ROCKFORD (WREX) – When drivers violate Scott’s Law in Illinois and get a ticket, it comes with a mandatory court appearance. But what happens to these violations once they head to the courtroom?
13 News pulled data from courts in Winnebago, Boone, McHenry, Lee, Ogle, Jo Daviess and Stephenson County. A total of 165 Scott’s Law violations went to court last year. Out of those 28 were dismissed, 3 were found not guilty, 63 were amended, 42 withheld conviction, 12 are still pending, and 17 ended in a full conviction.
For retired Master Sergeant Robert Story, that roughly 10% conviction rate is unacceptable. Story’s wife, Illinois State Police District 16 Trooper Brooke Jones-Story, was killed by a driver who violated Scott’s Law.
“That’s very shocking that the number is that low,” said Robert. “There needs to be accountability. Why are there not more convictions?”
Robert’s question is one 13 News posed to local court experts. When it comes to the 63 amended cases, those are cases where the charge was changed, most likely from Scott’s Law violation to a lesser charge. Winnebago County Chief Judge Eugene Doherty says amended charges are typical in all traffic citations.
“The amendment process is in the hands of the prosecutor and there are multiple reasons why a prosecutor may amend,” said Doherty. “Sometimes it has to do with the strength of the evidence, or the lack of evidence. But that’s a function of every single traffic case.”
Proving a Scott’s Law violation happened can be tricky for prosecutors. According to Boone County State’s Attorney Tricia Smith, these cases may lack strong, clear evidence. Sometimes only containing a first hand account from an officer which may not be enough in court.
“It’s an easy case if you have a second officer at the scene then you have it possibly being caught more on video, then you have two officers watching the scene,” said Smith.
When it comes to the 42 withheld convictions, that’s a term used in sentencing and is often a type of compromise. The court recognizes wrongdoing but a formal conviction is not given, allowing the defendant a change to avoid the full penalty of the law.
The court determines, over a period of time, whether 6 or 9 months, if you have any other traffic violations, if you’ve paid the fine, if you’ve gone to safety school, and as long as you’ve complied with those terms then a conviction wouldn’t enter and it wouldn’t count toward suspending your drivers license.
“There’s always going to be different outcomes in the courtroom,” said Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly. “That’s just part of the process. I think the key thing is making sure this offense is being issued and being charged in the first place.”
Kelly, a former State’ Attorney himself, says he respects the way the system is set up. Regardless of what the outcome in court may be, issuing the ticket, forcing people to attend court and answer for their actions will hopefully be enough to change the culture of driving on the roads.
“Look forty years ago nobody wore seat-belts,” said Kelly. “It took a long time to change people’s behavior and change people’s conduct and educate them and improve enforcement, and that’s what he have to do with Scott’s Law.
Kelly says so far this year troopers have issued 750% more Scott’s Law citations compared to last year. A strong stance ISP believes will eventually make drivers pay attention, slow down, and move over.
“Nobody likes to get a ticket for anything,” said Kelly. “Nobody likes to get a ticket for speeding, no one likes to get ticket for violating Scott’s Law but that is part of educating the public and protecting the safety of these officers. So the increase of issuing of these chargers that is the most important thing, as long as we’re seeing some consequence for that, it’ll change people’s behaviors.”