Drivers License Reinstatement Hearings

Chicago Drivers License Reinstatement Hearing Lawyers

restore licenseGetting your license suspended or revoked can seriously impact your life. Most of us need to drive to get to work, see our families, get groceries, and do everything else in our day-to-day lives. Relying on others to give you rides or public transportation can make life much harder. If you have a suspended or revoked license, your number one concern should be doing everything you can to get your license back on track. The first step in this process is becoming informed about your options. This article discusses some of the major points you need to know about license reinstatement hearings, and how to give yourself the best chance at prevailing at the hearing and getting your driving privileges back.

What is the Difference Between a Suspended and Revoked license?

The main difference between a suspension of your license and a revocation is that, with a few exceptions, a suspension is for a set amount of time and a revocation could go on “forever.” Almost all suspensions will terminate on a certain date, and once you pay a fee, your license will be reinstated. A revocation, which is more serious, will go on indefinitely until you become ‘eligible’ to have a reinstatement hearing and are allowed to petition for the return of your driving privileges.

Examples of offenses that could get your license suspended are:

Examples of offenses that could lead to indefinite suspensions are:

  • Failure to appear in court on a moving violation where your license was posted as bond;
  • Getting into an accident without having insurance coverage leading to a safety responsibility suspension;

Examples of offenses that could get your license revoked are:

  • Aggravated fleeing and eluding a law enforcement officer
  • Drag racing
  • DUI
  • Leaving the scene of an accident involving death or great bodily harm
  • Reckless homicide

When Do You Need a Reinstatement Hearing?

You will need a reinstatement hearing if you have been revoked for any reason and are looking for reinstatement of your driving privileges, or you are asking for a Restricted Driving Permit (RDP).

Contact us for a free consultation.

What is the Difference Between a Formal and an Informal Hearing?

There are many key differences between an informal hearing and a formal hearing. The major difference is that after only a single DUI, you may have an informal or formal hearing. However, after getting two or more DUI’s, you are typically required to have a formal hearing. In terms of how they are conducted, an informal hearing and a formal hearing are very different.

What is an Informal License Hearing?

An informal hearing will usually not require an appointment. However, it is always a good idea to call ahead and make sure someone will be there when you show up (especially in smaller towns). It is best to get there early as most informal hearing sites operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.

There are over 35 informal hearing facilities throughout the state of Illinois. Some of the locations are:

  • Woodstock
  • Waukegan
  • Charles
  • Schaumburg
  • Rockford
  • Peoria
  • Vernon
  • Bloomington
  • Chicago
  • Chicago Heights
  • DeKalb

And many more. A full list can be found at this link:

In an informal hearing, you will always be talking to a non-attorney who will act as your hearing officer. The informal hearing officer will rule on all motions and the admissibility of evidence. There is no Secretary of State file available during the informal hearing, nor is there any other Secretary of State representative present at the meeting. You do not have to pay a filing fee for an informal hearing either. No formal “cross-examination” will take place and there will be no live witnesses other than yourself (the petitioner). You will not be required to take a formal oath. The informal hearing officer will also take the lead on all questioning.

At the close of an informal hearing, the Informal Hearing Officer makes a recommendation for relief or denial which is fully reviewed in Springfield. This means that the person you actually speak with in the informal hearing will not be the one making the final decision about whether your license will be reinstated or not. It is possible for an informal hearing officer to make a recommendation for relief to the Secretary of State in Springfield… and then the Secretary of State officer in Springfield might decide to not grant relief.

Can an Informal Hearing be Appealed?

It is important to remember that an informal hearing cannot be appealed since it is not considered “final.” This means that after an unfavorable decision in an informal hearing, you are allowed to have a new hearing (either formal or informal) in 30 days. If you choose to have a formal hearing after losing at an informal hearing, everything will be viewed from a totally blank slate (it won’t be looked at like an “appeal” to your informal hearing loss.)

What is a Formal License Hearing?

Anyone who is eligible to have an informal hearing may also opt for a formal hearing instead (although usually this isn’t our recommendation). You should talk with your lawyer about whether this may be the right decision for you. There are definitely advantages to having the actual decision maker in the room with you, rather than someone who will just report back to Springfield with their preliminary recommendation.

