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How to get out of a ticket in Chicago

Written by
Clayton Guse
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Owning a car in Chicago can be a pretty expensive luxury. Between the cost of a city sticker, high gas prices and annual maintenance to fix the damage that comes with winter, driving in Chicago can cost an arm and a leg. When you tack on hundreds of dollars in parking and red light camera tickets, you're probably better off selling your vehicle. 

A lot of Chicagoans simply roll over and shell out a fine when they find a dreaded orange envelope on their windshield. If you're willing to endure a painful and annoying bureaucratic process, it's surprisingly easy to get tickets dismissed in the city. That said, a traffic court isn't going to let anyone out of a ticket just for putting up a fuss. But if your citation was unjustified or in a legal gray area, you shouldn't have to pay the city $100. Here's what you should know about getting out of a ticket in Chicago.

If you're going to contest a ticket, do it quickly

Once you're pinged with an automated red light or speed camera violation, you have 21 days from time the notice is issued to contest it. For parking tickets, that window is just seven days. If you don't respond to the first notice within that window, you'll receive a "Notice of Determination" that states that you've been found liable by default. After that, you have another 21 days to appear in person to contest the ticket. If you provide a prompt contest to a ticket by mail, you can avoid going into court to keep the city's hands off of your hard-earned cash.

Prepare a polished, thought-out statement

Whether you're contesting a ticket by mail or in person, you're going to need to lay out your case. The language around parking, speeding and red light violations in Chicago's municipal code is pretty cut and dry. If you want it straight from the horse's mouth, the city has a list of viable defenses that can be raised while challenging a ticket. There are also a lot of gray areas in the way that traffic and parking tickets are enforced. Getting caught in a red light camera intersection to make way for an emergency vehicle or parking on a restricted street that has obstructed or vandalized signs are both good examples of ticket defenses that are approved by the city.

If you put together a well-written statement to mail in or to present in court while contesting a ticket, you're more likely to have it dismissed than a person who responds with an angry rant on the tyranny of government fines. On top of that, providing any photographs, police reports and any other record that's pertinent to your ticket will go a long way in getting it dismissed.

An in-person ticket hearing is, well, weird

If your ticket leads to an in-person hearing, you won't find the legal process that follows to be anything like an episode of Law & Order. Instead, your notice for an in-person hearing will give you a window of dates in which you can come in and appeal the ticket. For most cases, you'll be able to choose between three hearing locations (the one at 2550 W Addison St is your best bet). On your hearing date, you'll wait in a room to see an "administrative law judge," a private and independent attorney who rules on municipal code violations. You'll be on a timer, and that person will hear your case. Normally, the decision will be made on the spot. If you're willing to spend the time to contest your ticket in person, hopefully you have a strong enough case to have it dismissed.

In general, the best way to get out of a ticket (or avoid one altogether) is to brush up on the city's municipal code. While it's long, complicated and filled with more legal jargon than the script of Erin Brockovich, it contains some useful knowledge that could save you hundreds of dollars down the road. 

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