Are drunk drivers slipping through the cracks of the legal system in Morgan County?
After tremendous feedback from the public on our previous investigation of domestic violence cases passing through the Morgan County Courthouse, WLDS/WEAI News has shifted the attention to drunk driving offenders and how cases involving multiple DUI offenders are being handled by the State’s Attorney’s Office.
With assistance from the Morgan County Circuit Clerk’s Office, WLDS/WEAI News learned that 81 DUI cases were handled in Morgan County Court during 2014. Of those cases, four were charged with felonies, due to prior DUI convictions, and six cases were reduced to lesser charges.
Of those six, at least two had prior DUI’s on their record. By reducing the charge, consequences for the individual, which included loss of driving privileges, were much less severe.
After a lengthy examination of DUI offenders with recent ties to Morgan County, a pair of cases caught our eye. Both Ryan Dokka and Michael Clayton have significant criminal histories involving DUI offenses and have even raised concerns from the Morgan County Chief Probation Officer and co-founder of the Morgan County Mothers Against Drunk Driving program.
Digging into the criminal history of Dokka, we found that between 2001 and 2013, he was convicted of two DUI’s, one felony drug offense and one misdemeanor alcohol offense. His sentences included three terms of community corrections, which were each violated.
The most recent case on Dokka’s record was originally filed in September 2013 as a DUI. Morgan County State’s Attorney Bobby Bonjean provided some details about the case.
“There was a wreck, but we didn’t have any witnesses that actually saw him driving. Law enforcement didn’t track him down. He was at the hospital and never admitted to driving. He may have even claimed that someone else was driving.”
In July of this year, the State’s Attorney’s Office amended the DUI charge to reckless driving. Dokka pled guilty to the offense and received one year of probation.
Bonjean explained why his office elected to downgrade the charge.
“Based on evaluation of the case, Mr. Turner made the decision to file the DUI based on a report from the Illinois State Police and Morgan County Sheriff’s Department. We didn’t obviously talk at the time he filed it, but after that, once Mr. Miller took over the DUI case, we evaluated the case.”
“We had some issues in terms of being able to prove all the elements of the DUI. Then as we got closer to trial, ran into issues with witnesses no longer being available. That is what led to downgrading the charge and having him plead to what we were able to. We had maybe some circumstantial evidence that maybe it was his vehicle, but we didn’t have what we felt was proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
After further investigation of the case by WLDS-WEAI News, Bonjean was asked if Dokka could have been charged with a felony, leading to a harsher sentencing.
“Certainly based on his criminal history it could have been elevated to a criminal DUI.”
Morgan County MADD co-founder George Murphy has been one of the loudest voices in the area against drunk driving for several decades.
Murphy says the local MADD chapter caught wind of Dokka’s ongoing case and that prompted a return of MADD affiliated court monitors in the Morgan County Courthouse.
“We hadn’t been court monitoring for a while and we are starting back to keep a sense of how the court system is working, and maybe how it doesn’t work. I think it gives us a better picture of looking at the system and seeing if there is something in there that we can help law enforcement or the State’s Attorney’s Office.”
“We could assist them by running a track record or calling to attention that this is the second, third or fourth time this person has been in front of the judge with the same criminal background. We are going to make it a little tougher on people that do take a chance at drinking and driving and killing and injuring. That is our goal.”
As part of his sentencing, Dokka was required to install a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device on his vehicle for six months. Bonjean felt that due to Dokka still having a valid driver’s license, the BAIID would keep him from getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol.
When we asked Bonjean what would keep Dokka from driving other vehicles without a BAID device, he stated…
Bonjean: “Typically the condition of probation would be that the vehicle he is operating while on probation would have the BAIID device in it.”
Reporter: “But he can drive other vehicles? Is that legal for him to drive other vehicles without the BAIID device in it.”
Bonjean: “To me, that would be a violation of his probation.”
But according to Morgan County Chief Probation Officer Todd Dillard, there was no specific condition on Dokka’s referral that would penalize him for driving a vehicle without the BAIID installed.
