ritacca was also charged with failure to show valid insurance. His vehicle was impounded under a local ordinance which allows police to seize any vehicles that are driven by someone with a suspended or revoked license, Patrick said.
When charged with the DUI in Highland Park, Ritacca was also charged with aggravated assault of a police officer and resisting a police officer, according to court records. Both charges were later dropped by prosecutors.
Ritacca claims that after declining the sobriety testing, he was taken to the Highland Park station, where an officer “twisted my arm back and I pulled it back.”
Highland Park police referred questions to the police chief, who did not return a call seeking comment.
The Lake County State’s Attorney’s office sent the case to McHenry County because of the potential conflict of interest since Ritacca tries cases in Lake County, Ritacca said. He was found not guilty of the DUI and the other charges were dropped.
Ritacca is due in court on April 11 on the current charges.
He represented Mark Ditka when the son of the former Bears coach pleaded guilty to aggravated DUI in January. Ritacca was also the lawyer for Mark Ditka’s brother, Michael P. Ditka, when a felony DUI case was dropped against him in early 2012.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What is a BAIID?

If you've been charged with a DuPage DUI - or a DUI anywhere in Illinois for that matter - the chances are that you also received a Statutory Summary Suspension. Although there are many ways to get this summary suspension thrown out or "rescinded" sometimes, despite the best efforts of your DUI Defense Lawyer, the judge will not rescind the summary suspension. When this occurs, first-time offenders are eligible for a Monitoring Device Driving Permit in Illinois (MDDP). The "monitoring device" is called a "BAIID."

BAIID is short for “breath alcohol ignition interlock device.” These machines are installed at your expense by companies approved by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. The BAIID requires a driver to blow into the device when they first start their car. A driver of a BAIID vehicle must retest within the first 5 to 15 minutes, and when driving for longer periods of time the driver must also test about twice every hour. The device records each test and any violation is reported to the monitoring agency. The BAIID will not allow the car to be started if it detects a BAC of .025 or greater. If during operation it detects a BAC of greater than .025, then a warning signal will be emitted, and after coming to a complete stop the car cannot be re-started until the driver has a BAC of less than .025.

BAIID devices utilize “fuel cell technology” to measure the presence of alcohol in the sample chamber. Fuel cells, like many breath alcohol devices have limitations, specifically when it comes to discerning ethyl alcohol from other alcohols: A fuel cell is a device designed to continually convert fuel and an oxidant into direct current. As used for breath testing, alcohol is used as the fuel and oxygen from the atmosphere as the oxidant. Alcohol is converted in the fuel cell to acetic acid, producing two electrons for each alcohol molecule. These electrons produce an electrical current that serves to quantitate the amount of alcohol. Acetic acid further reacts at a much slower rate to form oxygen, carbon dioxide and water…Fuel cells can potentially respond to other alcohols such as methyl-, isopropyl-, and n-propyl alcohol, and to acetaldehyde.

It is important to know this because if you are ever charged with a BAIID violation the problem may be as simple as knowing that the device registered for ethyl alcohol (beverage alcohol) when the actual triggering substance was something else.

Sometimes, as part of a plea agreement, DUI offenders may be required to install a BAIID as part of their sentence.  This could mean that the BAIID is installed for  longer than just the period of the Statutory Summary Suspension.  In my experience as a DUI defense lawyer in Wheaton, I have seen an increase in the use of BAIID in sentencing particularly in Naperville DUI cases.  If you've been charged with a DUI and would like to discuss your case please feel free to call the Law Offices of Brent M. Christensen  at 630-665-5965, for a free, no-obligation consultation.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dealing with the Police in a DUI stop

In previous blog posts, I've discussed at some length the importance of not incriminating yourself during a Police stop for a DuPage DUI arrest.  In order to have the best chance at overcoming your DuPage DUI case, it is very important that you volunteer as little information to the police as possible.  Frequently this will mean "taking the 5th amendment" and refusing to answer questions.

Unfortunately for most people facing DUI charges, particularly from aggressive police agency tactics like those employed in Naperville DUI arrests, it is very hard to be polite but firm with the police.  This video should help.
At the Law Offices of Brent M. Christensen I encourage all my clients to share this with their friends so they can have the best chance of surviving a DUI police encounter.