There presently are only four formal hearing locations in the State of Illinois. They are located in:

  • Springfield
  • Chicago
  • Joliet
  • And Mt. Vernon

Formal hearings must always be requested in writing and are scheduled in advance. Unlike informal hearings, formal hearings are under oath and they will usually be conducted by an attorney. Witnesses are subject to cross examination in a formal hearing and there will be a full administrative record created. The Secretary of State file will also be available during the hearing.

At the close of a formal hearing, the formal hearing decision is considered “final” and you will be able to appeal it within 35 days of an unfavorable decision, if you choose to.

Attorney Michael S. Sexner
Contact Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC for the help you need.

DUI Evaluation is Required for a Hearing

Getting a DUI in Illinois is serious business. It is one of only two offenses in Illinois where the state actually requires you by statute to submit to an evaluation before sentencing (the other instance being in felony sex offenses when the offender is seeking probation).

A DUI evaluation is basically an interview with a licensed professional (typically a social worker or someone with a background in substance abuse studies). You will pay a fee and schedule this interview which will include a questionnaire about your history and use of substances and your own personal attitudes regarding substance abuse. The hearing officers will look at your evaluation and they will want to make sure it matches your own descriptions of abuse and dependency. Your answers will be compared for consistency with your previous chemical tests and your overall driving record (the evaluator will be trying to determine if you are telling the truth by comparing your answers to the objective data of things that you have been caught for in the past). If your description of your own drinking and substance abuse does not match the evaluation, you will be looked at with suspicion. The purpose of the evaluation is to try and get you the help you need, reduce the risk of reoffending, and place you into the most appropriate treatment option for your current pattern of substance use or abuse.

What is a DUI Risk Classification?

After finishing the interview process, you will then receive a “risk” classification from the evaluator which will be either: minimal, moderate, significant, or high-risk. Each respective risk classification requires you to complete different levels of treatment. The higher you are rated in terms of risk, the more extensive the treatment. You must complete this treatment before the hearing officer will even see you.

The requirements of what you must do for each classification are listed below:

Minimal Risk

A minimal risk classification by the evaluator will require you to:

  • Attend 10-hours of Driver Risk Education (cannot be waived)
    • Note: The Driver Risk Education must have been completed after the most recent DUI disposition*

Typically, a driver with only one DUI disposition who consents to a chemical test (blood or breath) and has a BAC less than .15 and no “symptoms” of a substance abuse disorder (as defined by the DSM V manual of psychiatric illnesses) will receive a minimal risk rating.

Moderate Risk

A moderate risk classification by the evaluator will require you to:

  • Attend 10-hours of Driver Risk Education; and
  • 12 hours of “early intervention” (these are commonly called “DUI classes” and are a low-level pre-treatment option which helps people recognize consequences of alcohol abuse before it becomes a larger problem)
    • Note: The evaluator can waive early intervention upon providing a clinical rationale.

A driver with one DUI disposition who has either 1) a refusal of chemical testing (not blowing or submitting to a blood or urine test), or 2) a BAC of between .15 and .19 and who presented with no more than one symptom of alcohol or drug abuse disorder at the time of their evaluation will receive a moderate risk classification.

Significant Risk

A significant risk classification by the evaluator will require you to:

  • Attend 10-hours of Driver Risk Education; and
  • 20 hours of substance abuse treatment; and
  • Completion of all of the requirements of a continuing care plan (an example of a continuing care plan for someone with a significant risk classification could be a commitment to exercise, attending aftercare sessions which will be offered at the completion of the 20 hours of substance abuse treatment, and attending all healthcare appointments).
    • Note: The evaluator can waive primary treatment and continuing care or reduce the hours by providing a clinical rationale

A driver with 1) two DUI dispositions and/or one DUI disposition with a BAC reading of at least .20 with more than one but fewer than four symptoms of alcohol or drug abuse will receive a significant risk evaluation.

man receiving car key

High Risk Non-Dependent

A high-risk classification by the evaluator will require you to:

  • Complete 75 hours of substance abuse treatment (or a 28-day inpatient treatment program); and
  • Compliance with a strict and comprehensive continuing care plan (an example of a continuing care plan for someone with a high-risk classification could include getting a sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous, going to five recovery meetings a week, finding a “home group” meeting that you are at every week, and attending multiple aftercare sessions a month hosted by a therapist)
    • Note: An evaluator can waive or reduce the hours of treatment needed by providing a clinical rationale.

