Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What happens when I miss my traffic court date?

By Jeffrey R. Hall, of Hall, Rustom & Fritz LLC.

Many times, clients contact us after they've missed their first appearance date on their traffic ticket.  They wonder if a warrant will issue for their arrest and they are terrified. 

Not to worry!  We'll try to give a detailed breakdown of the process as to what happens after you miss your court appearance.  You'll find that you will likely NOT have a warrant issued for your arrest; however, there are still serious consequences that you will want to keep in mind.  This article only addressed the process for citations issued in Illinois. 

These consequences depend on the county for which you received the ticket. Usually, if you forget about a ticket, it NEVER simply goes away.  Illinois law commands the circuit clerks of each county to forward information regarding your failure to appear to the Illinois Secretary of State.  Once they receive the notice you failed to appear, the Secretary of State will suspend your driving privileges until you resolve the ticket.

Instead of breaking down how each county handles your ticket, I'll explain generally what happens behind the scenes.

First, once you are ticketed, you should determine if the ticket requires you to appear in court.  For most speeding tickets and other minor petty traffic offenses, such as improper lane usage, improper turn signal, failure to yield, etc., a court appearance is NOT required.  Nevertheless, you must still respond to the court in some method.  On the back of your ticket, it typically provides instructions on how to resolve the ticket.  We caution you to simply pay the ticket and be done with it.  This is important and here's why:

If you simply pay the ticket over the counter or through the mail, you are essentially pleading guilty to the offense and a final adjudication of guilt will be recorded against you and a conviction will enter.  That means points will be assigned against your driver's license. 
  • If you are under 21, you are only entitled to ONE moving violation conviction on your record in a 2 YEAR period.  If you receive two moving violation convictions in a 2 year period, your driving privileges will be suspended for a period not to exceed 1 year.  Depending on the severity of the ticket, such as speeding 21-30 mph over the limit, your driving privileges will likely be suspended between 6 months to 1 year.  If you receive a minor traffic violation, such as speeding 1-20 mph over the limit, your driving privileges will likely be suspended for 3-6 months.
  • If you are 21 and over, you are entitled to TWO moving violation convictions on your record in a 1 YEAR period.  If you receive THREE moving violation convictions on your record in a 1 YEAR period, your driving privileges will be suspended for a period not to exceed 1 year.  Again, depending on the severity of the ticket, such as speeding 21-30 mph over the limit, your driving privileges will likely be suspended between 6 months to 1 year.  If you receive a minor traffic violation, such as speeding 1-20 mph over the limit, your driving privileges will likely be suspended for 3-6 months
It is recommended that you obtain a printout of your driving record (abstract) from your local DMV to determine what moving violations are actually on your record.  The record may be difficult to read so it is recommended that you consult an experienced traffic attorney to read your record to determine what effect, if any, will result from your present traffic citation.

Now, back to your court date.  Once your name is called in open court and you do not answer, the prosecutors will generally write on the file "Defendant Failed to Appear. Ex Parte Judgment issued."  They will present the file to the judge and the judge will sign.  Essentially, the court is taking judgment against you in your absence.  Thus, a conviction will enter against you.

However, if the ticket is not a petty traffic offense, but rather, a traffic misdemeanor, such as Driving While License Suspended, the court will usually issue a warrant.  Make sure you do not miss your court date if your ticket is for a misdemeanor.

Once you realize you've missed your court date, you will likely have to vacate the conviction against you if you want to "undo" the conviction that was entered by the court in your absence.  Here is where an attorney can be effective for you.  Your attorney will draft the motion to vacate, set it for hearing, then negotiate the terms of the citation with the prosecutors so the punishment against you will be as minimal as possible.  Prosecutors will look at your record as well.  If you have a poor driving record, the prosecutors may object to vacate the conviction against you.  However, if it has not been more than 30 days since you missed your court date (or the judge signed the "ex parte" judgment against you), the court will likely reopen the case against you.  If it is beyond 30 days since you missed your court date, it is harder to get your case reopened since you are beyond your "30 day Appeal" window.  On these tickets, time is of the essence to act responsibly.  That is why it is important to consult an attorney to assist you.

Your attorney can then negotiate the terms of the ticket.  We always ask for some type of disposition that will not affect your driving record, such as dispositions resulting in court supervision.  

What is Court Supervision in Illinois?  Court supervision is NOT a final adjudication of guilt.  The court is simply indirectly monitoring your behavior during a set period of time (not to exceed 1 year on petty offenses and 2 years for misdemeanor offenses).  If you abide by the terms of your court supervision (pay your fines and costs, complete any public service hours, attend the driver improvement course, not violate any law of any jurisdiction, etc), your case will close at the end of the period of supervision and NO CONVICTION will be entered.

