A Crawford County DUI forfeiture case that challenged the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution could have an impact on future cases.
In a 5-2 decision the Illinois Supreme Court recently upheld a Crawford County Court verdict to seize a $35,000 motorcycle in an aggravated driving under the influence case from 2014.
Crawford County State's Attorney Matt Hartich was pleased with the decision and proud that Crawford County could be setting the precedent on future cases.
The case stem from an incident that occurred on April 26, 2014. According to court documents, Mark Henderson was driving a 2010 Harley-Davidson trike-style motorcycle, when he was arrested for driving under the influence and licences revoked. At the time of the incident his wife, Petra Henderson, was a passenger and the title owner of the motorcycle.
A breath test revealed Henderson's blood alcohol concentration was 0.161, over twice the legal limit. He was charged with aggravated DUI and driving with a suspended or revoked driver's license. Since 1996, Mark Henderson's license had been summarily suspended multiple times, and his license was revoked following his 2008 DUI conviction. That revocation was extended after he was convicted of driving with a revoked license in 2012; as of April 2014, Henderson's license remained revoked. The police seized the motorcycle.
Petra Henderson being the title owner of the motorcycle, which she testified she purchased in 2010 for $35,000, claimed the seizure was excessive. In a posttrial motion, the claimant argued for the first time that the forfeiture order created an as -applied violation of the excessive fines clause of the federal constitution's eighth amendment. The trial court rejected her claim, and she filed a timely notice of appeal.
The appellate court declined to overturn the trial judge's factual findings, but the court reversed the forfeiture order, concluding that, in light of the claimant's limited culpability, the penalty was unconstitutionally excessive under this court's three-part test. We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule.
What is significant about the case to the Illinois Supreme Court is the as-applied violation of the excessive fines clause. What Petra Henderson was claiming was not that her husband was driving the motorcycle or that he was under the influence, bu that seizing the motorcycle was excessive because of its value of $35,000, and that she was not charged with a violation.
In reviewing the case Illinois Supreme Court Justices established three criteria in determining if the seizure was excessive; (1) was the fine or seizure grossly disproportionate to the crime; (2) how integral the property was in the commission of the offense, and (3) whether the criminal conduct 'involving the defendant property was extensive in terms of time and/or spatial use.'
The State argues that the motorcycle's forfeiture was proportionate to the inherent dangers presented by Henderson's aggravated DUI. This court has previously recognized the seriousness of the public safety threat created by the commission of a DUI, especially when the driver's license was already revoked due to a prior DUI. The legislature has also undoubtedly deemed aggravated DUI to be a serious criminal offense. It is a Class 4 felony and carries a prison sentence of one to three years, with a fine of up to $25,000. The State asserts that the claimant's culpability in this case is high because she knew her husband was intoxicated and had no license but permitted him to drive the motorcycle anyway, making her legally accountable for his criminal conduct.
Thirdly the current value of the 2010 motorcycle in 2014 was not accurately provided for the court.
The claimant, Petra Henderson, on the other hand, maintains that her conduct was merely negligent. She points out that she was not personally prosecuted for any offense that would have subjected the motorcycle to forfeiture. According to her, an unconstitutional imbalance exists between her minimal culpability and her monetary loss due to the forfeiture.
It was decided in a 5 to 2 vote the by the Illinois Supreme Court Justices that the Crawford County Circuit Court order to seize the motorcycle was affirmed, and did not violate the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
Hartrich explained that what this case establishes is that someone cannot get away without punishment simply because they are rich. He said the law applies the same if a person is driving an old junker or an expensive sports car or pickup truck.
Henderson can still appeal the Illinois Supreme Court decision, but has a limited time to do so.