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Traffic Charge Dismissed!

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

Traffic Charge Dismissed!

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
February 22, 2008

You may have read a Letter to the Editor in the Northwest Herald back on January 14, when the niece of a man in McHenry wrote to complain about her elderly uncleís being ticketed wrongfully, in her opinion, in Woodstock. Her letter provoked over 100 comments, many of which were accusatory and fault-finding. A few were written by people (officers?) who might have been in a position to know just a little more about it.

What happened? The driver committed a traffic violation and was stopped on January 4. Although he presented his driverís license with January 7 expiration date, he was ticketed for No Valid Driverís License, as well as for the turning violation.

The driver believed his license to be valid and had just been at the Woodstock DMV to take his written exam, where he narrowly missed a passing grade. Not passing a written test does not invalidate a driverís license. No one at the DMV told him that his license was not valid. He walked out of the DMV with his driverís license with the January 7 expiration date.

He was stopped shortly after leaving the DMV. The officer apparently learned from a computer check that the driverís license was not valid, placed the elderly driver under arrest, had his vehicle towed and took the driver away in the patrol car, after which the driver had to post a $100 bond against $1,000 bail to be released.

I learned of this through the Letter to the Editor and contacted the letter-writer. Iím not an attorney, but I understand traffic laws pretty well. I was able to offer some education to the niece of the driver, and she commenced her own efforts to assist her uncle.

The niece was able to speak with the prosecuting attorney for Woodstock before court started on January 23 and explained that the driver believed his driverís license was valid. He had it in his pocket when stopped by the Woodstock officer and presented it. He had no knowledge of its not being valid. The prosecuting attorney asked the judge for a 30-day continuance, so that she could look further into the matter.

After leaving court that day, the niece and the driver went to the DMV, where they learned that the driverís license had been suspended. They quickly informed the prosecuting attorney of this new information. The driver had been involved in a minor fender-bender on private property in McHenry, and the officer there ordered the driver to be re-examined for driving privileges, even though no ticket was issued. This is a not-too-well-known law that allows an officer to request the DMV to summon a driver and re-test him.

The DMV is supposed to write to the driver and instruct him to appear for testing. Perhaps they did. The driver never received the letter, because he had moved. He had changed his address for his vehicle registration but h adoverlooked changing his driverís license. Because he didnít know he was supposed to go in and be tested, he didnít go. After he didnít show up, the DMV suspended his license. Presumably, the DMV wrote to him and informed him of the suspension. Perhaps they did. He never got the letter. So he kept driving.

When he was at the DMV on January 4 for his written test (because his license was due for renewal), he tried to change his address then, but they told him to wait until he passed the test.

Was it lawful for the McHenry officer to cite the driver for re-examination, since the fender-bender had occurred on private property?

Last Wednesday, February 20, the driver returned to McHenry County Traffic Court, where the No Valid Driverís License charge was, what most of would call, ďdismissedĒ; nolle prosequi, they call it. Technically, legally, it is not a dismissal of the charge; rather, it is an ďentry made on the record, by which the prosecutor Ö declares that (s)he will proceed no further.Ē (Source: www.lectlaw.com) In other words, the prosecutor will not proceed with that case against the driver.

The driver did pay a $150 fine plus court costs for the turning violation. Court costs? How much were they for a $150 fine? How about $166.00?!!! So the turn ticket cost him $316!!! The charge was "wrong way around a traffic island." Do we have traffic islands in Woodstock? Anywhere near Route 47 and Country Club Road. Not that I've seen, and I've lived here 12 years.

In traffic court the judge is quick to inform all that he is not responsible for the amount of court costs. And, indeed, he is not. Some of these costs are set by the State of Illinois and others are set by the County Board. Thatís ďourĒ County Board. The McHenry County Board. The people you and I elect every once in a while.

The level of court costs is ridiculous. $166 court costs for a $150 fine? Thatís over 100%!

If you wonder about the amount of court costs, if you are headed to court to pay a ticket, you probably will not be able to find out in advance. This is a huge injustice to drivers. When you call the court clerk, they tell you that itís a complicated formula and they ďdonít know.Ē Baloney! Of course, they know.

The administrative judge of the County should order her employees not to vague or misleading, when people try to find out how much money to take to court with them. The cashiers have a printed sheet showing the breakdown of court costs; of course, it is still tricky trying to learn just exactly how much youíll get stuck for. That nonsense needs to stop right now!

The prosecuting attorney for Woodstock on this case handled the matter quite fairly for all parties.

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