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People v. Fisher

December 17, 1998

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT,
v.
GEORGE R. FISHER ET AL., APPELLEES.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McMORROW:

Agenda - May 30, 1998.

The question presented in this consolidated appeal is whether the statutory summary suspension of driving privileges set forth in sections 6-208.1(a)(3) and 6-208.1(g) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Code) (625 ILCS 5/6-208.1(a)(3), (g) (West 1996)) violates the state and federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. For the following reasons, we hold that it does not.

BACKGROUND

Illinois' implied consent statute, section 11-501.1 of the Code (625 ILCS 5/11-501.1 (West 1996)), provides that any individual driving on an Illinois public highway who is arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (625 ILCS 5/11-501 (West 1996)) is deemed to have consented to chemical testing of blood, breath, or urine to determine the content of alcohol in his or her blood. The statute grants the arrested driver the right to withdraw this implied consent and refuse to be tested. People v. Wegielnik, 152 Ill. 2d 418, 427-28 (1992). The implied consent statute also provides, however, that refusal to submit to chemical testing will result in the administrative suspension of the arrested individual's driver's license.

When originally enacted, the implied consent statute authorized license suspensions only for those drivers who refused to submit to chemical testing and, in general, only following a hearing challenging the suspension. Later amendments eliminated the requirement of a pre-suspension hearing and expanded the suspension provisions of section 11-501.1 to include drivers who submit to chemical testing which reveals a blood-alcohol content at, or above, the legal limit. See L. Davis, Application of the Illinois Summary Suspension Law and Constitutional Implications, 76 Ill. B.J. 494 (1988). Thus, section 11-501.1 authorizes the administrative, summary suspension of an individual's driver's license when that individual has been lawfully arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and has either refused to submit to chemical testing to determine blood-alcohol content, or has submitted to, and failed, such testing. The statutory summary suspensions authorized by section 11-501.1, whether for refusing or failing chemical testing, are civil in nature and are not part of the criminal prosecution for the offense of driving under the influence of alcohol. People v. Gerke, 123 Ill. 2d 85, 93-95 (1988).

The length of the administrative suspension which is imposed under section 11-501.1 depends upon the individual driver's past offenses and whether the driver submitted to chemical testing, or refused to submit to chemical testing, at the time of the arrest. Pursuant to section 6-208.1(a)(3) of the Code, if a driver who is not a "first offender" refuses to submit to chemical testing, the driver will have his or her driving privileges suspended for a period of two years. 625 ILCS 5/6-208.1(a)(3) (West 1996).*fn1 However, if a driver who is not a "first offender" submits to chemical testing which discloses a blood-alcohol content at, or above, the legal limit, the driver will have his or her driving privileges suspended for only one year. 625 ILCS 5/6-208.1(a)(4) (West 1996). A "first offender" is defined in general under the Code as any person who has not had a previous conviction for driving under the influence, court assigned supervision for driving under the influence, or statutory summary suspension of driving privileges within five years prior to the date of the current offense. 625 ILCS 5/11-500 (West 1996).

