You were pulled over by a police officer. He or she has issued you a citation for violating a traffic law. What happens next?
Depending on the citation, you may have to appear in court, retain an attorney, and decide if you are going to plead guilty or not guilty.
The outcomes of the case will determine what fines and court costs are assessed, if any.
What are Court Costs?
A “court cost” is an amount of money that a defendant must pay if they go to court and plead guilty or are found guilty.
If your ticket is dismissed or if you go to trial and win, you do not have to pay court costs.
Court costs are separate than a fine.
It does not matter how many court dates you have for your ticket, you only pay court costs once. You do not pay for each time you appear in court.
Similarly, you typically only pay court costs once, no matter how many tickets you received. In other words, if you are stopped for speeding and not having insurance, you have two tickets but just one case. Even if you are guilty on both tickets, you will typically just pay one set of court costs.
What is the difference between Court Costs and Fines?
Fines are meant to punish or penalize you for committing the offense. The amount can vary depending on the offense, your record, and the outcome of your ticket. Your fines are ultimately determined by the judge.
On the other hand, Court Costs are not meant to penalize you. Instead, you can think of them as a fee paid to reimburse the court. As you can imagine, there are costs associated with maintaining the courthouse, paying workers, maintaining documents and computer systems, etc. All of this must be paid for somehow.
Court costs are authorized by the Illinois General Assembly and ordered by the county. Most judges will tell you that they do not have any authority over the court costs and do not have the ability to waive them. In other words, they are mandatory if you plead guilty or are found guilty.
How to Avoid Court Costs
The easiest way to avoid court costs is to avoid going to court. Some citations do not require you to appear in court. These include seat belt tickets, accident tickets (with no personal injury), and petty speeding tickets (1-25 MPH over the speed limit) to name a few. This means you may be able to just pay the ticket and the case is over.
However, you must be aware that if you just pay the ticket and receive a conviction, your insurance rates and your driver’s license may be affected.
The other way to avoid court costs is to get all your tickets dismissed or win at trial. Of course, this is not always possible and depends on your circumstances, record, prosecutor, and judge, among other things.
Appearing in Court
Let’s assume that you have a “mandatory court appearance” citation or you have decided to attend court to fight the ticket. Once you are in court for a case, there will be court costs that are assessed if you plead guilty or are found guilty.
You should also understand that once you are in court for the case, you can no longer decide to just “pay for the ticket” at that point.
Everyone’s situation is different, but paying court costs is often better than having a conviction on your record, getting your license suspended, having your insurance rates increase, or having a criminal record.
How Much Are Court Costs?
There are three factors that determine your court costs. They are: the courthouse, the type of offense, and the outcome of the ticket.
Court costs vary from county to county and even courthouse to courthouse. Each location sets their own court costs. A lawyer that practices in the courthouse will know the approximate or exact amount.
The type of offense also determines the court costs. There are different amounts for traffic tickets, misdemeanor offenses, and Driving Under the Influence.
Additionally, court costs for court supervision are typically more than court costs for a conviction.
In Cook County, court costs for a traffic ticket are $256.50. A misdemeanor offense in Cook County is nearly $400 and a DUI typically starts out at around $1,300 to $1,400. Keep in mind, these are just the court costs; this does not even include a fine that could be assessed by a judge.
In DuPage County, the court costs are even higher and are often combined with the fine. Each municipality sets their own fees so it can vary widely. However, an approximate amount in DuPage County is $385 for a petty speeding ticket, $425 for a cell phone ticket, and $500 for a no insurance ticket. Misdemeanors are also approximately $500.
How Much Are Fines?
Fines are set by the judge and depend on the outcome of your case and your driving record.
For a petty traffic offense, the minimum fine is $0 and the maximum is $1,000.
For a Class B Misdemeanor offense, such as speeding 26-34 mph over the limit, the minimum fine is $0 and the maximum is $1,500 (plus up to 6 months in jail).
For a Class A Misdemeanor, such as a DUI, Driving On A Suspended License, or Aggravated Speeding, the minimum fine is $0 and the maximum is $2,500 (plus up to one year in jail).
Going to Trial
Many clients ask if court costs or fines will go up if they decide to have a trial. This is sometimes referred to as a “trial tax.” Court costs are the same whether you plead guilty or lost at trial. However, the fine can vary because it is set by the judge. Our experience is that the most judges will not raise fines on you for exercising your right to a trial.
When Are Court Costs Due?
Court costs are not due immediately. If you plead guilty or are found guilty, you can almost always get time to pay. This time ranges from about two months at minimum to as much as a year. The exact due date depends on the type of offense, the amount, and the judge.
Hiring A Lawyer
Court costs are just one small concern when determining how to handle your traffic tickets. Other considerations include whether to go to court, your driving record, your criminal record, and your insurance rates. It can be a complicated process.
Fortunately, most reputable traffic attorneys will provide you a free consultation. At Driver Defense Team, we pride ourselves on providing an honest assessment of your situation. If it is cheaper and easier for you to not hire a lawyer, we will tell you that.
On the other hand, if you will benefit from having an experienced traffic lawyer on your side, we are happy to discuss your tickets, potential outcomes, how we can help, the cost of representing you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to use for a free assessment of your case.