A driver with three or more DUI dispositions and with fewer than four alcohol or drug abuse symptoms and two or more of those DUI dispositions within a period of 10 years prior to the most current disposition will be classified as high-risk non-dependent.

High Risk Dependent Based Upon Symptoms

There is an additional classification which is not controlled by the driving record, but rather by the DSM V symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse themselves. A classification of “high risk dependent based upon symptoms” is reserved for drivers with four or more symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse (in addition to three or more DUI dispositions).

If you are classified as high-risk dependent based upon systems, you will have to show 12 continuous months of abstinence from alcohol and drugs and participation with a sponsor from an approved support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or a more religious based support group like Celebrate Recovery.

When charged with a DUI, each county in Illinois will have specific rules about where you can get an evaluation (some require you to go to certain approved evaluation centers, and other counties allow you to pick your own evaluation center). Before going to an evaluation in Illinois it is always best to consult with an attorney, as an unfavorable result in an evaluation may not only subject you to much higher treatment requirements, but also could negatively affect you later on during the reinstatement hearing.

Remember, the minimum requirements for each risk classification must be completed BEFORE the reinstatement hearing. You cannot get a driving permit and later complete your “classes” unfortunately.  Also, as you can’t get any driving relief until after you’ve completed your classes or treatment, you will have to figure out how to get to them without a driver’s license.

What Documents are Required for a Hearing?

You will need to make sure you bring the proper documentation to your reinstatement hearing, whether you are requesting a full reinstatement or an RDP.

  • If you are required to complete the Drivers Risk Education treatment, you must bring a document with the standardized certificate of completion.
  • You must bring the uniform evaluation report (which is considered current for 6 months from the completion, not the starting date and not the date the evaluator or client signs it). The uniform report must discuss the most recent DUI disposition, or it is not valid. It must be signed and dated by both the evaluator and the patient.
  • An updated evaluation if needed.
  • Documentation of treatment (either 20 or 75 hours of substance abuse treatment). This will include: An individualized treatment plan, a discharge summary, a continuing care plan, a continuing care status report, and a Secretary of State Treatment Verification Form.
  • Proof of completion of early intervention if needed (including the dates early intervention began and ended, the number of days or hours involved in the intervention process, and a summary discussion of the intervention provided and the outcome.
  • There are additional requirements for high-risk offenders with fewer than “four” symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse. You will need:
  • Letters from three independent sources of at least 12 consecutive months of non-problematic use of alcohol (abstinence is not required, you just need to have them write that your use is non-problematic)
  • Evidence that the cause of the high-risk problematic behavior with alcohol has been identified, properly treated, and resolved
  • An explanation by the treatment provider adressing why the petitioner received a third DUI disposition fewer than ten years following the prior two dispositions
  • Those with a high-risk dependent classification with four or more symptoms of alcohol or drug abuse will also need to bring extra documentation to a hearing, including:
  • Evidence from at least three independent sources of 12 consecutive months of abstinence from alcohol and all illegal drugs
  • Three letters from support member groups (Alcoholics Anonymous is by far the most common group people use, but you can also use non-traditional recovery groups) detailing how you are working a solid recovery program and what changes they have seen you incorporate into your lifestyle which will lead you to continued abstinence (i.e. making phone calls, daily check-ins with a sponsor, attending weekly meetings, doing “service volunteer commitments” at meetings, reading the Big Book, etc.)
    • The letters should talk about how long the person has known you, their relationship to you, what role they play in your recovery, changes they’ve seen in your attitudes about recovery, positive lifestyle changes you’ve made, and how often they see you. These letters should obviously not include anything that states you did not actually commit the DUI itself.
    • Note: One of these letters should be from a “sponsor” – someone who works with you personally to guide you through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar recovery program.

how does the formal hearing process work?

