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Illinois Traffic Court

Nobody likes going to court. It's time-consuming, a little intimidating, and it can be expensive. However, if you get a traffic ticket in Illinois, you will have to get the issue resolved with an Illinois traffic court. If you do have to go to traffic court in Illinois, it's a good idea to know a little bit about how the court system operates.

In Illinois, traffic cases are handled in the circuit courts. The Illinois circuit courts consist of 514 courts, broken down into 22 divisions called circuits. Illinois traffic courts handled a total of 2,875,808 traffic cases in 2006. The courthouse's information should be written down on the back of your traffic ticket. However, if you've lost your ticket, you'll need contact information for the courthouse of the county you were stopped in. You can find Illinois traffic court information by county by clicking here.


Duties of the court

The primary duties of Illinois traffic courts are to hear traffic cases, accept pleas from defendants, and render judgments. In addition to hearing traffic cases, Illinois circuit courts also hear civil, small claims, domestic and juvenile cases. Additionally, Illinois traffic courts are required to collect judgments from convicted defendants and forward the money to the appropriate entities. Fines and penalties for specific offenses are sometimes directed to specific agencies or causes, and Illinois traffic courts make sure those agencies get their money. Also, Illinois traffic courts are required to monitor defendants that have been granted court supervision to ensure that they comply with the terms of the supervision. Finally, Illinois traffic courts are required to report all traffic convictions to the Secretary of State's office to be entered into the driver's official Illinois driving record.

How the court handles these duties varies depending on the type of traffic offense involved. Minor offenses, such as speeding less than 30 miles per hour, are usually answerable by mail. For these types of tickets, you have 3 different options. You can simply pay the fine, which counts as an admission of guilt and will result in a conviction being applied to your driving record. Or, if you are eligible for court supervision with mandatory defensive driving school, you may request this option by mail also.

Court supervision does not result in a conviction on your record, as long as you take the defensive driving class within the length of time you are given. The court will keep track of your case, and if you haven't taken the defensive driving class by the end of the court supervision period, it goes on your record.

 If you decide to plead innocent, you will be assigned a court date and will have to appear in court to argue your case. You may need to send the ticket in to request a court date, or can contact the court clerk directly. The court is required to listen to your side of the story and that of the officer who arrested you, and then give a final verdict. If the verdict is guilty, the court will also assign penalties.

More serious traffic offenses and misdemeanor traffic offenses do require a court appearance. All misdemeanor offenses, offenses that could result in jail, must be answered in court. Even if the violation you committed is not punishable by jail time, you may still have to appear in court to answer the charges. Here is a list from the Cook County Circuit Clerk's website of some common traffic violations that cannot be answered by mail:

  • failing to secure a child in a moving vehicle
  • driving without a valid license or permit
  • driving an uninsured vehicle
  • passing a school bus while loading children
  • speeding in excess of 30 mph but not over 40 mph over limit
  • speeding in school zone when children are present
  • speeding in construction zone when workers are present
  • violation of cruising zones
  • using an alley as a through street in violation of signs
  • failing to yield to an emergency vehicle

For these cases, the court date is generally set by the officer who arrested or ticketed you.  The court date must be within 14 and 60 days of the date you were cited for the offense. If you were charged with a petty offense like the ones described above, the first court date you are given will be your trial date.

Some traffic violations are misdemeanors, a more serious crime that can lead to fines, a jail sentence, or both. In a misdemeanor case, your first court date is not your actual trial. Rather, it is what's known as an arraignment, where you meet with the judge and enter in a plea. If you plead not guilty, the trial will be set for another date.

Whatever you do, make sure to show up for your court date! If you know you won't be able to make it, you can request a continuance to push the date back. As long as you have a good reason, it's not hard to get a continuance the first time. However, if you pull a no-call, no-show, you can be subject to some serious consequences. For example, if the original offense was a petty offense, the judge will find you guilty of the original offense and you could have your driver's license suspended. If you were charged with a misdemeanor and miss your court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.


Services provided

Illinois traffic courts provide services to assist people in navigating the court system. Many courts have websites, which provide valuable information about how the system works. If you still have questions, you can contact the Circuit Court Clerk's office. They can help you with questions about procedures and possible courses of action, but they are not able to give legal advice. For that, you need to speak with an attorney.

Another service provided by the Circuit Court Clerks is the ability to subpoena witnesses. If you have a witness who needs some "convincing" to appear in court on your behalf, the Circuit Court Clerk can help you with the necessary paperwork for a subpoena, which will compel them to show up.

Going to traffic court is never fun, but hopefully by now you have a better idea of how the process works and what you can expect. In Illinois traffic courts, as in so many other aspects of life, knowledge is power!

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