A Changing Legal Landscape Brought Back Happy Hour

Thirsty Illinoisans all over the state recently raised a glass to celebrate the return of happy hour to the Prairie State. Under the new law, establishments may sell discounted drinks for up to four hours per day to a maximum of fifteen hours per week; there can be no discounts from 10:00 p.m. to closing time. Drink specials may also be part of “meal packages” and “party packages.”

Some of today’s alcohol consumers were not even born when the state banned happy hours in 1989, citing the risk of alcohol-related car crashes. But the fatality rate has dropped precipitously in recent years because DUI laws are stricter and more sternly enforced than they were 25 years ago.

Lower BAC

As a matter of fact, in 1989, all states still defined “intoxication” as a .10 BAC. That started to change in the late 1990s, after the federal government threatened to withhold highway funds from states that refused to lower the legal limit to .08.

Earlier this year, the National Transportation Safety Board proposed lowering the limit again, to .05. But, reaction has been mixed. While some law enforcement groups support the change, Mothers Against Drunk Driving issued a statement opposing the move because the group believes that a combination of checkpoints, high visibility enforcement, and ignition interlock devices would effectively end drunk driving.

Undeterred, officials from the NTSB countered that .05 offenses could have administrative instead of criminal penalties; they also pointed out that other countries, including Australia, already use this reduced standard.


Police stops that are not based on probable cause are another fairly recent legal innovation. In 1989, such stops were at least arguably illegal. But only about a year later, a U.S. Supreme Court case legalized checkpoints, as long as they met certain criteria. For example, DUI checkpoints must be advertised in advance, on-site officers must have no discretion in how the checkpoint operates, and the individual detentions must be as brief as possible.

A 2004 case – Illinois v Lidster – expanded the rule. Police in Lombard had set up a highway checkpoint hoping to locate witnesses who had knowledge of an earlier fatal hit-and-run. An officer smelled alcohol on a motorist’s breath; the man was subsequently arrested for DUI. Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer concluded that the stop was reasonable under the circumstances.

Ignition Interlock Devices

Some changes have been technology-driven, and IIDs are a good example. In 1989, because these devices were cumbersome and expensive, IIDs were only used in a handful of cases. But, as the calendar moved forward into the 1990s and 2000s, the devices got smaller and more reliable while the underlying technology became less expensive. As a result, the lower-cost gadgets are now a standard part of most DUI license suspension or revocation cases in Illinois and elsewhere.

Refusal to Submit Laws?

In-vehicle breathalyzers may be the next legal innovation for people that are convicted of DUI. However, a person arrested for DUI may not be threatened with criminal prosecution or be forced to take a breath or blood tests. A number of states (not including Illinois) had enacted criminal penalties for refusing to submit to breath or blood tests. The statutes had threatened incarceration for people that refused to submit to breath or blood tests. This year the United States Supreme Court these criminal refusal statutes are unconstitutional and void. In other words, police and prosecutors cannot threaten to throw you in jail if you refuse to take the tests. Statistics vary by jurisdiction, but conviction rates are typically much, much higher in test cases than refusal cases. It is your choice to take the tests or not take them.

Reach Out to Aggressive Attorneys

DUI laws have changed considerably over the last twenty years, and more changes are probably coming soon. For a vigorous defense against these charges, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Schaumburg from Glasgow & Olsson. After-hours and jail visits are available.

(photo courtesy of Clara Natoli)

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