What to Expect at a Hearing
Who May Participate in the Hearing?
Who may participate in the hearing will vary depending on the nature of the code violation.
Each hearing will have a hearing officer. The hearing officer is a licensed Illinois attorney appointed by the Department director to preside over the hearing as an independent and impartial "judge".
The city, as the petitioner, may have a representative there to present its case, although it may elect to proceed on the Notice alone. The city may also bring witnesses to support its case.
You may represent yourself, hire an attorney to represent you at your own expense, or in some instances have an authorized representative attend the hearing on your own behalf. Your representative may be a friend, family member, employee or agent. In cases such as boot or vehicle impoundment hearings, the registered owner of the vehicle must appear in person unless an affidavit permitting a representative to appear is submitted. In police cases such as disorderly conduct, the accused must appear in person...no exceptions.
Other respondents may also be present in the hearing room waiting for their case to be called. Because the hearing itself is open to the public, community groups, court advocates or other interested members of the public may be present in the hearing room to observe the proceedings.
What Are My Rights at the Hearing?
You have the right to: represent yourself, hire an attorney to represent you at your own expense, or authorize a friend or family member to assist you.
If the city presents its case through the in-person testimony of a city official or other witness, you have the right to ask questions of the city's witness.
If the city presents its case through the sworn affidavit testimony (i.e., the city relies on the sworn Notice of Violation alone), you have the right to request the hearing officer to subpoena (require the attendance of) that city official to the hearing so that you may ask questions of that city witness. Please note, however, that federal and state case law may not require the physical attendance of that city official at the hearing, and the decision on whether or not to grant a subpoena request is up to the individual hearing officer.
You have the right to tell your side of the story to the hearing officer. You may do so through: a sworn affidavit; your own testimony; the testimony of witnesses; or other evidence such as photos, invoices or receipts. You are expected to bring all of your witnesses and evidence with you to your first hearing date.
What is a Pre-Hearing Settlement Offer?
A pre-hearing settlement offer is when the city lawyer or representative offers to settle or end the case against you for an agreed upon fine or penalty if you agree to plead liable to the violation. Please note that: the city is not obligated to make a settlement offer; you are not obligated to accept a settlement offer; the fact that you reject a settlement offer cannot be held against you in a hearing; and the hearing officer is not obligated to approve the settlement offer and may require the parties to proceed to a hearing.
Please note that pre-hearing settlements are not available for parking tickets.
What are Strict Liability and Vicarious Liability Offenses?
Many code offenses are Strict Liability or Vicarious Liability offenses.
In Strict Liability offenses, it is not a defense that you didn't mean to break the law. In Vicarious Liability offenses, it is not a defense that it was someone to whom you entrusted your auto, property or business (a friend, family member or employee) who committed the offense, rather than you.
How is the Hearing Conducted?
Administrative Hearings are not as complex as judicial court proceedings. The strict and often complex rules of evidence and procedure do not apply, and plain language is used instead of legal language.
The hearing, while less formal than a state court trial, still follows a basic structure to ensure fairness and due process of law. All testimony is under oath and recorded.
- The hearing officer will begin by giving his or her opening remarks, which outlinesthe hearing process.
- Since the city initiated the case against you it has to present its evidence before you are even asked to present a defense.
The city is required to establish what is called a "prima facie case." That simply means that it must set forth the necessary allegations that a code violation may have occurred. To present its case, the city may: introduce the sworn Notice of Violation of the police officer or city inspector; call witnesses; or offer other evidence such as photographs or other documents.
Please note that in certain instances, federal and state case law allows the city to present its case through the sworn Notice of Violation, without requiring the presence of the ticketing police officer or city inspector.
- The hearing officer reviews the city's case to see if it has alleged all the necessary elements required by law. If the city has not properly alleged its case, the case will be dismissed. If the city has properly alleged a case, the hearing will proceed and you will have the opportunity to present your case.
- This part of the hearing is your opportunity to contest the allegations and/or present your side of the story. To present your case, you may, like the city: introduce a sworn affidavit; testify; call witnesses; or offer other evidence such as photographs, receipts or other documents.
- After both sides have had an opportunity to present their case, the hearing officer will render a decision and written order.
The city's burden of proof in these matters is "by a preponderance of the evidence," which means that taking everything into consideration, the hearing officer must believe that "it is more likely than not" that a code violation has occurred.
What If I Am Found Liable?
If you are found liable, the hearing officer is required by law to impose the penalties set forth by the Municipal Code of Chicago. If the penalty is a set fine, the hearing officer must impose that amount. If the penalty has a minimum and maximum fine range, the hearing officer must impose a fine in that range. A hearing officer does not have the legal authority to waive a fine. Penalties may also include: paying restitution (the costs to undo the damage caused by the violation); performing community service; and administrative costs.
What If I Am Found Not Liable?
If you are found not liable, the hearing officer will dismiss the case against you and will not impose any penalties.