Village OK’s ordinance on suspended licenses
by KEVIN GROSS
Residents caught driving with a suspended or no driver’s license due to financial reasons will continue being prosecuted in the Village of Lincolnwood even though such violations are no longer prosecuted in Cook County.
The Lincolnwood Village Board of Trustees at its meeting Nov. 7 approved an ordinance that will allow the village to prosecute drivers with a suspended license for financial reasons under a local ordinance after the Cook County State’s Attorney Office no longer prosecutes such misdemeanor cases due to a lack of resources.
The state’s attorney stopped prosecuting suspended license violations since August due to reduced staffing of attorneys. The office has cut about 250 attorneys since 2007. The office also stopped prosecuting violations for driving without a license.
"The State’s Attorney’s office previously had several employees who worked full-time prosecuting misdemeanor traffic offenses that resulted from a failure to pay fines or fees, rather than conduct that presents a danger to the community," a state’s attorney spokeswoman said. "Given its limited resources, the State’s Attorney’s office ended the prosecution of misdemeanor cases of driving on a suspended license where the basis for the underlying suspension is financial – that is, a failure to pay tickets, fees or fines. The attorneys previously assigned to those cases were reallocated to focus on matters more critical to public safety."
Drivers caught with licenses suspended due to failure to pay for 10 or more parking tickets, moving violations, court-imposed fines, child support or tolls, or suspended for failure to maintain car insurance or emissions testing are no longer prosecuted by the state’s attorney. However, drivers caught with licenses suspended for more serious offenses, such as DUI, will continue to be prosecuted countywide.
"If a motorist gets, say, a speeding ticket, they can either pay the ticket, or contest the ticket in court. If they do neither, the Secretary of State will suspend their driver’s license," Lincolnwood police chief Robert LaMantia said at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Oct. 17. "If they are stopped by police for a second subsequent offense, they would then receive the more serious charge of driving with a suspended driver’s license. And that is the offense that the state’s attorney just does not have the resources to prosecute anymore."
"Since everyone’s goal is compliance, when the alleged motorist comes in and he provides evidence his initial speeding ticket has been resolved either by pleading guiltily and paying the fine, or pleading not guilty and being found innocent, the license suspension can be judicated in our local hearings," LaMantia said.
The village adopted portions of the Illinois vehicle ordinance as village code to keep prosecuting such license violations at its administrative hearings. Persons charged under a local ordinance are not subject to incarceration and therefore not entitled to a public defender or a court reporter. The village was concerned because prosecuting misdemeanor offenses under the state stature in traffic court for driving with a suspended license are subject to incarceration and may be entitled to a public defenders and a court reporter. Neither are available in county traffic court.
"In order to prosecute code violations, we needed to create an ordinance code establishing what the law is in this municipality," village manager Timothy Wiberg said. "(Offenders) will be prosecuted under a separate but parallel local ordinance. The statute reads largely the same, just the driver is charged under local ordinance instead of county ordinance."
LaMantia said that offending drivers caught in the village would be sent to traffic court at the Skokie courthouse, 5600 Old Orchard Road, with most violations prosecutable as traffic offenses rather than misdemeanors carrying the possibility of incarceration.
"Despite the incarceration possibility, in reality no offenders really end up with jail time anyways, " LaMantia said.
Wiberg clarified that none of the local punishments for license violations are higher than they previously were at the county level.
LaMantia said that the ordinance would not have a huge impact on village resources or arrest totals. "In Lincolnwood, this is manageable. We’ll have maybe 10 to 12 additional traffic cases a month than otherwise, it’s doable for us."
"The way I saw it, there’s not much of a choice. We can either not enforce those offenses or charge them under local code going forward," LaMantia said. "Sometime in the future if the state’s attorney decides they can’t properly prosecute other crimes, we could have an ordinance in place to prosecute under local ordinance standards."
Wiberg said the issue "comes down to local standards. I think we maintain a higher standard and need to prosecute these types of crimes than other parts of Cook County."
LaMantia said that he didn’t know whether other municipalities are establishing similar local ordinances, while Wiberg believed that other towns have or are adopting similar codes.
"By the action we took (at the Nov. 7 meeting), this ordinance is effective immediately," Wiberg said.