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Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005 06:19 pm


Busted for driving drunk? You can take your punishment incognito.

There’s always been a silver lining to a DUI conviction. For one thing, you never know whom you’ll meet during the mandatory 10-hour class on the dangers of alcohol that’s attended by most everyone convicted of drunken driving. Aside from members of the opposite sex, there’s always a chance that you’ll meet a celebrity. After all, such notables as Mike Ditka, Diana Ross, Glen Campbell, and Nick Nolte have been busted for driving drunk. The chances of your rubbing shoulders with the rich and inebriated have been drastically reduced in Illinois, however, with the advent of online DUI classes. Illinois is embracing online DUI courses with a vengeance. Two years ago, Intervention Instruction Inc., based in Chicago, convinced a handful of courts, including Sangamon County’s, to allow DUI offenders to take their classes online. Now, says John Moulton, Intervention Instruction program director, every court in the state has recently begun allowing offenders to take their mandatory alcohol classes by way of the Internet so that they’ll never see the inside of a classroom. So far, about 180 offenders have taken the online course, Moulton says, a tiny percentage of the 50,000 people arrested for DUI in Illinois each year. The fee is $175 for all counties except Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, and Will, where online classes cost $195, the nonprofit company says. However, contrary to what Chicago-based Intervention Instruction is telling the media in press releases, authorities in DuPage County say that they don’t allow DUI offenders to take alcohol classes online. “We haven’t gotten official approval for that yet,” Moulton confirms. And with good reason, says one insider. “Both the bar association and the judges in DuPage addressed it and determined we would not accept the online process,” says Donald Ramsell, one of state’s most prominent DUI defense attorneys. The Wheaton-based lawyer’s firm has handled more than 13,000 DUI cases since 1986. Besides being past president of the DuPage County Bar Association, Ramsell is past president of the county Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and past chairman of the Illinois State Bar Association Traffic Law Committee. Although his pedigree suggests that he would favor anything that makes life easier for his clients, Ramsell says that the reason behind his opposition to online DUI school is simple: “I drive on the public highways, too.”
Intervention Instruction boasts that online instruction is convenient to offenders and offers more personal dignity and safety than in-person instruction. DUI offenders are often stripped of their drivers’ licenses, Moulton notes, so they won’t be tempted to break the law and drive to a class if they can use a computer instead. The course is particularly attractive to shift workers, the disabled, drivers from out of state, and, Moulton says, “prominent citizens who are well-known in the community.” Offenders may take the course at any time that’s convenient. Moulton recalls a woman who turned the audio off and contacted technical support to find out why the screen pages were turning so slowly (the program doesn’t allow offenders to move to the next page until a narrator finishes reading). “We found out she was at work and didn’t want her employer to hear it,” he says. The program is divided into four two-and-a-half-hour segments, with a 48-hour lockout period between segments to guarantee that offenders can’t just blaze through in a day. Offenders must answer some essay questions and also score at least 75 percent on a 33-question test at the end of the program. While registering, offenders must provide their shoe size, the name of the first elementary school they attended, and dozens of other personal details that form the basis of questions that randomly pop up to ensure that the defendant, not a ringer, is taking the course. “That course is tougher than sitting in a classroom,” Moulton says. “I can guarantee you right now, any client that’s going through our online program is getting at least as good and probably better.”
Moulton says that a person couldn’t be drunk while taking the course because graders would be able to spot an intoxicated person through their written essays. “They can tell if you’re coherent and if you’re answering the questions right,” he says. What about such heavy drinkers as Edgar Allan Poe and Ernest Hemingway, renowned for producing literary masterpieces while soused? “I guess so,” he answers. “Then again, those are the same people who can sit down and fool a person in class.”
Ramsell says that there’s no substitute for being in a classroom, where there’s no temptation to watch television, listen to a stereo, or otherwise be distracted from the business at hand. “You’re compelled to watch, listen, and feel,” he says. “You don’t have any of that with a computer. The next thing will be a Web site that sells the answers [to the tests].”
Noting that few local defendants have opted for computer classes, Sangamon Circuit Court Judge Robert Eggers says that no problems have come to the attention of court officials. “We just haven’t had any issues with it that I’m aware of,” Eggers says. “You’ve got to think outside the box every once in awhile.”
There is at least one advantage to keeping drunks away from each other while they learn about alcohol, Ramsell allows. “The one thing it might help reduce is the after-hours party,” he says.
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