How does the Formal Hearing Process Work?

The standard to win at a hearing is clear and convincing evidence. In order to get back your driving privileges, you must convince the Secretary of State that you will not endanger the public safety or welfare of other drivers on the roads.

There presently is a $50 fee to request a formal hearing and a request must be made in writing for a hearing. The notice is supposed to go out within 20 days of the request and the hearing must be set within 90 days of the request. The typical time the Secretary of State will set a hearing for is within 6-8 weeks of filing the request. Requests to cancel hearings, even at the last minute, are usually automatically granted.

At the beginning of the hearing, there will be an opportunity for opening and closing statements (which can be and usually are waived). The Secretary of State is allowed to go first, but oftentimes the petitioner’s attorney will be asking all the questions and the Secretary of State representative will be able to then ask follow-up questions. The rules of evidence do not apply at hearings, but rules of relevance will be loosely adhered to. Note: The Secretary of State will be able to review your prior hearing files before the new reinstatement hearing.

A written decision will be given by the Secretary of State in no more than 90 days for Formal Hearings (within 30 days for informal hearings), but the typical time it takes is usually 10-12 weeks. If you are denied relief, the denial letter will state the reasons for denial and you will be asked to resolve the issues which caused the denial to occur. Remember, you are only allowed a formal hearing once every three months, so make it count!

How Can You Win Your Secretary of State Hearing?

There is no “magical” way to win a hearing. Every individual officer will have their own “pet peeves” which will make them mad if a petitioner brings them up. Saying certain things like “the only reason I got a DUI is because I had a public defender” or “the only three times I ever drank I got these three DUI’s” will almost surely cause you to fail any hearing and make a reinstatement officer mad. Keep in mind that statistics show that for every time someone is caught drunk driving, they have driven drunk and not been caught several other times. The hearing officers are aware of this and based on your blood alcohol level and evaluation classification, they will likely not believe this was a fully isolated incident even if you insist that it was.

