Drive too fast and you might go to jail. No, seriously.
And if you have been pulled over for speeding by a State Trooper, you may have been told the same thing.
Under a new law in Illinois, speeding 35 MPH over the posted limit is a Class A misdemeanor. Prior to 2014, a motorist could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for speeding 40 MPH over the limit. But now the speed at which a person can be criminally charged is even lower.
A Class A misdemeanor is a serious offense. It is one step below a felony. There are less serious misdemeanor crimes in Illinois, such as Class B and C offenses. The Class A misdemeanor offense has a potential penalty of up to one year in jail.
That is the same penalty as domestic battery, theft, or driving under the influence.
The punitive nature of the vehicle code section on speeding developed a few years ago. To make a long story short, the Chicago Tribune exposed how traffic court judges were going too soft on drivers caught speeding over 100 MPH. The Tribune also uncovered that drivers who were responsible for fatal accidents had multiple violations in the past. The Tribune argued that these drivers could have been stopped long ago, and lives would have been saved.
The issue drew a lot of attention, and Illinois politicians eager for re-election took notice. The legislature decided to toughen up the laws on speeding. First, more drivers would be charged with misdemeanors for speeding. Then, the lawmakers took away supervision. And finally, the thresholds for misdemeanor offenses were lowered (from 40 MPH over to 35 MPH over).
The statute applicable in these cases is 625 ILCS 5/11-601.5. It provides the following:
A person who drives a vehicle upon any highway of this State at a speed that is 35 miles per hour or more in excess of the applicable maximum speed limit established under this Chapter or a local ordinance commits a Class A misdemeanor.
In addition to the criminal penalties, there are situations in which this ticket can cause the Secretary of State to suspend or even revoke a person’s license.
Drivers who are cited under this statute are required to retain legal counsel. Traffic court judges require people to hire an attorney because they want to have the right to sentence the offender to jail if the circumstance justify such a sentence. A defendant cannot be sentenced to jail without first having representation.
And so, anyone who appears in court without a lawyer will be instructed to come back with one.
These cases are controversial because the penalties are so severe, and prosecutors are under pressure from the public. In a sense, both the judge and prosecutor are worried that the Tribune will write an article about them for going too soft on a speeder.
But, with the right attorney, you may be able to avoid jail and a criminal record.