Dealing with a Chicago Ordinance Violation Ticket

Dealing with a Chicago Ordinance Violation Ticket

Last updated: May 2010

Why did I get a ticket?

Tickets are issued by the City of Chicago's Department of Police, Water and Revenue. They are normally issued for relatively minor infractions which do not rise to the level of a crime. These can include things like graffiti, smoking ordinance violations, driving and talking on your cell phone, owing the city money on a water bill, and the like.

How can I challenge a ticket?

You will be handed a ticket by the city official (police officer or other city employee), or you may receive it in the mail. It will have a hearing date, time and location on the ticket. You must appear at the Department of Administrative Hearings on the date and time indicated. Be careful to check the location as the Department has several hearing facilities.

Be on time for court and bring with you all the evidence you have about your ticket. Evidence would include documents or live witnesses who might give testimony favorable to you. It is very important that you bring such evidence with you, as without it you will almost certainly lose the case against you.

What happens after my hearing?

Usually the City official in the hearing room will offer to negotiate a settlement with you. They will explain the maximum fine that could be applied to your case if you lose. They will then offer a settlement which you are free to accept or reject.

You cannot be jailed for police tickets. However, the fines can be extremely high—many violations involve maximum fines of over $500.00. You should strongly consider negotiating a reasonable fine rather than taking the chance of going to trial.

When deciding whether to settle, you should consider the amount of the potential fine, what evidence you have that you did not commit the violation, and what evidence the City of Chicago has that you did violate the law.

If you cannot settle the case, a trial will be held by the hearing officer.

What happens if I miss the hearing?

If you miss your hearing, a default judgment will be entered against you, normally for the maximum possible fine. You have 21 days from the date of the default judgment to ask the Administrative Law Officer, who acts like a judge, to reconsider it and give you a new court date.

See Filing a Motion to Set Aside an Administrative Default Judgment for more information on how to do this.

If I go to trial, what happens?

The hearing is conduced by an Administrative Law Officer, who acts like a judge. At the hearing, the City representative will explain to the Administrative Law Officer what the charge is against you and what evidence the City has that you committed the alleged violation. This may include testimony of witnesses such as police officers, documentary evidence, and lab reports. You will then have a chance to explain your side of the story and present your own evidence—again, live testimony of witnesses, documents, photographs, and any other evidence you have that you did not commit the violation.

After hearing the evidence, the Administrative Law Officer will make a ruling. He or she will decide if the City met its burden of proving that you violated the ordinance. The Administrative Law Officer will then decide on an appropriate fine.

You have 35 days from the date of the order to appeal it to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

If I lose my case, what happens?

The fine against you must be paid. If you don’t pay it, the City may bring you to collection court to get a judge’s help in forcing you to pay. In this case, you may be subject to having your wages garnished, liens put on your property, or bank accounts frozen.

If I win my case, what happens?

If you win, you should get a copy of the order from the judge. It will show that no fine is due. Please keep a copy of this order. This type of ticket does not appear on your criminal record or traffic record, so there is no need to do an expungement or anything similar. You should keep the order just in case the City mistakenly tries to collect a fine from you at a later date.

I want to appeal this case to the Circuit Court

If you lose your hearing, you have 35 days from the date of the order to appeal the Administrative Law Officer’s decision to the Circuit Court of Cook County. No legal aid agencies will be able to assist you in this, so we strongly advise you to hire a private attorney if you want to do this.

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