  1. At a minimum, you must be prepared to discuss the facts of all of your DUI dispositions and the individual and unique circumstances of your case and substance abuse history. You will also be asked about other criminal offenses in which alcohol or drugs were present or a factor. Remember, this is not the time to challenge whether the DUI was valid or not. You were found guilty or plead guilty in a court of law and sentenced. To argue otherwise will fall upon deaf ears, and you must do everything you can to take responsibility and not minimize what happened.
  2. You will be asked about the circumstances of not only your first DUI arrest, but also subsequent DUI arrests if you had them. You will be asked how much you consumed prior to the arrests and whether or not you submitted to chemical testing. If there was an accident involving injuries, you will be expected to talk about that and show a proper amount of remorse. If you were driving without a permit or license following your DUI dispositions, you will be asked to talk about the reasons why you did this as well.
  3. You will also likely be asked about your drug and alcohol use timeline. This will include your ‘typical’ pattern of consumption and average pattern of consumption on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. The evaluator will often go over the year before your most recent DUI disposition and also the periods during which you had the heaviest using patterns. You will likely be asked to talk about any illegal drug use too (non-alcohol). An evaluator may go over prior periods of abstinence, why they were successful, and why you ultimately returned to drinking after being abstinent for a while. This can include a discussion about your triggers and what leads you to drink or use drugs in the first place. The evaluator will not want an exact timeline and you will not be penalized for making educated guesses (when heavily using drugs and alcohol the memory can become blurred, and the evaluator will understand that).
  4. The reinstatement officer will also want you to discuss whether you believe you are indeed an alcoholic or someone who is more akin to a problematic or binge drinker on certain occasions (without dependency issues). Remember, the Secretary of State subscribes to the “disease” model of alcoholism. It is not viewed as a “moral failing” or a “lack of willpower”, but rather as a disease or allergy of the mind and body which must be treated in a scientific way.
  5. You may be asked to talk about whether you agree with the results of your evaluation and whether or not you personally believe you are an alcoholic or afflicted with the disease of alcoholism. You may be asked about how often you engaged in “binge” drinking, commonly defined as drinking five alcoholic drinks within two hours for men and four for women (enough drinking to put you above the legal limit within two hours). You will likely be asked questions that test your consistency with your evaluation answers, as well as your general knowledge of abuse and dependency symptoms, including if: you have been drunk at work, before noon, hidden your use, blacked out, gotten in fights, had family or friends express concern about your use, lost friends due to your use, felt guilt or shame, were unable to quit, experienced extreme personality changes when using, built up tolerance to alcohol or drugs, experienced withdrawal symptoms (shaking or delirium tremens), or have a family history of dependency.
  6. You will likely also be asked about your intentions regarding future alcohol and drug abuse. If you do not have four or more high risk “symptoms” you will not have to be fully abstinent, but you also cannot be abusing alcohol. A petitioner who uses vague words about their drinking like they intend to have “a couple” drinks may be looked at as someone who potentially may intend to abuse alcohol later on (i.e. getting buzzed or drunk). The legal limit is often 3 drinks per occasion (either a 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, or a 1.5 oz shot of “hard liquor”). You may be able to stretch this a little if your weight is higher, but generally anything more than that will get you drunk.
  7. You will also likely be asked to talk about the most important things you learned in treatment. This could revolve around what led to repeated alcohol and drug abuse holistically, not just on the occasion of the actual DUI itself. You can talk about coping strategies you learned in treatment, and the addiction cycle. You can also talk about how you have taken the information you learned in recovery to identify your specific triggers and avoid them (or make a phone call to someone else in recovery when they happen). The hearing officer will likely want to see that you have a large support system to lean on when you are thinking about using drugs or alcohol in a destructive way. There will be an emphasis on lifestyle changes you have made which demonstrate that you are committed to not making these same mistakes in the future. Remember, driving in the state of Illinois is seen by the Secretary of State as a privilege, not a right.
  8. If you are classified as dependent, you will have to show that you are part of a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar religious-based recovery program like Celebrate Recovery. The hearing officer will require recent letters from a sponsor and other program members testifying to your commitment to sobriety. You may be asked to talk about the 12 steps and how you worked them with a sponsor. You may also be asked to talk about meetings you have been to or recovery program literature that is specific to your group. If you are lying to the hearing officer and have never been to a recovery program that you are claiming to have gone to, they will surely pick up on it quickly. They may be looking for certain “buzz-words” which are common in these types of recovery groups.
  9. Finally, you could be asked about how you will control your drinking now and the personal limits you set for yourself. You may have to outline for the reinstatement officer your plan to avoid getting behind the wheel next time you drink (this could include limiting your drinking, taking an uber, or always having a designated driver with you). You may be asked to identify positive changes to your personal driving habits you could make which are unrelated to alcohol or drugs. You should not just say “I will faithfully follow the rules of the road.” Showing the reinstatement officer that you are aware that you may need to drive more defensively, make full stops at stop signs, and always slow down for yellow lights for example, will indicate to them that you are thinking deeply about your own personal driving habits and how to be a safe driver at all times.
  10. Ultimately, every hearing officer will have their own style and their own way of asking questions. Each officer will have questions they ask every time which give them the information which they find most valuable in the process. Each of them may have “automatic fail” questions that if you answer incorrectly, your chance of getting driving relief goes way down. It is impossible to predict what you will be asked, but always remember to: take responsibility, never minimize or downplay your substance use, and be honest. Always bring the right supporting documentation and conduct yourself in a professional and serious manner which shows the hearing officer that you understand the gravity of the situation. It also always helps to dress professionally, as this shows a respect for the process.

