Traffic Offenses: Do I need a lawyer?

  • By:attyjjames

Our firm is often contacted by people who have been cited for a violation of the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code, and many of them have the same question: “Do I really need a lawyer for this??  And honestly, this can be a very good question, because, the answer is:  Not always!  While that may not be the message you expect to receive from a lawyer, it is nonetheless the accurate.  There are circumstances when a lawyer is simply not necessary. 

In my practice, I have spoken to people who have been cited for simple speeding violations, for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign, failure to use a turn signal, and many other violations.  For many offenses like these, unless a person is simply dead set on fighting the ticket at a trial, there is really no need to retain an attorney.  These are petty offenses which means the worst the judge can do to you is to fine you money.  The reason I say you likely do not need a lawyer is one of the tricks of our trade is we try to take tickets and lessen the consequences.  With many petty offenses, it doesn’t make sense to spend several hundred dollars on a lawyer to end up with a similar result then you could have had without representation. The truth is, in many counties, your average citizen can ask for a sentence of court supervision on these simple violations, which would allow them to avoid a conviction entering on their record, resolve the matter simply, and be just as well off if then if they had legal counsel. 

Now, I want to emphasize that even in the circumstances above, it is very important to ask for a sentence of court supervision. Often, people just want to pay the fine because it is cheaper than the cost of court supervision.  However, when you do that, a conviction enters on your record.   Under Illinois Law, multiple convictions within a specific period will cause a suspension of your driver’s license (Click here for more specific information regarding suspensions for multiple moving violations) and should be avoided.

With all this said above, you may be thinking “Well, it sounds like I never really need a lawyer.  I can just take care of these things myself.”  While that is a brave thought, it also may be a little to bold.  There are five questions I believe you should ask to determine if you need a lawyer for your ticket.

First Question: Do I have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)?

If the answer to that question is yes, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, consult legal counsel and it will very likely be a good idea to retain an attorney.  I once spoke with a CDL driver with 35 years of experience.  Prior to our conversation, he had received three tickets over the course of a year.  Because these offenses were minor, he simply paid the tickets, unaware that each would be counted as a conviction for a moving violation.  The 3 convictions suspended his personal license, which in turn disqualified his CDL.  If he had consulted counsel in the beginning it is possible that all this situation could have been avoided.  Another aspect for CDL’s to consider is whether a cited offense is a “Serious traffic offense.”  There are eight possible serious traffic offenses identified under Federal law and 48 identified under Illinois state law.  Convictions for serious traffic offenses can have consequences to a CDL (Click here for more information), and Court supervision does not provide the same level of protection as it does very everyone else with a driver’s license.  To restate it again:  CDL’s always seek legal counsel

Second question: Does this offense carry a possibility of Jail time? 

If the answer to this is yes, it is a very good idea to retain a lawyer.  A good lawyer knows the county he is practicing in and may have an idea if jail time is a real possibility or highly unlikely.  They also may have strategies to avoid the most serious consequences, possibly protect you from having a criminal history, and overall obtaining the best possible outcome in resolving your case.

Third question: Could this citation have an impact on my driver’s license? 

Above I stated that too many convictions for moving violations can suspend your license, so you may be thinking that this seems like a silly question.  However, there are some traffic violations that can cause a suspension to your driver’s license even based only on a single offense.  It can be very important to determine if your ticket is for one of these matters and retain counsel to try and protect your driving privileges.

Fourth question: Was there an accident involved?

If you are cited for a traffic offense where there was an accident, it may be a good idea to retain an attorney.  If this accident had personal injuries, resolving the matter improperly could result in your being more exposed to civil liability if the other party decides to sue you.  While many traffic attorneys do directly practice in Civil litigation, they may be able to provide guidance in how to handle the case and shield you from civil liability as much as is possible.  

Fifth question:  Will having a lawyer just make you feel better?

There have been more than a few people I have consulted with over the years who answered all the above questions “no.”  In my mind, as a general rule, they do not require a lawyer to represent them and I tend to advise them accordingly.  However, some of those same people have decided to hire me anyway.  They are comforted by the idea that there is someone who is familiar with the court, the prosecutor and the law standing next to them to guide them through the process and advocate on their behalf.  And that “warm and fuzzy feeling” may be all the reason you need to hire an attorney.

Written By: Attorney Mike Doyle

Rockford Traffic Ticket Attorney

Posted in: Traffic Law
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