The Code permits drivers whose privileges have been suspended under section 11-501.1 to seek driving relief during the suspension period in limited circumstances. If the driver is not a first offender, and his or her driving privileges have been suspended after taking a chemical test that revealed a blood-alcohol content at, or above, the legal limit, the Secretary of State may issue the driver a restricted driving permit after 90 days from the effective date of the suspension. 625 ILCS 5/6-208.1(h) (West 1996). A restricted driving permit is issued under the discretionary authority of the Secretary of State and allows a person to drive on a limited basis for employment, medical or educational purposes. 625 ILCS 5/6-205(c) (West 1996). The Secretary of State will not issue a restricted driving permit unless the driver proves the lack of a driver's license is causing undue hardship, there is no alternative means of transportation, and the issuance of the permit will not endanger the public safety and welfare. 625 ILCS 5/6-205(c) (West 1996); Murdy v. Edgar, 103 Ill. 2d 384, 391-92 (1984). However, under section 6-208.1(g) of the Code, if the driver is not a first offender, and his driving privileges have been suspended after refusing to submit to a chemical test, the Secretary of State "shall not issue a restricted driving permit." 625 ILCS 5/6-208.1(g) (West 1996).*fn2 No other driving relief is available to the driver who is not a first offender and who refused to submit to chemical testing. The defendants in the case at bar, George Fisher, Ovanes Mikaelian and Diana Gaynor, were arrested in separate incidents for the criminal offense of driving under the influence of alcohol (625 ILCS 5/11-501 (West 1996)). None of the defendants were ultimately convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol. At the time of their arrest, each defendant refused the request of the arresting officer to submit to chemical testing to determine blood alcohol content. In addition, each defendant was not a first offender as defined in section 11-500 of the Code. Accordingly, under sections 6-208.1(a)(3) and 6-208.1(g) of the Code, each defendant was subject to a two-year suspension of his or her driver's license with no availability of hardship relief. In separate proceedings in the circuit court of Cook County, the defendants each filed a petition to rescind the summary suspension of their driving privileges. See 625 ILCS 5/2-118.1 (West 1996). Gaynor's petition to rescind was filed on March 13, 1996, and denied by the circuit court on May 6, 1996. Mikaelian's petition to rescind was also denied on May 6, 1996. Fisher's petition to rescind was filed on August 23, 1996.

On May 31, 1996, Mikaelian filed a motion for rehearing of his petition to rescind in which he claimed that the statutory summary suspension of his driver's license was unconstitutional. On August 16, 1996, Gaynor filed a motion to vacate the circuit court's order denying her petition. She too alleged that the statutory summary suspension of her driver's license was unconstitutional. On August 29, 1996, a hearing was held before the circuit court on Mikaelian's motion for rehearing. The circuit court, sua sponte, consolidated the defendants' three cases for purposes of issuing a decision on Mikaelian's motion for rehearing, Gaynor's motion to vacate, and Fisher's petition to rescind. On October 29, 1996, the circuit court entered a consolidated memorandum opinion and order which held that the license suspensions imposed on the defendants were unconstitutional in their entirety and which ordered the suspensions rescinded, nunc pro tunc, to their effective dates. The circuit court first held that section 6-208.1(g), which denies all hardship relief for non-first offenders who refuse to submit to chemical testing, violates the equal protection guarantee of the federal and state constitutions. The circuit court concluded that allowing hardship relief for non-first offenders who fail chemical testing but not for those who refuse testing, is "irrational and bears no relationship to the legislative goal of public safety." The circuit court also held that while section 6-208.1(a)(3) "standing alone" was constitutionally valid, "the two year summary suspension in combination with the lack of any hardship relief during the entire period *** constitutes a denial of due process."

The circuit court stayed its order rescinding the defendants' suspensions pending appeal by the State. The State appealed each of the defendants' cases directly to this court. 134 Ill. 2d R. 302(a). We allowed the State's motion to consolidate the defendants' cases for review.

ANALYSIS

Statutes are presumed constitutional. The party challenging the validity of a statute has the burden of clearly establishing that it is unconstitutional. People v. Inghram, 118 Ill. 2d 140, 146 (1987). " `[I]t is our duty to construe acts of the legislature so as to uphold their constitutionality and validity if it can be reasonably done, and, further, that if their construction is doubtful, the doubt will be resolved in favor of the validity of the law attacked.' [Citations.] " Inghram, 118 Ill. 2d at 146. The constitutionality of a statute is a question of law which we review de novo. Brown's Furniture, Inc. v. Wagner, 171 Ill. 2d 410, 420 (1996).

The defendants maintain that their license suspensions are unconstitutional on both equal protection and due process grounds. We turn first to the defendants' equal protection arguments.

Equal ...


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