In the Chicago Tribune, Jon Hilkevitch is writing about increased enforcement of Scott’s Law:
Scott’s Law, also known as the Move Over Law, requires a driver to change lanes, if it is safe to do so, or to reduce speed and proceed with caution when approaching a stopped emergency vehicle displaying flashing warning lights.
Readers who were here last year may remember that I got a ticket for breaking this law and that I wasn’t very happy about how it turned out. (That means the judge convicted me.) I posted both of those stories on my blog after it was all over.
From the Tribune article again:
Violations carry a minimum $100 fine upon conviction and a maximum fine of $10,000 and a two-year license suspension if the driver contributes to a death.
Although correct, that’s not quite complete. It’s true enough as far as the language of the law at 625 ILCS 5/11‑907(c), which spells out the penalties as follows:
(d) A person who violates subsection (c) of this Section commits a business offense punishable by a fine of not less than $100 or more than $10,000. It is a factor in aggravation if the person [was driving drunk].
(e) If a violation of subsection (c) of this Section results in damage to the property of another person, in addition to any other penalty imposed, the person’s driving privileges shall be suspended for a fixed period of not less than 90 days and not more than one year.
(f) If a violation of subsection (c) of this Section results in injury to another person, in addition to any other penalty imposed, the person’s driving privileges shall be suspended for a fixed period of not less than 180 days and not more than 2 years.
(g) If a violation of subsection (c) of this Section results in the death of another person, in addition to any other penalty imposed, the person’s driving privileges shall be suspended for 2 years.
I was convicted of violating section (c)—essentially, failure to yield to a stopped emergency vehicle—but there was no accident, so the enhancements in sections (d), (e), and (f) did not apply. Therefore, even though I was convicted, all I had to do was pay a fine.
That’s what I thought, and my lawyer confirmed it. But like the Tribune columnist, we had all missed something.
A few weeks later, it’s late on a Monday night and I’m working my way through a few days worth of mail, when I open a letter from the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. It’s from the Driver Services department. It’s a notice that they are suspending my driver’s license.
The suspension is effective on Tuesday, and since it’s about 1:30 at night, my license is already gone. I’m about two or three days behind on opening the mail, but even so, that’s very little notice. If I’d waited one more day to pay my bills, I would have been driving around on a suspended license without even knowing it. You get arrested for that.
The first thing I do is call the head lawyer at the 4-man office that handled my defense and leave a message on the answering machine explaining what happened and asking if there’s anything we can do about it.
Next, I wake up my wife and tell her the bad news. I’m supposed to go visit my parents the next day to do some things for them. I’ll need her to take time off from work to drive me over there, so I need to make sure she doesn’t get up and go to work without waking me.
I go to sleep trying to figure out why they’ve suspended my license when the law makes it pretty clear there has to be an accident first.
The next day, on the way to my parents’ house, the head lawyer calls my cell phone. He can’t figure out why they’re suspending my license either. He had called a lawyer of some kind for the State of Illinois to get an explanation, and he couldn’t figure it out either. At this point, we’re all beginning to wonder if this is some kind of error.
To be sure, however, he wants me to fax him a copy of the letter so they can look for clues. I explain that I’m on the road, but I’ll fax them something in a few hours when I get back home. He told me to send it as soon as I could.
(I later realized there was a lot of harmless miscommunication in this call. When I said I was “on the road,” he probably thought I had just told him I was driving on an expired license. Maybe that surprised him into forgetting to mention that he was in a hurry because we were coming up on a 30-day filing deadline for some kind of motion.)
Before I got home, the head lawyer called again. They’d found something in the administrative code for the Secretary of State’s office that allowed the suspension.
I later found the piece of law they were talking about at 625 ILCS 5/6-206(a)(37). It reads like this:
Sec. 6-206. Discretionary authority to suspend or revoke license or permit; Right to a hearing.
(a) The Secretary of State is authorized to suspend or revoke the driving privileges of any person without preliminary hearing upon a showing of the person’s records or other sufficient evidence that the person:
37. Has committed a violation of subsection (c) of Section 11-907 of this Code;
Unlike the language spelling out the violation, this paragraph doesn’t limit the suspension only to cases involving an actual accident.
(By the way, could somebody explain to me why section 6-206 is repeated five times in the Illinois Compiled Statutes? Did they pass five different versions over the years, none of which revoked the previous version? I’ve seen this in other parts of the code. Are they just documenting the history? What’s going on?)
Note, by the way, the word “discretionary.” Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White didn’t have to suspend my license. My record was pretty clean and I hadn’t had a ticket in at least 3 or 4 years. He could have let it slide. But he didn’t. Because Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is a dick.
Yes, I’m blaming him personally. He puts his name and face on every damned thing associated with his office, so I’ve decided it’s only fair for me to put his name on this too. If he seeks re-election in 2010, I’m going to be badmouthing him a lot here on Windypundit and maybe I’ll even do volunteer work for his opponent. You cannot cross me with impunity.
Anyway, my lawyers had filed for a hearing of some kind in a couple of days that would allow them to ask the judge to reconsider his ruling. We were going back to court.
At this point, I took down all the Windypundit posts I had written about this incident and the trial. I had no idea what could come up, and those posts had statements about the incident and several accounts of privileged communications. I didn’t want some curious ASA finding anything that might hurt me.
The plan for the hearing had two parts: The real plan, and the pretext. The real plan was to go in and ask the judge if he really meant to suspend my license for 90 days, or was he, like the rest of us, in the dark about the consequences. Since that’s not an allowed reason to ask a judge to rethink his verdict, the pretext was based on hardship due to my father’s poor health.