Don't Confuse "Hardship" and "Full Reinstatement"

It is important to remember that having an “undue hardship” is never relevant if you are eligible for full reinstatement. Talking about having an undue hardship when you are eligible for full reinstatement will make you look unprepared. Hardship considerations will never outweigh the public safety and welfare considerations that the Secretary of State looks at during full reinstatement hearings. A “Restricted Driving Permit” (RDP) will be requested if you are revoked and not eligible to receive full reinstatement, or if the Secretary of State determines that you need an RDP first for a probationary period before you gain full reinstatement. You will also be required to get an RDP first if you have been convicted of two or more DUI’s. You will then be forced to drive with an RDP and BAIID device before full reinstatement.

Important Things to Know about “undue Hardship”

  • The hardship must actually be “undue” (meaning severe), not just a mere inconvenience.
  • The ability to get to work without a car will not always negate your hardship (this is a common misconception)
  • You can talk about hardship in relation to how it has impacted your family
  • You can talk about prospective employment opportunities you will lose out on without a Restricted Driving Permit
  • You could get a letter from your current employer showing how hard it has been for you to get to work or perform at work without a vehicle
  • Losing a job due to not having a car, being disciplined, losing overtime, having to get rides from others, not being able to travel on the job or make sales calls, are all examples of hardships which could be brought up when asking for an RDP

Some of these RDP’s will allow you to drive to work, support groups, medical groups, educational facilities for yourself and your child, daycare and court-ordered community service. There will be different geographic areas you will be allowed to travel in with different RDP’s. These RDP’s will be monitored closely and you will not be allowed any frolics or detours on your trips (besides getting gas). There are many different types of RDP’s that have different limitations on them, and this will be the subject of another blog article.

Is Everyone Eligible for Driving Relief?

old couple drivingUnfortunately, not everyone is eligible for a reinstatement hearing. Some drivers are “revoked for life”, and other drivers need to do certain things before they can qualify for a reinstatement hearing. You will be unable to go for a reinstatement hearing if:

  • You have a pending ticket (no relief may be granted until you take care of it in court).
  • You have suspensions on your record not related to DUI (such as child support suspensions, failure to appear, and other pending tickets). These must be resolved prior to receiving driving relief.
  • You have four convictions for DUI, leaving the scene of an injury or accident, reckless homicide, or any combination of these three, at least one of which arose out of an arrest after January 1, 1999. This will create a lifetime ban on receiving an Illinois driver’s license. (This includes out-of-state convictions that are only identifiable via by the Problem Driver Point System or “PDPS”). You will only be eligible for a lifetime RDP with a permanent BAIID device on any vehicle you wish to operate if you fall under this category.
    • Note: If you have four DUI convictions, you will only be eligible for a lifetime RDP if it has been at least five years from the date of your most recent DUI conviction or five years from your release from a term of imprisonment, whichever is later. You must also prove three years of uninterrupted abstinence from alcohol and illegal drugs. If the evaluation classification requires permanent abstinence i.e. you are deemed an “alcoholic”, the abstinence must occur during the three years immediately before the hearing. If the evaluation classification does not require permanent abstinence, any period of abstinence of three years between the most recent DUI and the hearing will suffice. There must also not be more than a single conviction for driving under the influence of drugs, intoxicating compounds or a combination of these substances on your record.
  • Those who wish to operate a Commercial Motor Vehicle or a motorcycle may not be granted an RDP.
  • If a DUI occurs when a driver is under 21, the revocation will be for two years, with no possibility of an RDP during the first year.
  • If you drive on a revoked license where the underlying revocation is from a reckless homicide conviction, you could be revoked with no chance of a permit or license for a period of 3 years, 5 years, or a lifetime ban depending on whether it is your first, second, or third conviction, respectively.
  • After a conviction for reckless homicide or aggravated DUI which results in death, a driver may not apply again for a license for two years following the revocation or release from incarceration, whichever is later.

Speak to an Experienced Secretary of State License Attorney

For over 30 years, Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC has helped people get their licenses back in the State of Illinois. From the moment you walk into our door or call us, we will do everything in our power to help you regain your driving privileges. Our experienced team of lawyers has a deep understanding of the law and procedures used at the Secretary of State. We have done countless driver’s license reinstatement hearings and helped many clients regain their driving privileges.

If you are having issues getting your license back, call Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC at (312) 644-0444 for a free consultation.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : April 6, 2023