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Driver’s License Reinstatement in Illinois

The most severe state-sanctioned driving consequence any Illinois driver can suffer is a revoked driver’s license or a suspended driver’s license. In many situations, it is possible for a suspended or revoked driver to seek relief, either in the form of a restricted driving permit or the reinstatement of driving privileges, through one or more hearings before the Illinois Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearings Department. These are specialized administrative proceedings, and the process is complicated and can be quite frustrating for someone who is not experienced in this unique process. In fact, even lawyers who regularly represent clients in DUI and traffic matters in court find the Administrative Hearing process requires a very different knowledge base, and that tactics which are often effective in a courtroom can lead to very poor results with the Secretary of State. To be sure, an attorney can become skilled in both courtroom DUI defense and administrative license reinstatement—but success in one field does not automatically make the lawyer successful in the other.

It is important to remember that these are proceedings in front of the Illinois Secretary of State, and discretion regarding whether to issue a driving permit or reinstate a license is vested in the Secretary of State.The law places the burden of proof—by clear and convincing evidence—on the person seeking driving relief. This is true regardless of whether the person is seeking full reinstatement or only a driving permit, and regardless of whether the person’s license or privilege is revoked or merely suspended.

A revoked driver’s license in Illinois is the termination by formal action of the Secretary of a person’s license or privilege to operate a motor vehicle…which termination shall not be subject to renewal or restoration except that an application for a new license may be presented [to the] Secretary after the expiration of at least one year after the date of revocation. 625 ILCS 5/1-176. There are certain exceptions to this minimum one year length of revocation, but those exceptions are beyond the scope of this web page. Contrary to popular belief, if an Illinois driver’s license has been revoked, reinstatement does not automatically occur after one year, but rather only after application is made and the driver appears at an administrative hearing wherein the hearing officer makes a determination that granting reinstatement will not endanger the public safety or welfare.

A suspended driver’s license in Illinois is a temporary withdrawal by formal action of the Secretary of a person’s license or privilege to operate a motor vehicle…for a period specifically designated by the Secretary. 625 ILCS 5/1-204. Unlike a revocation, a suspension automatically terminates after a designated period of time, not to exceed 12 months, upon payment of the reinstatement fee unless it is extended for driving while license suspended (DWLS) or for a statutory summary suspension following a DUI arrest (which, in some situations, may be up to three years in length).

A restricted driving permit is a permit that grants and specifies limited driving privileges to those who have had their full driving privileges suspended, revoked, or cancelled. It is only valid when in the immediate possession of the driver to whom it is issued. 625 ILCS 5/1-173.1. A restricted driving permit may be issued for employment, drug/alcohol treatment, family medical or educational needs, or to transport children or elderly people who reside with the petitioner to and from daycare. In many (but not all) cases, restricted driving permits issued following suspension or revocation related to a DUI may require the installation of a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device (BAIID) as a condition of the permit. As of January 1, 2016, with certain exceptions, a person may seek a restricted driving permit beginning with the first day of suspension or revocation. It is important to note that even if a client is otherwise eligible for full reinstatement, if that person has not been previously granted a restricted driving permit, the Secretary of State will typically not grant full reinstatement until that person has first successfully driven on a restricted driving permit; thus, the restricted driving permit also serves as a probationary driving permit in the eyes of the Secretary of State.

There are different types of hearings for people applying for driving relief in Illinois. A formal hearing is a quasi-judicial proceeding where evidence is taken before an administrative hearing officer in a recorded hearing. In most cases, a lawyer representing the Secretary of State is present to ask critical questions of the petitioner. A formal hearing is always required when a client has multiple DUI convictions (resulting in multiple revocations), multiple implied consent suspensions, when driving privileges have been suspended, revoked, or canceled as the result of an offense which resulted in a death, or any other reason enumerated by the Secretary of State. Formal hearings are not limited to any predetermined set of questions, although an experienced attorney can frequently predict (and thus prepare the client for) many of the questions which may be asked by the hearing officer and the Secretary of State’s representative. Following a formal hearing, the hearing officer has 90 days, by law, to issue a written decision and order. The order may grant a restricted driving permit, or (if the client is eligible) full reinstatement—or it may deny relief altogether. The order issued following a formal hearing is subject to review (appeal) in circuit court following the provisions of the Illinos Administrative Review Law. However, because of the deference given to the Secretary of State’s decisions, it is often advisable to seek another formal hearing addressing the issues raised in the denial order, rather than to pursue administrative review in court.

Those who live out-of-state, but need reinstatement from Illinois (usually due to a past Illinois DUI) in order to obtain clearance to get a license in their home state, may be eligible to apply for relief through a written application process, without physically returning to Illinois. While these applications are still technically considered formal hearings, the procedure differs substantially from the in-person process required for Illinois residents. Often, the biggest hurdles facing out-of-state applicants are in obtaining the necessary guidance to ensure proper completion of all of the forms required by the Illinois Secretary of State.

Informal hearings are not specifically authorized by statute, and the result of these hearings does not constitute a final administrative decision for appeal purposes. Informal hearings consist of an interview between the client and hearing officer, using a set of questions prescribed by the Secretary of State. Unlike formal hearings, informal hearings are not recorded; instead, the client’s answers are written or typed out by the informal hearing officer, who then transmits them to a different official (not present at the hearing) who will make the decision about whether driving relief will be granted..

In both formal and informal hearings, a person is entitled to hire a lawyer, work with that lawyer to prepare for the hearing, and have that lawyer present at the hearing. Out-of-state applicants can also benefit from retaining a lawyer to assist them (and their evaluators and treatment providers) in completion of the application packet. While a person can hire a lawyer at any point in the process, it is best to choose a lawyer to represent you at the very beginning of the process, who will assist you in selecting evaluators and treatment providers, obtaining necessary documents, and providing guidance to family, friends, and even co-workers who will write letters on your behalf.

It is a complicated process, and on more than one occasion we have met with clients who have complicated the process further for themselves by trying to go it alone. The hearing officers for the Secretary of State can be very demanding, and frequently deny relief on grounds that may seem very picky or technical to those unfamiliar with the rules (both written and unwritten) governing these hearings. Before you or your loved one attempts to navigate the hearing process, call our office. Our experienced DUI and traffic attorneys are located minutes from the Secretary of State’s hearing offices at the Howlett Building in Springfield, Illinois. We have dealt with these issues before and are here to help you be successful in your ultimate goal. Let us help you get your driving privileges back, and start driving again!