This guide is for Illinois CDL drivers who have been ticketed or involved in a car accident and want to avoid a license suspension. The strategies apply even if you've received a ticket for “serious traffic violations” or “major offenses”. My name is Chris M. Shepherd, the information in this article comes from my experience as a traffic court lawyer assisting CDL drivers in Chicago and Cook County, although the information generally applies throughout Illinois.
You know the stakes: whether you're a CDL driver who works for someone else, or you've worked your way up to an owner-operator, your livelihood depends on keeping your license clear. The harsh reality in Illinois is that pleading guilty to any number of traffic violations can result in your CDL being suspended by the Illinois Secretary of State.
So, don't blindly check the box marked “plead guilty” on the back of the ticket, or show up to court and plead guilty orally, until you at least read this article and have a conversation about your options.
Pleading Guilty to Certain Offenses Results in Automatic Disqualification or Suspension of Your CDL
If you've been ticketed after an auto accident or traffic stop, the first thing you should know is that pleading guilty to certain tickets will automatically suspend, and in some cases even permanently revoke, your CDL privileges. The length of your suspension depends on various things including which traffic law you allegedly violated, whether or not you were transporting hazardous materials and your previous driving record. Note that these harsh penalties can apply even if you received the ticket while driving a non-commercial motor vehicle! The following are a few examples of cases in which pleading guilty will cause you to lose your CDL driving privileges temporarily or permanently:
- Excessive Speeding, specifically 26 mph or more over the speed limit (625 ILCS 5/11-601.5),
- Reckless Driving (625 ILCS 5/11-503),
- Improper Lane Change (625 ILCS 5/11-709),
- Following Vehicles Too Closely (625 ILCS 5/11-710),
- Causing a Fatal Accident or “Reckless Homicide“, (720 ILCS 5/9-3),
- Operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) without a valid CDL or without a CDL on your person,
- Driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .04%,
- Being convicted of a DUI (625 ILCS 5/11-501),
- Railroad Crossing Violations, including Failure to Stop at a Railroad Crossing (625 ILCS 5/11-1201),
- Refusing a breathalyzer, or
- Leaving the scene of an accident or “Hit and Run“. (625 ILCS 5/11-402).
I've Been Ticketed for One of the “Suspendible” Offenses; If I Can't Plead Guilty, What Should I Do?
There is a vague popular belief that, if a police officer wrote a ticket accusing you of a traffic violation, there's nothing you can do: “Oh well, the cop gave me a ticket, I must be guilty in the eyes of the law. Even if I'm not, protesting my innocence won't do any good. I better just plead guilty, pay the fine and get it over with.”
This is simply not true and, for CDL drivers, pleading guilty is not an option. The reality is that an experienced commercial driver's license lawyer in Chicago can often find ways to avoid pleading guilty and get the ticket totally dismissed. Doing so protects your CDL so you can continue working without fear of being pulled over and suffering even harsher penalties like jail time or a permanently revoked CDL:
- Is the appearance date set for your ticket less than fourteen (14) days or more more than sixty (60) days after the date of the alleged offense? If so, you may be entitled to a dismissal of the ticket (Illinois Supreme Court Rule 504),
- You may be able to negotiate an agreement with prosecutors that either reduces the charges or avoids you pleading guilty. Although this depends on many factors including the strengths and weaknesses of your case, the prosecutor on duty the day your case is up, the courthouse your case is in and even the courtroom you are assigned to, negotiating an agreement that protects your CDL privileges is a low cost measure that should be explored; it can't hurt and it might help,
- Defending the case at trial. If all else fails, it's time to consider demanding a trial. This trial can often take place the very same day. There are too many potential defenses that can win at trial to list them all here. But, for example, if you are accused of speeding, what was the method by which the officer recorded your speed? If the “paced” box is checked on your ticket, when was the officer's speedometer last calibrated for accuracy? Probably never. Maybe this won't beat the case outright, but the judge can find this enough to find you guilty of a lesser charge, perhaps speeding less than 26 mph over the limit. This gets your CDL out of the “danger zone” of speeding more than 26 mph over the limit.Or, if you're accused of causing an accident, was it really your fault? Is there something else that explains the collision? Simply being involved in an accident is not an offense in and of itself; prosecutors must prove that you caused it. Do you have witnesses who were with you at the time that can testify? Is there some flaw in the road design or the other driver's conduct that caused the accident?
Let's Talk About Your Options
While most cases follow a predictable procedural pattern, every case is ultimately different. Educating yourself on the basics is a good first step, but there's no substitute for a straightforward conversation about your options. If you're looking to get a basic overview of your position and your options, you have nothing to lose by calling me, an experienced commercial driver's license lawyer in Chicago, for a free and confidential 15 minute consultation. Call me at 312.396.4112 or contact me online.