In Joliet and Will County, Illinois, not all traffic tickets are created equal.

This is true, of course, in terms of the fines imposed (e.g., a citation for speeding 5-10 miles over the limit will cost you much less than a citation for reckless driving), but traffic offenses also vary considerably in terms of procedural requirements and the additional consequences of a conviction.

Traffic violations in Illinois are typically categorized into three groups: minor traffic offenses, traffic-related misdemeanor offenses, and driving on a suspended or revoked license (DWLS) offenses. Minor (or “petty”) traffic offenses include standard speeding tickets, lane-change violations, and disobeying red lights or stop signs. These offenses are punishable by fine only. Misdemeanor offenses, by contrast, carry steep fines and are punishable by up to a year in jail. These serious criminal traffic offenses include: reckless driving, “drag racing,” driving 40+ mph in excess of the applicable speed limit; display of false insurance information, fictitious or unlawfully altered driver’s license or permit; fleeing or attempting to elude a peace officer; motor vehicle accidents involving damage to vehicle; and driving while under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or other drugs or intoxicating compounds. This list is not exhaustive. In addition, there are certain aggravating factors what can turn a misdemeanor traffic offense into a felony.

Upon receiving a traffic citation, you must first decide whether or not you are going to contest it. In making this call it is very wise to consult an attorney, as there are many factors that will bear upon this decision—factors which your attorney knows to look for and is in a much better position to assess. For example, an experienced traffic attorney can look at your driving record and the circumstances surrounding the violation to help you determine the likely outcome of the charged offense: Will the attendant “points” on your driving record cause you to lose your license? Are you facing possible jail time?

Many times, drivers who receive a citation for a minor traffic offense in Joliet or Will County often feel the best course of action is to simply pay the fine and move on with their lives. We get it—contesting a traffic violation is time consuming and an all-around pain in the neck. But unlike parking tickets, traffic violations do not simply “go away” after you send in the payment. It is critical to keep in mind that the act of paying your traffic ticket is an admission of guilt; by paying your ticket you are pleading guilty and receiving a conviction. This conviction becomes part of your driving record along with the accompanying ‘points’ on your license and puts you in a position to face more serious charges upon future offenses.

With this in mind, contesting a traffic ticket may not seem like such a bad idea. Even if you cannot beat it entirely, it is often possible to “plead down” to a lesser offense and/or avoid a conviction by agreeing to attend traffic safety classes.

The other thing to keep in mind is that, for many traffic violations, simply sending in payment is not even an option. Some minor offenses and all misdemeanor offenses require you to appear before the judge. While it may seem like the city is just adding insult to injury by requiring you to take time out of your schedule to show up in court, it is also an opportunity for you (or your attorney) to present your case. Even if your citation doesn’t carry a mandatory court appearance, we often recommend requesting a hearing anyway!

And that brings us to the matter of representation: Do you hire an attorney to attend these hearings and defend your case, or do you go it alone? Regardless of the offense, being represented by an experienced traffic lawyer greatly improves your chances of a desirable outcome: less fines, fewer points, better driving record, less or no jail time, etc. And the more serious the offense, the more you have to lose by not hiring an attorney; in fact, for traffic violations carrying possible jail time, it is generally assumed that you will have legal representation, whether by an attorney of your choosing or by a Will County public defender. Yet the procedural knowledge and strategy that an attorney can bring to your case is valuable for all levels of offenses.

Of course we understand that money is a concern: hiring an attorney means added costs when you are already facing hefty fines. But realistically, hiring an attorney will likely end up costing you less in the long run. Consider the money you will save by obtaining an acquittal or pleading down to a lesser offense (two desirable outcomes that are much more likely if you have legal representation): lower (or zero) fines; fewer (or zero) points on your record; avoiding an increase in your insurance premiums; avoiding lost wages by avoiding the need to take time off work to appear in court.

Your future and your pocketbook will be better protected if you choose to hire an attorney for your criminal traffic case. To discuss your situation with an experienced, affordable Will County attorney, contact Hamilton & Antonsen at 815-729-9220.

By: Sarah Hanneken