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The Myth of Automatic Denial: First-Time Applicants and Illinois Secretary of State Hearings

Jennifer Wirth Attorney at Law
Man sit with his hand crossed

If nothing else, it is my hope that this article dispels the myth that Petitioners should just “wing it” at their first hearing and retain an attorney for a second hearing if they are denied. This article explains why it is important to start our prepared at the first hearing with the Illinois Secretary of State.

In the past decade, over 95 percent of our clients have received driving privileges at their first hearing with our office. This includes first-time hearings, as well as persons who were denied at a prior hearing before retaining our office.

When granting driving privileges, the Secretary of State is concerned about whether or not a Petitioner has met their burden to obtain driving relief. The State doesn’t randomly deny applicants to punish them. In my experience, they are happy to grant driving relief if an applicant is prepared for the hearing and meets the burden to grant driving relief.

If nothing else, it is my hope that this article dispels the myth that applicants should just “wing it” at their first hearing and retain an attorney for a second hearing if they are denied. This strategy isn’t more cost-effective since it is often much more work for a license reinstatement attorney to undo a bad hearing than build a good case from the beginning. This may result in higher attorney fees for a second or subsequent hearing simply because it takes more work to review the record from an old hearing and address the reasons that an applicant was denied.

When a person attends a license reinstatement hearing, the Secretary of State keeps records of testimony and documentation submitted at the hearing. The records include, but not limited to, the following items: Evaluations, Updated Evaluations, treatment documents, letters and all prior decisions from past hearings. The decision from a prior hearing will recount the testimony given by an applicant. In cases where a revoked driver was denied at a hearing, their statements will need to be addressed at a subsequent hearing if the Secretary of State raised concerns about their testimony.

Simply put, a revoked driver should enlist an experienced drivers license reinstatement attorney before proceeding with an Illinois Secretary of State hearing. Prior to a hearing, counsel should prepare a client to ensure they are likely to meet the burden to obtain driving privileges. The factors that the Secretary of State considers when granting driving relief, include, but are not limited to, the following:

Undue Hardship

If a person is not eligible for reinstatement or a probationary permit, the State considers whether the applicant has met their burden for proving an undue hardship for a specific purpose, such as work, by not being able to drive.

The applicable law is clear that “mere inconvenience to the petitioner or family and friends is not undue hardship.” Rather, an applicant for a hardship permit must prove, among other factors, that reasonable alternative means of transportation are unavailable, such as walking, mass transit, car pools or obtaining a ride from another person. 92 Ill. Adm. Code 1001.420(d)

Further, the Secretary of State considers the method of transportation that the revoked driver is currently using to get to his or her destination. For example, a revoked driver may be taking Uber or Lyft to try to keep their job while going through the process to obtain a hardship permit. If they are financial unable to maintain this arrangement, or if it is causing them to be late and/or miss work, the Secretary of State may still find this to be a hardship.

It is not necessary that transportation does not exist. As the law suggests, the State considers whether there is a hardship, which may include employment consequences, such as facing termination if a permit is not obtained, or extreme financial hardship by not being able to drive for a given purpose.

Public Safety

When a revoked driver requests driving privileges, the Secretary of State also considers whether granting a permit will endanger public welfare or safety. A revoked driver must show that they will not be a danger to themselves or other persons while operating a vehicle. 92 Ill. Adm. Code 1001.420(d)

In cases where an applicant’s overall driving record shows a disregard for the law, such as accidents or a large number of moving violations, it may be advisable for a revoked driver to take a voluntary traffic safety school course to try to demonstrate lifestyle changes that suggest that they are likely to be a safe ations for Permit Issuance

The Secretary of State considers many other factors when determining if an applicant has met their burden to be given a permit. Under 92 Ill. Adm. Code 1001.420 (d), the State will consider several issues when granting driving privileges, which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The petitioner’s age and the number of years they have been licensed to drive;
  • Whether the petitioner has driven while suspended or revoked;
  • Duration of present employment;
  • The number, severity, and frequency of accidents;
  • The petitioner’s overall driving record, as well as the frequency, type, and severity of traffic violations;
  • Any efforts at rehabilitation or reform of past driving practices;
  • The demeanor and credibility of the petitioner in the hearing, as well as any witnesses presented on their behalf;
  • The credibility of and weight given to the petitioner’s documentary evidence, including evaluations, treatment documents and letters in alcohol/drug-related hearings
  • The petitioner’s alcohol/drug-related criminal record, including, but not limited to, whether the petitioner was incarcerated and successfully participated in any rehabilitative activity during his or her incarceration. The State will also consider whether the petitioner complied with the terms and conditions of probation or parole;
  • In cases where the petitioner is suffering, or has suffered, from a mental condition, the State will consider psychiatric reports to determine if the condition may affect his/her ability to operate a motor vehicle in a safe and responsible manner; and
  • If a Petitioner was issued a permit from a prior hearing, the State will consider the length of time that the petitioner actually drove or has been driving on permits, their driving record while on those permits and whether they had any breathalyzer incidents on a prior permit.

Additional Considerations for Alcohol/Drug-Related Revocation

In addition to the factors listed above, the Secretary of State will consider certain other enumerated factors when a determining whether to grant driving relief after an alcohol or drug-related revocation under 92 Ill. Adm. Code. 1001.440(d). These factors include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The similarity of circumstances between alcohol or drug-related arrests;
  • Any property damage or personal injury caused by the applicant while driving under the influence;
  • Changes in lifestyle and alcohol/drug use patterns since their most recent arrest and the reasons for their lifestyle changes;
  • The applicant’s lifetime alcohol/drug use pattern and the timing of the alcohol/drug-related arrests;
  • The degree of self-acceptance of an alcohol/drug problem by the applicant;
  • The degree of involvement in or successful completion of prior treatment following an alcohol/drug-related arrest. For High Risk, Dependent applicants, the State will also consider the degree of involvement in a support/recovery program;
  • Prior relapses from attempted abstinence;
  • Whether the applicant has identified and resolved the reasons for their past high-risk behavior;
  • The applicant’s criminal history, particularly where alcohol/drugs were a factor in the offense(s);
  • The applicant’s chemical test results, if any, from all prior alcohol/drug related arrests;
  • If the applicant was denied at a former hearing, whether their evaluator has addressed the concerns raised in the denial order; and
  • If the applicant was given an interlock permit in the past, the applicant’s record of performance while driving with a BAIID device.

At a Secretary of State hearing, an applicant faces scrutiny in many areas of their life. The State wants to ensure that a person does not currently suffer from a condition that would impair their ability to safely drive a vehicle, while also taking into account their overall driving history as an indicator of their likelihood of being a safe driver in the future.

An experienced drivers license reinstatement attorney can help prepare their client to meet the Secretary of State’s concerns with positive answers. Counsel may assist in obtaining evidence that mitigates past conduct or provides evidence of lifestyle changes since the last driving incident. The lawyer may review the topics that will be covered in a hearing and suggest areas of personal improvement that a client should highlight when testifying before the Secretary of State. The key to a first hearing isn’t to just “get it over with and be done with it,” but to do it correctly the first time.

Prior to attending a hearing with the Illinois Secretary of State, a revoked driver should consult with an experienced drivers license reinstatement attorney. The information contained in this article should not be construed as legal advice. Our office is happy to provide a free consultation to address the specific facts of a case.

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