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Lawyering Part 2: Let’s Make a Deal

Everyone wants a deal. Finding a bargain, a huge sale or an unbelievable coupon makes purchasing an item all the sweeter. Finding a great deal when you are shopping is one thing, receiving a deal when you are in trouble with the law is something completely different. The article this week will look at the role attorneys play in negotiating lower fines for overweights and other truck specific violations.

A man is charged with murder and he’s straight up guilty. He bought the gun, possessed it, lined up the sights and squeezed the trigger. Death penalty? Not in Illinois, but maybe the rest of his natural life in prison, using legal resources to accomplish these sentences which can be found at

Turns out the victim had threatened the defendant’s family beforehand. He was an ex-convict too. These could be mitigating circumstances which an attorney can use to encourage a reduction from murder to a lesser crime like manslaughter.

Mitigating circumstances are not legal reasons, or even valid excuses, to lessen charges. Instead, they are leverage to discourage an “all or nothing” trial. No policeman or prosecutor wants to build a rock-solid case only to lose at trial. The same goes for a defense attorney hired by the defendant.

When it comes to truck violations in Illinois, particularly overweight citations, the fines can be astronomical. In a cut-throat economy where every dollar counts, even smaller overweight fines (less than $1000) are bitter pills to swallow for a trucker or his company.

The job of a defense attorney is to seek out the mitigating circumstances to the violation and work with the prosecution or a reduced charge. While the end goal is a lesser monetary fine, picking a random dollar amount out of thin air is not proper.

Much like the murder charge example above, the calculated fine for the overweight is based on a statutory requirement. To reduce the fine, the overweight charge must be reduced as well. If 25,000 pounds overweight on gross yields a $10,000 fine, then the citation must be amended in open court to a lesser weight (say 15,000 pounds over) to reduce the fine to rough negotiated number.

Each jurisdiction handles the negotiation differently. Some will allow the police officer who wrote the citation to work out the deals. Some require the local prosecutor or the state’s attorney to work out the fines. Either way, any mitigation will be presented prior to the hearing through one of these people.

Every trucker knows the mitigating circumstances, and every experienced truck officer has heard them all! There were no signs posted. The boss told me to go that way. The shipper said take the load or I wouldn’t be paid. I’ve been over the state scale on interstate (insert number) hundreds of times with this same load and have never been stopped.

None of these are legal defenses under the law, but they are all mitigating circumstances. What a trucker needs to ask himself is whether or not he has the verbal skills to professionally convey the mitigation prior to the hearing to receive a negotiated reduction in the crime.

Unfortunately, most cannot. Understandably there is a lot of emotion and anger associated with a large fine for a glorified traffic violation. Too many times truckers who believe their mitigating circumstances are justification for dismissal come to court amped up only to learn they are wrong. They try to represent themselves, lose at trial and pay a stiff penalty.

This is not to say every overweight requires a defense attorney, but a trucker or truck owner needs to know his limitations. An experienced and knowledgeable trucking defense attorney knows the actual law (not the supposed law learned in the shop, local bar or anonymous internet forums). He probably knows the officers who wrote the ticket. He probably can stand in front of a prosecutor or judge with less venom and more diplomacy to achieve a “desirable” outcome.

If a defense attorney knows his stuff, he can mitigate effectively. The truth is overweight violations are fairly black and white and most not trial worthy. Truckers facing prosecution for expensive overweight violations need to choose their legal representation carefully, because not all attorneys are created equal. The next two weeks this blog will look at what is behind curtains number two and three in attorney world.

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