Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Drivers May Not Retrospectively Invalidate Driving While License Suspended Tickets

The Illinois Supreme Court recently issued its opinion in the case People v. Elliot.  The central issue was whether a ticket for driving while license suspended ticket (DWLS) was valid if the basis for the suspension was rescinded in a summary suspension hearing. We previously reported on this issue and took the position that a DWLS should be valid up and until the underlying basis of the suspension is rescinded. In a unanimous decision, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed and reversed the appellate court, holding that the subsequent rescission of the statutory summary suspension did not entitle a motorist to a dismissal of a DWLS ticket issued prior to the rescission of the suspension. In reaching its holding, the Court took an in-depth look into the meaning of the word “rescind” within the context of the Illinois statutory summary suspension law.

In Elliot, the motorist was arrested on August 26, 2009, for the charge of DUI.  On September 1, 2009, Elliot filed his petition to rescind the statutory summary suspension of his driver’s license.  Two days after his summary suspension commenced, Elliot was pulled over and issued a ticket for DWLS. On October 19, 2009, the Jackson County Circuit Court entered an order rescinding Elliot’s summary suspension. Elliot subsequently filed a motion to dismiss his DWLS ticket, arguing that the rescission of his summary suspension invalidated the basis of the driving while license suspended ticket and, as a result, he was entitled to a dismissal of that ticket. The circuit court rejected the argument and he was found guilty of driving while license suspended after a bench trial. Elliot appealed the guilty verdict and the appellate court reversed his conviction.  In reversing the holding of the circuit court, the appellate court reasoned that a rescission of the suspension resulted in a situation where the summary suspension should be treated as though it never happened, thus invalidating the basis of a driving while license suspended ticket.

In reaching its conclusion, the ultimate issue for the Illinois Supreme Court to determine was the meaning of the term “rescind” intended by the legislature in the context of the Illinois summary suspension law. An analysis of the use of the term “rescind” in the Illinois legislature revealed an inconsistent use of the word with both a retroactive meaning and prospective meaning used by the legislature. As a result of the inconsistent use of the word by the legislature, the Court analyzed the Illinois summary suspension law with both a retroactive and prospective meaning of the word “rescind.” The Court determined that the prospective only use of the word furthered the public policy behind the law to swiftly remove impaired drivers from the roadways. If a retrospective approach were given to the word, the criminal act of driving on the suspended license would be contingent upon the suspension being upheld. Additionally, the Court interpreted the language of 625 ILCS 5/6-303 criminalizing the offense of driving on a suspended or revoked driver’s license to be prospective in nature because it makes it a crime to drive “at a time when” a person’s driver’s license privileges are revoked or suspended. As a result, the validity of a driving on a suspended or revoked license ticket is solely based on the status of the motorist’s license at the time the person is pulled over by the arresting officer.


Kevin A. Chrzanowski

Author: Kevin A. Chrzanowski