Kane Co. to begin no-refusal weekends

May 14, 2008 4:07:49 PM PDT
There's a new initiative to fight drunk driving in Kane County. It's a plan to override a driver's refusal to undergo certain testing when they are suspected of driving under the influence.

The new initiative involves an on-call judge immediately issuing a court order for blood-alcohol testing of potential drunk drivers.

The initiative is being carried out in Saint Charles, Geneva and Batavia.

The Kane County state's attorney says he would like to see the option of refusing to submit to a test eliminated because he says that option makes it easier for habitual drunk drivers to return to the streets. In the meantime, there is a way to override that option there. And it's the same program that's met with success in Houston, Texas.

Kane County officials are taking a page out of Houston's book by starting no refusal weekends. That's where DUI suspects who refuse a breath test are at risk of having their blood taken by court order. It's a practice that started last fall in Houston. And prosecutors there report a near 100 percent conviction rate.

Kane County's lead prosecutor says that he hopes for the same kind of success.

"If you don't blow and you don't cooperate with the testing provisions, that becomes a good defense case or a case that they can beat, a case which is hard for us to win," said John Barsanti, Kane County state's attorney.

On average, 40 percent of all Illinois motorists arrested for DUI refuse to submit to a breath, blood or urine test. For first-time offenders, that could mean a driver's license suspension for six months. For repeat offenders, the suspension could be three years. Barsanti said forced blood draws could lead to more DUI convictions.

"There exists in the law right now, in my mind, a loophole through which they can, no pun intended, drive through because they can refuse the test," said Barsanti. "And by inhibiting our prosecution and giving them a better chance to get their license back sooner."

During no refusal weekends, getting a blood test will be streamlined. It's a process that doesn't sit well with defense attorney Donald Ramsell.

"I have grave doubts when we start a police state, strap people down and take their blood from them involuntarily, just to see if they might have committed a crime," said Ramsell.

No refusal weekends have the support of the Kane County DUI Task Force and Shelly Anderson who lost his 16-year-old daughter, Jenny, 11 years ago when her car was hit by a drunk driver.

"If it can save one life, yes," he said.

It won't be announced when the no refusal weekends will take place, so drivers won't be tipped off. And it could take as quickly as one hour to execute the test from the time the DUI suspect is apprehended until the time the judge issues the search warrant.

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