Dillard says repeat DUI offenders are always a concern to his office, due to the risk of danger to themselves and members of the community.
Dillard later questioned why the Morgan County State’s Attorney’s Office chose not to order Dokka from refraining from consuming alcohol.
“With his history of alcohol consumption, it might be a little surprising that there wasn’t a restriction on his alcohol consumption, as part of the plea agreement.”
When examining the criminal records of Michael Clayton, WLDS-WEAI News found that this individual had three prior DUI’s: one of which was enhanced to a felony, one felony for criminal damage to property and one driving while revoked.
Clayton currently has a case pending in court for his fourth DUI and driving while revoked.
WLDS/WEAI News asked Bonjean how public safety is playing into the sentencing process of Clayton’s pending case.
Reporter: “Would it appear not having a license doesn’t keep Clayton from getting behind the wheel after drinking? That’s what it looks like to me, with all the driver’s license while revoked charges against him.”
Bonjean: “Correct. The fact that he doesn’t have a valid driver’s license doesn’t appear to have prevented him from operating a motor vehicle.”
Reporter: “Does that jump out to you as a public safety issue? Especially with another charge against him recently?”
Bonjean: “Anytime we have taken steps to remove someone’s driver’s license from being valid and they continue to drive, I think that is a public safety issue.”
On Saturday morning, Morgan County Deputies arrested Clayton for aggravated DUI, driving while having a revoked license and illegal transportation of liquor. These offenses occurred with Clayton already on bond for DUI and driving while having a revoked license.
George Murphy says the court proceedings for this case will be closely watched by the Mothers Against Drunk Driving court monitors.
“Evidently this individual had been driving for years without a valid driver’s license. These are ones that we are going to be sitting in the courtroom on and tracking these types of multiple DUI cases. We will certainly be asking questions as to why would a third or fourth time DUI offender still be on the road,” said Murphy.
A condition of Clayton’s bond prohibited him from consuming any alcohol. Before this latest arrest, Dillard says Clayton was required to comply with random home visits and breathalyzer tests by the Morgan County Probation Department.
Although those are useful tools to keep individuals from drinking alcohol, Dillard would have rather seen a piece of technology used which produces better results.
“There’s technology out there, such as the SCRAM device, which monitors their alcohol consumption 24 hours a day. That is the surest way to make sure someone isn’t drinking at all,” said Dillard.
“Our supervision is limited to the randomness of the test. We try to mix that up, having clients test on weekends and through the week. It is a little more difficult and much less reliable than using a device such as the SCRAM.”
Dillard says the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor measures an individual’s blood alcohol level through perspiration of the skin.
As for Dokka, who once again was not ordered to refrain from consuming alcohol, Dillard felt the SCRAM would have been “a great piece of equipment to use.”
Bonjean told us that the State’s Attorney’s Office places a high importance on cases involving drunk driving. Bonjean was true to his word and enhanced the last two DUI offenses to felony charges.
As the finishing touches were being applied to this special report, a comprehensive drunk driving legislation was signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner, aimed at increasing participation in the state’s Breath-Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device program.
The legislation includes BAIID requirements for: first time DUI convictions that result in great bodily harm, individuals convicted of driving on a revoked license when a fatality take place or any offender that has a combination of two or more DUI/reckless homicide convictions on their record.
Secretary of State Jesse White commented on the legislation.
“My mission as Secretary of State is to make the roads of Illinois the safest ever. This legislation will further strengthen our state’s DUI laws, which will make our roads safer and save lives. Although Illinois recently received the highest rating possible for our efforts to fight drunk driving, five stars from MADD, I refuse to grow complacent.”
To hear the complete interviews with State’s Attorney Bobby Bonjean, Chief Probation Officer Todd Dillard and Morgan County MADD co-founder George Murphy, click on the links below.
Audio from Bobby Bonjean
Audio from Todd Dillard
Audio from George Murphy