You will typically be assessed fines and court costs.  Thus, so long as you pay the fines and court costs within your time limit given and you do not violate any other laws of any jurisdiction, the ticket will not affect your driver's license.

In conclusion, if you miss your court date, do not fret.  Simply print out a copy of your driving record at your local DMV and contact an experienced traffic attorney to assist you.  The conviction is not set in stone and if you act quickly, your attorney can undo the damage your absence caused.

It should be noted that some counties will not issue an ex parte judgment against you.  They will simply send out a 30 day notice to you that if you do not pay the ticket within 30 days, they will forward a "Failure to Pay Notice" to the Illinois Secretary of State (SOS).  Once the SOS receives the notice, they will suspend your driving privileges until you pay the ticket and they receive the receipt from the clerk's office.  Remember, if your are suspended for not paying a traffic ticket, your driver's license will not automatically reinstate once you pay the ticket.  The SOS needs to receive confirmation that it was paid from the clerk's office.  This may take a few days AFTER you pay the ticket.

Below is helpful information regarding Notices to Appear, Minimum Present Bond Amounts, Required Appearances, and Traffic Enforcement Bail Procedure.  (Taken from the Illinois Traffic Offense Code Book.  It can viewed here:


Whenever a peace officer is authorized to arrest a person without a warrant, the officer may instead issue to such person a Notice to Appear.  The notice shall be in writing; state the name of the person and his address, if known; set forth the nature of the offense; be signed by the officer issuing the notice; and request the person to appear before a court at a certain time and place.  Upon failure of the person to appear, a summons or warrant of arrest may be issued.  


Traffic Offenses. The basic Rule 526(a) presets bail for minor traffic cases at $120. Bail is preset to avoid undue delay when it is not practicable to bring the accused before a judge.
  • Those violations denoted by an asterisk (*) require mandatory court appearance.
  • Those violations denoted by an asterisk (*) are exempt from the provisions of the NONRESIDENT VIOLATOR COMPACT, and the normal Supreme Court Bail Rule applies.
  • Those violations denoted by the number sign (#) require fingerprinting of the violator.


    1. AppearanceDate-Rule504
    The date set by the arresting officer for an accused’s first appear- ance in court shall be “not less than 14 days but within 60 days after the date of arrest, whenever practicable.”

    2. Substitution of Cash Bail-Rule 554

    (a) Not sooner than 10 court days after arrest and not later than three court days before the date set for appearance in court, an accused who deposited driver’s license or a bond certificate in lieu of cash bail, or who was released on Notice to Appear, promise to comply, or individual bond under Rule 553(d) may recover either his license or bond certificate or further secure his release by substituting cash bail in the amount required by this article with the clerk of the circuit court of the county in which the violation occurred; provided, however, that no driver’s license required to be deposited under subparagraph (d) of Rule 526 may be recovered under this rule. The clerk may waive the time limits, specified by this rule.

    (b) In all cases in which a court appearance is not required, under Rule 551, an accused who desires to satisfy the charge but is unwilling to plead guilty may substitute cash bail under paragraph (a) of this rule; in such event, if the accused does not appear on the date set for appearance, or any date to which the case may be continued, it shall be presumed he has consented to the entry of an EX PARTE judgement (see Rule 556(b)).

    3. Driver’s License in Lieu of or in Addition to Bail-Rule 526(e)

    “...In lieu of posting the cash amounts specified (for sections: 3- 708, 11-401(a), 11-501 and 11-504, of the IVC) an accused must post $1,000 bail and his current Illinois driver’s license. Persons who do not possess a valid Illinois driver’s license shall post bail in the amounts specified in Rule 526(c) or 525 (d), except than an accused may deposit a approved bond certificate in lieu of bail specified in subparagraph (1) or (8) of 526 (c).”

    4. Bail Schedule-Ordinance Offenses, Petty Offenses, Business Offenses and Certain Misdemeanors-Rule 528

    (a) Offenses punishable by fine not to exceed $1,000. Bail for offenses (other than traffic or conservation offenses), including ordinance violations, punishable only by a fine which does not exceed $1,000, shall be $120.

    (b) Offenses punishable by fine in excess of $1,000. Bail for offenses (other than traffic or conservation offenses) punishable only by a fine which exceeds $1,000 shall be $1,500.

    (c) Certain other offenses. Bail for any other offenses, including violation of any ordinance of any unit of local government (other than traffic or conservation offenses), punishable by fine or imprisonment in a penal institution other than the penitentiary, or both, shall be $1,000, as provided in paragraph (d) of this Rule 528, and except that bail for Class C misdemeanors shall be $75.

