Your Rights (all traffic cases)

The following rights are applicable to defendants in all traffic cases:

Right to know the charge

Every person receiving a traffic ticket is entitled to receive a copy of the charge in writing.

The ticket must contain the following information:
  • name of the accused;
  • nature of the charge;
  • statute or ordinance alleged to be violated; and
  • date, time and location of the alleged violation.
Other information on the ticket is statistical in nature and not required to properly charge a violation.

When there is a defect in a ticket, in most instances any objection to this defect must be made before a trial occurs.

Right to know the penalty

Traffic violations range in seriousness from a parking violation carrying a maximum fine of $100.00 to a felony offense resulting in a prison sentence of more than 10 years. The penalties for all violations are set by the state, county or municipal government passing the law.

Violations established by county or municipal governments are contained in ordinances. These are called quasi-criminal offenses. If a person is found guilty of violating an ordinance the penalty is usually a fine. However, in some instances an ordinance may provide for a jail sentence. Violations of state law are classified as either petty offenses, business offenses, Class A, B or C misdemeanor or felony offenses. Felony traffic offenses are generally not heard in traffic court and therefore will not be discussed here.

The range of penalties for cases heard in traffic court are:

  • Petty Offense
  • fine of $1 to $1,000
    examples: speeding, disobeying a red light
  • Business Offense
  • fine set by law creating each offense
    example: driving without insurance
  • Misdemeanors
    Class A jail up to 364 days or fine of $1 to $2,500 or both
    examples: driving under the influence, driving on a suspended or revoked license or speeding 40 or more miles over the speed limit
    Class B jail up to 6 months or fine of $1 to $1,500 or both
    example: to advertise or distribute any information or material that promotes the selling, giving or furnishing of a fraudulent driver's license or permit or speeding 30 or more miles over the speed limit
    Class C jail up to 30 days or fine of $1 to $1,500 or both
    example: third conviction for a petty offense traffic violation within one year
  • In addition, a conviction of certain traffic violations will result in license sanctions.

    Right to an attorney

    Every person charged with a traffic violation has the right to be represented by an attorney of his or her own choice.

    Persons charged with offenses punishable by fine only should make arrangements to have their attorney present on the first court date. Persons choosing to be represented by a lawyer should be aware of the following:
    • Continuances will not normally be granted in these cases merely to hire an attorney.
    • The In-Court Attorney Referral Program operates in each courthouse where such cases are heard. (These are the only authorized referral programs in the Circuit Court of Cook County for minor traffic cases.)
    • These attorneys are available for free consultations.
    • They may also be hired by the defendant on the court date.
    • Cook County Circuit Court Rules prohibit a attorney or anyone acting on behalf of an attorney to solicit anyone in or near the courthouse for the purpose of acting as his or her attorney. If this should happen to you, please report the solicitation to the judge presiding over your case so appropriate action can be taken.
    A number of bar associations maintain attorney referral programs that provide experienced attorneys at a reasonable cost to defendants who appear in traffic court.

    For a list of attorney referral programs, please click here
    This list is furnished as a public service. The Circuit Court of Cook County does not employ or endorse any program or attorney.

    Persons charged with offenses which carry the possibility of a jail sentence should seek legal counsel as soon as possible. This will assure that all rights are protected. Persons charged with such offenses may have counsel appointed to represent them if they are indigent.

    Please read the following notice concerning the procedure to obtain appointed counsel.

    Procedure for court-appointed counsel
    If a person believes he or she cannot afford an attorney, that person may request the court to appoint an attorney from the Public Defender's Office. Please be aware of the following:
    • Court-appointed attorneys represent only indigent people facing a jail sentence.
    • Financial hardship caused by hiring an attorney is not sufficient grounds for the appointment of an attorney.
    • The judge may order that, in addition to all fines and costs, a defendant pay up to $500.00 for the services of a court-appointed attorney.
    • To have an attorney appointed, a defendant must disclose financial information to the court. Generally the defendant must do the following:
      • furnish a complete affidavit of assets and liabilities;
      • produce other items concerning financial status, which can include pay stubs, income tax returns, proof of disability, evidence of receipt of Social Security or public assistance; and
      • authorize the Internal Revenue Service to furnish a copy of the defendant's most recent income tax return to the court.
    A defendant who plans to seek a court-appointed attorney should bring as many of the following documents as possible to court:
    1. current pay stub
    2. W-2 forms from the prior year
    3. proof of disability income
    4. proof of Social Security income
    5. proof of public assistance
    6. rent receipts, utility bills, medical bills

    Application for Public Defender Representation

    Failure to comply with this procedure may result in unnecessary court appearances.

    By law, a court appointed lawyer cannot represent a defendant in contesting any administrative driver's license suspension resulting from an arrest for driving under the influence either before the court or the secretary of state.

    Right to a jury trial

    Persons charged with a violation of an Illinois state law have a constitutional right to trial by jury. Ordinance violations punishable by fine only will be heard by a jury in cases where the defendant files a jury demand and pays a non-refundable $100.00 jury fee on or before the first court date.

    Right of confrontation

    Every person accused of a violation has the right to have witnesses brought to court to testify in his or her presence.

    The person charged may do any or all of the following:
    • ask questions of the witness;
    • present evidence to show why the testimony is not believable;
    • present witnesses on his or her behalf to negate or explain the other witnesses' testimony; and
    • testify and deny or explain the other witnesses' testimony.

    Right to remain silent

    Every person has the right to say nothing and require the prosecutor to prove the charges. The following principles apply:
    • Violations of state law must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
    • Municipal ordinance violations require proof by the preponderance of the evidence.
    • The silence of the defendant at trial will not be considered in deciding whether the case has been proved.

    Right to an appeal

    Every person found guilty of a traffic violation has the right to an appeal to the appellate court. An appeal is not a re-trial. New evidence such as testimony, photographs, diagrams and other exhibits not produced at the time of trial cannot be given to the appellate court. The appellate court can only review evidence given to the trial judge.

    An appeal is a legal procedure in which the appellate court is asked to reconsider what occurred. If a person feels the trial judge made a legal error in the decision, then he or she should appeal. Normally, determination of facts such as the color of the traffic light, whether or not a sign was legible or whether or not a car was speeding will not be reviewed by the appellate court.

    Notice of the decision to appeal must be filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court no later than 30 days after the court makes the final decision in a case. In some instances, before an appeal is processed, an appeal bond equal to the fine assessed must be posted. This is fully refundable if the appeal is successful.
    Copyright 2020 by Circuit Court of Cook County