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I was convicted of DUI.  Can I argue that I wasn’t guilty of the DUI at my hearing?

The Pitfalls of Disputing Guilt on a DUI Conviction at a Secretary of State Hearing. 

On occasion, prospective clients want to begin the hearing process through disputing their guilt on a DUI charge from their past.  By the nature of our practice, our office only represents guilty people since they would not be at a Secretary of State hearing if they had not been found guilty of a DUI and convicted by the court.


It is important for revoked drivers to recognize the difference between courtroom proceedings on their DUI case and Illinois Secretary of State hearings.


The DUI courtroom proceedings were the forum to determine guilt or innocence on a prior DUI charge(s).  Once the court has found a person guilty, whether through a plea or trial, the Secretary of State accepts the conviction as guilt on the DUI offense(s).


This concept is codified in the Secretary of State code, where it is explicitly stated:


“In all cases, a conviction in a court of law in Illinois, or any other state, is dispositive of the guilt of a petitioner of the offense that caused his/her revocation.”  92 Ill. Adm. Code 1001.430(a)


Therefore, when a petitioner appears at a hearing for reinstatement, it is presumed that they are guilty of the DUI charges in which they were convicted.  If a petitioner believes they were wrongfully convicted, the sole place to remedy the issue is with the court, rather than an Illinois Secretary of State hearing.


In cases where a petitioner was not convicted of a past DUI, the Code authorizes the Secretary of State to consider DUI charges as dispositions if they resulted in a statutory summary suspension, court supervision or where a DUI charge was reduced to Reckless Driving.  The State may consider DUI dispositions even if they occurred in another state, as well as DUI dispositions that do not appear on the official driving record.  92 Ill. Adm. Code 1001.410.


As a result, it is important that a petitioner understand at the outset of the hearing process that it is not their goal to contest their guilt on DUI charges in which they received a statutory summary suspension, court supervision, conviction or where a DUI was reduced to Reckless Driving.  Instead, a hearing is an opportunity to take responsibility for those arrests and demonstrate lifestyle changes since the most recent DUI arrest.


Among the many factors the State considers when granting a permit, is the demeanor and credibility of the petitioner, and the credibility of their documents.  92 Ill. Adm. Code 1001.420(e). 


If a petitioner sits down at a hearing with an evaluation that lists several past DUIs as dispositions, but the Petitioner denies guilt, it hurts their credibility at the hearing.  Similarly, if the petitioner claims that they consumed a minimal amount of alcohol on each DUI, the Secretary of State doesn’t find it credible that they were found guilty of a DUI, especially in cases where their BAC score was over the legal limit.


Further, the State considers a petitioner’s overall alcohol/drug-related criminal history, as well as their explanation for their multiple DUI arrests, when determining if they will grant driving relief.  92 Ill. Adm. Code 1001.440 (12 and 14).  If a Petitioner has multiple DUI arrests, but their explanation is that someone else was driving, it affects their credibility, especially where there has been a court disposition on the DUI. 


The best approach to a Secretary of State hearing is to recognize these hearings are the forum to show how your lifestyle has improved since your most recent DUI arrest and/or drug/alcohol related offense.  It is a petitioner’s burden to show they would be a safe driver, that they have identified their problem with alcohol and/or drugs and that the problem has been resolved.  The State is not looking to relitigate your guilt or innocence, but rather, assess whether you have made positive lifestyle changes since your DUIs to warrant the issuance of driving privileges today.


A revoked driver should consult with an experienced DUI license reinstatement attorney prior to proceeding with a hearing.  The information contained in this article is not legal advice.  If you would like to discuss the specific facts of your case, our office would be happy to provide a free consultation.

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