    (d) Domestic violence offenses. No bail is established under these rules as provided in Section 110-15 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/110-15) for the offense of domes- tic battery (720 ILCS 5/12-3.2), a violation of an Order of Protection (720 ILCS 5/12-30), or any similar violation of a local ordinance. Bail for these offenses shall be set by the court pursuant to statute.

    5. RequiredAppearance—Rule 551

    A court appearance is required for the following:

    (a) All alleged Class A and B misdemeanor violations of the Illinois Vehicle Code.
    (b) All alleged violations of the following specified sections:

    3-707  Operating without insurance
    3-708  Operating when registration suspended for non-insurance
    6-101 No valid driver’s license
    6-104 Violation of classification
    6-113 Operating in violation of license or permit
    6-301 Unlawful use of license or permit
    11-409 Making a false report
    11-601(b) Speeding-Only when more than 30 mph over the posted limit
    11-1414(a) Passed school bus-loading or unloading
    15-112(h) Refusal to stop and submit vehicle and load to weighing after being directed to do so by an officer, or removal of load prior to weighing 15-301(j) Violation of excess size and weight permit

    (c) All alleged violations of the Child Passenger Protection Act.
    (d) Any traffic offense which results in an accident causing the death of any person or injury to any person other than the accused.
    (e) Conservation offenses for which more than $120 bail is required under Rule 527 or for which civil penalties are required under Section 20.35 of the Fish and Aquatic Life code or Section 3.5 of the Wildlife code.
    (f) Offenses arising from multiple charges, as provided in Rule 503.
    (g) Violations of any ordinance of any unit of local government defin- ing offenses comparable to those specified in subparagraphs (a), (b), (c), (d) and (h) of this Rule 551.
    (h) Any minor traffic offense where the statutory minimum fine is greater than $95, except those offenses involving truck violations under Rule 526(b)(1) or similar municipal ordinances.

625 ILCS 5/6-306.3 License as bail.

(a) Except as provided in Section 6-306.4 of this Code, any person arrested and charged with violation of Section 3-701, 3-707 or 3- 710 or of any violation of Chapters 11 or 12 of this Code, except the provisions of Sections 3-708, 11-401, 11-501, 11-503 or 11-504 of this Code shall have the option of depositing his valid driver’s license issued under this Code with the officer demanding bail in lieu of any other security for his appearance in court in answering to any such charge.

(b) However, a uniform bail schedule and regulations adopted pur- suant to Supreme Court Rule or Order may require that a driver’s license issued under this Code must be deposited, in addition to appropriate cash deposit, where persons arrested and charged with violating Sections 3-708, 11-401, 11-501, 11-503 or 11-504 of this code elect to take advantage of a uniform schedule establishing the amount of bail in such cases.

Rule 501(g)

(g) Promise to Comply. An option available to residents of other member jurisdictions of the Nonresident Violator Compact of 1977

to obtain release from custody without bail following arrests on view for minor traffic offenses (see Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 95 1/2, par. 6–306.4(a) 625 ILCS 5/6–306.4(a)) by signing a written promise to comply with the terms of the Uniform Citation and Complaint. Residents of Illinois, and nonresidents charged with traffic offenses specified in subsection 6–306.4(b) of the Illinois Vehicle Code, as amended, shall not be released on a promise to comply, but must post bail or secure release in accordance with these rules. 

If you have further questions, please visit our website at and complete our online submission form. Or, you can call our office at 309-699-4691 or email us at


The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form nor should the reader rely on the information listed above as true in all circumstances. This information is provided generally and any similarity between the information listed above and an individual reader's case is purely coincidental.

The attorneys at Hall, Rustom & Fritz LLC represent clients throughout the entire state of Illinois, including, but not limited to, the cities of Peoria, Morton, Washington, Pekin, Eureka, East Peoria, Dunlap, Metamora, Bartonville, Bloomington, Normal and any legal matter located in Peoria County, Tazewell County, Woodford County, Marshall County, Stark County, Henry County, Knox County and McLean County.

Article Author: Jeffrey R. Hall

Jeff Hall is managing partner at Hall, Rustom & Fritz LLC and concentrates his law practice in Criminal Law, DUI & Traffic law, driver's license reinstatement hearings and criminal record expungements.

If you have a legal question, email Jeff Hall.

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  1. A while ago I hired a lawyer to handle all my traffic violations because I was to busy to do that.
    Since that moment, even if I broke the law a few times, my lawyer was able to dismiss some of my traffic tickets Toronto and that's the main reason why my license was never suspended.
    Without the help of my lawyer I would be "dead".

  2. I wish you luck. Hope you win.