Yesterday, the Illinois Supreme Court issued an opinion involving an interpretation of Illinois' very strict law involving under age drinking, which basically provides that if someone under 21 is caught consuming alcohol, their drivers' licenses are automatically suspended. The Court, however, went the extra step and held that even if the drinking offense did not involve the driving of a car, the suspension still applies.
In this case, which consolidated several appeals from the lower courts, involved individuals charged with underage drinking who plead guilty to that offense. No vehicles were involved. The trial court placed each on court supervision for 90 days and then entered an order declaring unconstitutional as applied the statute requiring suspension of a driver’s license on receipt of court supervision for underage drinking, even where no vehicle is involved. It found a due process violation. The Secretary of State brought the direct appeal to the Supreme Court from the finding of statutory unconstitutionality.
In 1989, the Illinois Supreme Court had held unconstitutional a statutory provision calling for revocation of a driver’s license on conviction of certain sex offenses. There, as here, there was no use of a vehicle. In this decision, the supreme court distinguished its earlier ruling, noting that, here, the legislature may have believed that a young person who consumes alcohol illegally may take the additional step of driving after consuming alcohol, and it is reasonable to believe that a young person disobeying the law against underage consumption may also lack the judgment to decline to drive after drinking. Preventing young people from driving after consuming alcohol is unquestionably in the public interest.
The supreme court also held that the obligation imposed here on the Secretary of State to suspend a driver’s license is mandatory, rather than discretionary.
Thus, the circuit court’s holding of statutory unconstitutionality was reversed.
And, the warning is clear. If you are not yet 21 years of age, and are caught drinking in violation of the law, you will lose your drivers' license, regardless of the circumstances.
Serious food for thought for young people in Illinois who might choose to drink, even if they never step behind the wheel of a car.