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.