Published: February 18, 2007
Local News
Judges navigate through DUI laws
By Aaron Chambers
Register Star Springfield Bureau

SPRINGFIELD — When Judge Steven Nordquist agreed to a breath test during his DUI arrest last summer, he became an anomaly among his colleagues on the bench.

The judge from Winnebago County appears to be the first in Illinois to blow, providing evidence of his guilt, when stopped by police on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. At least four other Illinois judges stopped for DUI refused the test.

Two of these judges also refused to cooperate with field sobriety tests. Another judge, charged with DUI in December, refused both breath and field sobriety tests.

Welcome to a crash course in Illinois DUI law. And who knows the law better than a judge?

Illinois law encourages motorists arrested for DUI to consent to breath tests, and it penalizes them when they refuse. Under the law, anybody arrested for DUI in Illinois has given “implied consent” to testing of his or her breath, blood or urine to determine blood-alcohol concentration.

If you’re arrested for DUI and refuse a breath test, your driver’s license is automatically suspended for six months. A misdemeanor DUI conviction, on the other hand, means up to a year in prison, loss of driving privileges for a year, 100 hours of community service and a fine of up to $2,500, according to the Illinois secretary of state’s office.

With each subsequent conviction, the penalties grow.

Drivers who know the law know it may be in their best legal interest not to blow.

“You’re depriving the state of that evidence, so you’re enhancing the chances that you will avoid criminal sanctions that will ensue if you’re found guilty of criminal charges. And in exchange, you’re willing to accept the enhanced penalties — license penalties, not criminal penalties — because you refused,” said Larry Davis, a Des Plaines lawyer specializing in DUI defense.

“You’re not going to go to jail for refusing a breath test or a blood test or a urine test. You will go to jail if you are found guilty of DUI.”

Judges getting DUIs

Cases filed by the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board, which prosecutes judicial misconduct, read like a playbook for limiting your culpability during a DUI stop. Since the 1970s, the JIB has charged at least seven judges, including Nordquist, with misconduct after their DUI arrests.

The JIB’s charges are independent of any criminal prosecution. Nordquist’s JIB case is pending. The other six judges were reprimanded or censured.

John Karns, an appellate court justice from southern Illinois, refused to blow when he was arrested for DUI in 1978. He threatened to fight police officers and “challenged one or more of the police personnel to engage in such fighting,” the JIB said.

The next morning, Karns and his lawyer seized all police documents pertaining to his arrest. The JIB said he and his lawyer destroyed or suppressed them, and that he was never prosecuted.

The JIB prosecuted two other judges arrested for DUI in the 1970s, but its complaints in those cases make no mention of breath or field sobriety tests. In that decade, breath tests were not yet widely used.

George Ray, a trial judge in central Illinois, refused field sobriety and breath tests during his DUI stop in 1989. A sheriff’s deputy stopped him for swerving in and out of his lane 20 minutes after seeing the judge sleeping in his vehicle outside a tavern.

Ray was convicted of improper lane usage but the DUI charge was dropped.

Edwin Gausselin, a Cook County judge, was stopped in 1998 for DUI in Michigan City, Ind. He refused field sobriety and breath tests, and officers later found an open bottle of whiskey in his vehicle. An Indiana judge dismissed a drunken driving and two other criminal charges, according to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.

The same year, a sheriff’s deputy arrested LaSalle County Judge Cynthia Raccuglia for DUI. The deputy discovered her vehicle in the middle of a street after another motorist towed it from a ditch. As the deputy followed her from the scene, the judge steered her vehicle off the road and attempted to drive down railroad tracks.

Raccuglia submitted to field sobriety tests but refused to take a breath test. She pleaded guilty to reckless driving.

The JIB has not charged downstate Judge Patrick Young with misconduct, though its work generally follows criminal charges by several months.

Young refused to submit to breath and field sobriety tests when he was stopped for DUI in December.

Local officials

Back in Rockford, City Administrator Jim Ryan followed the playbook when he was arrested and charged with DUI on Feb. 8. Ryan refused to blow or take a field sobriety test.

“To the best of my knowledge, Jim Ryan has absolutely no knowledge relating to DUI law,” said Chris DeRango, his attorney. “I don’t think this knowledge of the law had anything to do with what he did or didn’t do.”

Nordquist, who presides over divorce and custody matters, refused to take a field sobriety or preliminary breath test when he was stopped for DUI in Rockford last June, the JIB said. He attempted to recite the alphabet, but was unsuccessful.

An hour later, Nordquist agreed to provide a breath sample and his blood-alcohol concentration was .116. Under Illinois law, a person is legally intoxicated when BAC hits .08.

Francis Martinez, a Rockford attorney who represented Nordquist in the DUI case, said the judge was determined to cooperate with law enforcement.

“I cannot speak for any other judge or any other person, but in Judge Nordquist’s case it has been his position to accept full responsibility for his actions,” Martinez said.

Nordquist pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DUI, so the city did not have to take him to trial. In Rockford, city prosecutors — not county prosecutors — handle misdemeanor DUI cases.

Joe Bruscato, the city prosecutor who handled Nord­quist’s DUI, said the city would have used the breath test result against the judge if it had needed to.

High court weighs in

The Illinois Supreme Court has upheld the mandatory six-month suspension for refusing to blow as a legitimate way to discourage drivers from refusing to take the test.

The court said in a 1992 opinion that the statutory “right” to refuse to take a blood-alcohol test does not derive from a constitutional protection such as the right against self-incrimination. Instead, the court said any such right of refusal is “simply a matter of grace” bestowed by the Legislature.

Then in 2004, the court ruled that Illinois law does not grant a person arrested for DUI the right to refuse BAC testing. It backed police officers who forced a driver to submit blood and urine samples after an accident. The court said the state could use test results against the driver, even though he objected to testing and nobody else died or was injured in the accident.

Such involuntary testing remains uncommon in Illinois.

Refusing testing

Don Ramsell, another DUI defense lawyer based in Wheaton, argued that anybody arrested for DUI should refuse to take a breath test simply because the tests are notoriously unreliable. A spokesman for the state police, who administer breath testing machines in Illinois, declined to comment.

The question, as defense lawyer Davis sees it, is not so much whether to refuse to blow but whether to refuse field sobriety tests. He says the results of these tests can give police probable cause to arrest a DUI suspect, which in turn gives an officer the right to ask for a breath test.

Illinois law does not mandate a license suspension for refusing a field sobriety test.

“If you refuse a field sobriety test, you enhance the chances that the officer is not going to have probable cause to make the arrest to begin with,” he said. “If I am telling somebody at a cocktail party what you want to do to avoid a DUI, it’s ‘Don’t take the field sobriety test.’ ”

Register Star reporter Kiyoshi Martinez contributed to this story.

Staff writer Aaron Chambers may be reached at 217-782-2959 or achambers@rrstar.com.