I had my doubts that this would work. It seemed like a long shot. On the other hand, other than the time and cost involved, I don’t see how going back to court could make things any worse. However, I still ordered myself a CTA bus pass.
On the day of the hearing, I had a friend drive me to the courthouse, and I went to the courtroom to sign in. They didn’t know who I was or why I was there.
Getting a little frantic, I called the law office to ask what was going on and where the heck was my lawyer. He found me while I was talking to them, and we checked the docket together. It hadn’t changed. As the judge got started, he told us he’d fit us in if we got onto the docket before he finished it.
We hurried to the clerk’s office, where it turned out that they hadn’t collected the proper fee when my lawyer filed the paperwork. I paid them in cash, and the clerk walked the paperwork up to the courtroom with us. We made it with two cases to spare.
Next problem: There’s no prosecutor. My lawyer says he notified the other side, but nobody has shown up. The judge sends a deputy out to find somebody who can represent the State’s Attorney’s office. A few minutes later he comes back with some random prosecutor in tow, and we begin.
My lawyer starts with a quick recap and then begins to make his main point, starting with the fact that no one at the previous trial knew my license was going to be suspended if I was convicted. Before he can get any further, the prosecutor interrupts and says, “I knew.”
My lawyer responds, quite reasonably, by pointing out that this guy wasn’t the prosecutor for my case.
Now we stop again while the judge sends a deputy off to find the right prosecutor. My lawyer and I chat with the other deputy for a while. It turns out he does security work at a mall near my home.
Somewhere in all this, another lawyer from the law firm shows up to hang out with us. I know he’s been helping, so I mention as diplomatically as I can that I’m a little disappointed that my lawyers were unaware of this twist in the law. I don’t expect miracles from them, but I thought I was hiring guys who knew what the law said.
He tells me that it took all four of them several hours to figure out what was happening and what to do about it. He says not all their copies of the Illinois statutes had this section in it. I don’t know what to make of this.
Finally, the prosecutor from the trial shows up, and we’re back in business. My lawyer makes his argument again, I explain about my need to take care of my elderly parents, my lawyer says my driving record was clean, which the prosecutor confirms.
Then it’s the judge’s turn, and he starts by lecturing my lawyer that next time he should do a better job researching the laws before stepping into the courtroom.
At that, I could barely contain myself: Every legal junkie knows that when the judge compliments your lawyer, you’re about to lose. I could guess that the judge probably wouldn’t be slamming my lawyer unless he was about to reward us with something nice…
And I was right: Conviction vacated. I get supervision, and an extra $50 added to my fine on top of the $115 or so in court costs.
As we walked out, I thanked the prosecutor for not making this too hard on me, and when we got out into the hall I thanked my lawyers profusely for an awesome job. I know, I know, it’s only a suspended driver’s license, but it felt damned good to win.
I wasn’t free and clear just yet. The court automatically notifies the Driver Services office when you’re convicted, but if that conviction is vacated, you have to notify them yourself. (Actually, I think you could let them do it, but it takes a few weeks.) Also, I had followed the instruction in the Secretary of State’s notice of suspension and mailed them my driver’s license, so I would need to get another one.
I took a train to the Secretary of State’s office downtown and filed a copy of the judge’s order. My lawyer had told me this would instantly activate my license, but the lady who processed the paperwork said it would take 3 or 4 days.
The next day, I got to thinking about it, and I realized that while my lawyer may not know as much about Scott’s law as I had hoped, he probably knows the procedure for un-suspending a license, since that must happen pretty often. On the other hand, the old lady who entered the paperwork might have been trained before everything was computerized.
I called the automated line at the Driver’s Services office in Springfield, entered my social security number and driver’s license number, and a computer told me “Your driver’s license and driving privileges are currently valid. Please drive safely.”
Now I had to go back to the Driver’s Services office to get an actual physical license. The question was, should I drive there? I was 90% sure that I could do it. Even if a cop stopped me, a computer check would confirm my driving privileges. After all this trouble, however, I decided not to take the chance.
The nearest Driver’s Services facility is just a few miles from my house, but by some strange twist there’s no city bus that passes closer than half a mile to it. So I ended up taking the bus part way and walking the rest. In the rain.
When I got there, I was dripping all over the floor. The clerk remarked on this, and I explained that I wouldn’t be there if that Jessie White hadn’t tried to suspend my license.
Unlike some of the horror stories I’ve heard from other states, the Illinois Driver Services offices are a model of swift and courteous service. I was done in less than 10 minutes.
Of course, they charged me $10.
Given that I jumped the gun by blogging about the first appearance in court when my case wasn’t quite over, I was reluctant to post anything about these new events, in case something else went wrong. I finally decided to re-post the old blog entries but to postpone a new one—this one—for a year, just to make sure nothing else happened.
It may sound like I’m whining, and maybe I am, but whining about stuff like this is what blogging is all about. Besides, for some reason, these sagas about my contacts with the Cook County Court System seem to draw a lot of links to the blog.
Also, consider that I have a flexible work schedule, a wife who can drive me around, and enough money to fight this in court. A lot of less fortunate people would be waiting out the suspension, driving anyway because they have to, and hoping they don’t get caught.
Another thing to remember is that all of this—two court appearances, $800 in fees and penalties, all that running around—followed from a single traffic ticket for failing to move over one lane as I passed a truck sitting on the side of the road in a construction zone.
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be, when charged with a serious crime—one with jail time and conditions of bail—to keep everything straight and do everything by the book. I’m guessing that many people can’t keep up with all the details, and the unlucky ones are randomly caught and jailed.