The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that traffic tickets issued in Illinois in recent years are unconstitutional, leaving many of the state’s drivers to fend for themselves as they battle the state in court.
A federal appeals court panel found that Illinois’ constitutionality of its “stricter” traffic tickets was based on a law the state adopted in 2011 that bars people convicted of a traffic offense from having to pay the fine.
Supreme court ruled on Monday that Illinois’s constitutionality, which was challenged by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, was based in part on a 2011 law the Illinois state adopted that bars drivers convicted of misdemeanors from having their traffic tickets dismissed.
The justices said in a 5-4 ruling that the law “violates the Equal Protection Clause by forcing a criminal defendant to pay a criminal court-appointed attorney for a court hearing to determine the constitutionality” of the tickets.
“It violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, by requiring a defendant to hire a lawyer before the court will hear a motion to dismiss,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority.
A similar law in Illinois was struck down in the state Supreme Court in February, leading to the dismissal of hundreds of thousands of traffic tickets.
The law, which requires motorists to pay an attorney to appeal the ticket and has since been declared unconstitutional by Illinois’ top court, was intended to combat chronic traffic violations and improve public safety by encouraging drivers to share their violations with the police.
Critics say the law has become an expensive tool for the police to enforce the ticket, with the number of tickets issued and the cost to taxpayers increasing.
“In Illinois, it’s not clear how many people actually are convicted of the offense, but we are told that nearly three out of four people get their tickets dismissed, and many others pay nothing,” said John Stemberger, a professor at the University of Illinois Law School and an expert on civil liberties.
“This is a very dangerous approach to policing that the legislature should have abandoned years ago.”
The ruling came in a case involving a man who was ticketed for a misdemeanor driving offense in 2012 after he refused to stop for police.
He was later convicted of driving without a license, but was freed from prison after a judge found he was eligible for a driver’s license.
Stemberger said Illinois’ law was based not on the facts of the case, but on a vague law that allowed the state to “make any statement it wanted about who has the right to be arrested.”
“We’re talking about a statute that, in the context of a case where the defendant was accused of having committed an offense, it was clearly clear to the court that it was not a criminal offense,” Stemberg said.
“We are talking about the constitution of a state, a federal, a state that was designed to punish people for their behavior, and this is how they do it.”
Stemberg argued that the Illinois law was unconstitutional because it made it difficult for drivers to challenge tickets without hiring a lawyer.
He said the law’s language was vague, and that it could be interpreted as a legal presumption of innocence, even if the person who is facing the ticket has not been charged with a crime.
“If the law was written so that the officer could say, ‘Well, you didn’t get your ticket because you weren’t charged with an offense,’ you would never have this argument,” Stenderg said, noting that the state law required the officer to give the defendant an opportunity to present a defense if he or she did not want to do so.
“The law is a blatant attempt to put in place an unfair system that makes it difficult to challenge traffic tickets,” he said.
“It’s a very bad law.”
The court’s decision to overturn Illinois’ ticket law did not affect the state constitutionality.
“This case is an opportunity for the Illinois Supreme Court to take another important step in ensuring that all motorists, regardless of how they’re caught, can receive the protection of the equal protection clause of our Constitution,” said Illinois State Senate President John Cullerton, who represents Chicago.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had said he would like to see the law overturned, said in his own statement that the court’s ruling “makes clear that the constitution protects every citizen, regardless.
I am committed to working to ensure that the Chicago Police Department will work to bring people to justice in accordance with their constitutional rights.”
The law was passed by the state legislature in 2011 after Illinois Attorney-General Lisa Madigans office discovered that some motorists were not paying the fines.
She asked the state attorney general to conduct a review of how tickets were issued and to determine if the law violated the equal protections clause of Illinois’s Constitution.
Madigan’s office said that in 2013, it issued 4,000 tickets and that the review found that some drivers were