SPRINGFIELD – Drivers from unsolved hit-and-run cases can still be prosecuted years after the accident occurred under legislation Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed on Wednesday.
The measure immediately repealed the three-year statute of limitations for prosecution of hit-and-run cases and the 18-month statute of limitations for failing to give information or aid following a car crash that results in death, personal injury or vehicle damage.
"Those who flee from responsibility after an accident should not be able to get off the hook just because enough time has passed," the governor said in a written release. "Now, we can give law enforcement all the time they need to solve hit-and-runs and bring justice to the people who are hurt as a result of careless drivers."
The governor signed a similar law in August, but it was not due to take effect until January 1, 2006. Lawmakers had since learned of several pending hit-and-run cases for which the statute of limitations would run out before that date, said state Sen. Carol Pankau, R-Roselle.
To address that problem, Pankau and state Rep. Susana Mendoza, D-Chicago, sponsored SB 1943 during the recent veto session. That bill would repeal the statute of limitations as soon as the governor signed it.
The House and Senate approved the measure unanimously.
"Thanks to this quick action, families whose cases would have run out before January 2006 can now have their cases heard," Mendoza said "Removing the statute of limitations on these crimes will allow that families are not victimized twice, once by the tragedy involving their loved ones, and a second one by our own laws."
Legislators dubbed the measure the "Patrick Leahy Law" after a 6-year-old who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in August 1999 in the DuPage County town of Winfield. The case is still unsolved and the statute of limitations ran out.
Illinois State Police spokesman Lincoln Hampton said he could not say how many open hit-and-run cases in Illinois would be affected by the new law.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz said she was not aware of any such cases that were outstanding locally, but said the new law might come in handy at some point.
"Certainly any legislation that increases the ability for law enforcement to solve cases is beneficial, particularly in light of the advances we have made in technology," she said.
New techniques for analyzing evidence can help solve cases that stumped law enforcement in the past, she said.
In 2003, the most recent year for which statistics were available, there were 68,337 hit-and-run crashes in Illinois, according to Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Vanover.