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The People of the State of Illinois v. Aaron L. Martin

April 21, 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
APPELLANT,
v.
AARON L. MARTIN,
APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Theis

JUSTICE THEIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

This case involves two related issues. In its appeal, the State argues that the appellate court erred in holding the State failed to prove defendant Aaron Martin guilty of aggravated driving under the influence (DUI) (see 625 ILCS 5/11--501(d)(1)(F) (West 2008)) because it presented no evidence of a causal link between a trace amount of methamphetamine found in his urine and a car accident in which two persons died. In his cross-appeal, the defendant argues that the appellate court erred in holding the State proved him guilty of misdemeanor DUI. See 625 ILCS 5/11--501(a)(6) (West 2008). We now reverse the appellate court's decision and reinstate the defendant's original conviction and sentence.

BACKGROUND

On December 25, 2004, at 10 p.m., the defendant left a bar in Peoria. As he was driving home on a two-lane state highway, his car crossed the center line at a curve and struck an oncoming car. The driver and the passenger of that car were killed in the accident. The defendant was injured, and he was taken to a nearby hospital where he was given a narcotic painkiller, but not methamphetamine. At the hospital he received two traffic citations, one for improper lane usage and one for driving on the wrong side of the road. After he was placed under arrest by a Peoria County sheriff's deputy, he consented to requests for two blood and urine samples. Subsequent tests revealed that the defendant's blood contained no alcohol or controlled substances, but his urine contained methamphetamine and amphetamine. The defendant was then indicted on one count of aggravated DUI.

At trial, the State presented testimony from two eyewitnesses to the accident. Both stated that they saw the defendant's truck traveling northbound miss the curve, veer into southbound traffic, and collide head-on with another car. Those accounts were consistent with the findings of an accident reconstructionist, who testified that the impact occurred in the lane occupied by the other car. A forensic pathologist testified that the victims' fatal injuries were consistent with a high-impact motor vehicle accident.

The defendant's friend, Tiffany Graham, also testified for the State. Graham stated that after the defendant was released from the hospital, she organized a benefit to help him pay his medical bills. Graham received an anonymous telephone call shortly before the benefit, asking her how she could raise money for "somebody who killed two people while on crystal meth." Later, Graham confronted the defendant with this information. According to Graham, she asked him why she had received the telephone call, and he responded that his "drug test came back positive." He told her, "I have done crystal meth before, but I was not on crystal meth that night." The defendant did not indicate to Graham when he had last used methamphetamine.

Cathy Anderson, a forensic scientist for the Illinois State Police, testified that she tested the defendant's blood samples for alcohol and drugs. She found none. She also tested the defendant's urine samples for drugs. A preliminary screening test indicated that a small amount of "some sort of drug of the amphetamine class" could be present in the samples. Anderson then performed a gas chromatography mass spectrometry test, looking for a wide range of drugs. She found nothing significant. She then performed a more specific spectrometry test, looking for drugs in the amphetamine class. That test revealed the presence of methamphetamine, though it did not indicate how much. According to Anderson, controlled substances enter the bloodstream first and are eventually eliminated through the urinary tract. She was not surprised to find methamphetamine in the urine samples, but not the blood samples. She also testified that none of the other substances in the defendant's urine would have triggered a false indication for methamphetamine.

The defendant presented testimony from a single witness: Dr. Alfred Staubus, a forensic toxicologist. Dr. Staubus stated that he had reviewed Anderson's report, and he discussed her findings. According to Dr. Staubus, the amount of methamphetamine in the defendant's urine was so small that the test result should have been negative. He asserted, "It's my opinion to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the urine sample of the defendant, Mr. Martin[,] does not contain detectable amounts, realistic amounts of amphetamines.

The jury found the defendant guilty. The court entered judgment on that verdict and sentenced him to six years' imprisonment. The defendant appealed.

A divided appellate court panel reversed the defendant's conviction for aggravated DUI and remanded for resentencing on misdemeanor DUI. No. 3--07--0263 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). Justice O'Brien, in the lead opinion, concluded that the State had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that there was methamphetamine in the defendant's urine and that his use of this drug was unlawful. Thus, he violated section 11--501(a)(6). Justice O'Brien then turned to the issue of whether this violation was the proximate cause of the deaths here. According to Justice O'Brien, section 11--501(d)(1)(F) "does not state *** that the State need only prove that the violator's driving caused the deaths." If the legislature would have intended such an interpretation, she asserted, it would have phrased that section differently. The violation, not the defendant's driving, must be a proximate cause of the deaths. That is, "the State must draw some relationship between the presence of methamphetamine in Martin's urine while he was operating a motor vehicle *** and the deaths that resulted from the motor vehicle accident." Justice O'Brien concluded that the State did not prove a causal link between the trace amount of methamphetamine and the accident and, consequently, did not prove the defendant guilty of aggravated DUI.

Justice McDade concurred in part and dissented in part. She agreed with Justice O'Brien that the State failed to prove the defendant guilty of aggravated DUI. She disagreed, however, that the State had proved him guilty of misdemeanor DUI because the evidence did not show that his use of methamphetamine was unlawful. Justice Wright also concurred in part and dissented in part. She agreed with Justice O'Brien that the State had proved the defendant's use was unlawful. She disagreed that the State failed to prove the defendant guilty of aggravated DUI. ...


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