By Law Clerk Emma Sliwinski
DUI's, misdemeanor, and felony traffic violations can throw one's driving privileges into grave jeopardy; they can lead to a year-long suspension of one's driver's license or even the permanent revocation of his or her driving privileges in the State of Illinois. As a result, many people believe that the moment they receive a DUI or commit a serious traffic violation, especially if they hold a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) or rely on driving to commute to and from work, their lives as a driver are over. However, this assumption sways miles from the truth. Through a process known as mitigation, one holds the ability of possibly persuading the court to grant him or her a lesser sentence or even to dismiss his or her DUI or traffic case in its entirety.
What is “Mitigation”?
“Mitigation” generally refers to “A reduction in how harmful, unpleasant, or seriously bad a situation is.” Mitigation, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). In the world of criminal law, the idea more specifically is known as “mitigation of punishment,” or “A reduction in punishment due to…circumstances that reduce [a defendant's] level of culpability.” Mitigation of Punishment, Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). In other words, mitigation in the legal world involves a defendant demonstrating to the court why he or she should receive a reduced punishment for his or her crime, or why the court should completely dismiss his or her case. A defendant may highlight how he or she currently holds no criminal record or may rely on the testimony of family and friends about the defendant's virtues and overall positive impact he or she has on the lives of others and the community at large. The most common form of mitigation involves a series of various documents that are compiled into a packet that is then presented to the court and prosecutor.
Mitigation documents serve as illustrations of one's multiple realms of life with the purpose of highlighting his or her accomplishments and qualities. Examples of mitigation documents include the following:
- Proof of employment, such as in the form of paystubs or business cards;
- Results of a drug and alcohol evaluation, which mainly pertains to DUI cases;
- Proof of community service, such as a certificate or a log of all attended volunteer sessions;
- Some character reference letters, or correspondence written by family members, friends, role models, etc. that highlight one's positive impact that he or she has on others; as well as
- A personal statement that is written by the defendant explaining how he or she recognizes the wrong in the act that he or she committed and vowing to never commit such a crime again.
These documents, particularly the character reference letters and the personal statement, help to reveal the humanity of a defendant. They demonstrate how despite the mistake of driving under the influence or recklessly driving above the speed limit, a person still stands as a member of society who possesses the opportunity to be heard, holds the right to advocate for himself or herself, and deserves a chance to redeem himself or herself from an unlawful and potentially dangerous mistake. This last point especially stands as the main reason that attorneys, their law clerks, and their paralegals emphasize to their clients the dire importance of mitigation documents.
A Two-Way Street
When an individual hires an attorney for representation in a DUI or serious traffic case, one of the first things that the attorney will advise the client is to be on the lookout for correspondence outlining the mitigation documents that are needed prior to the upcoming court hearing. In response, some clients enthusiastically and immediately begin collecting the requested mitigation documents; they are determined to overcome this challenge in their lives and redeem themselves from their mistakes. Others, on the other hand, have the adverse reaction; they withdraw, ignore messages from their counsel, and expect the law firm to do all the work for them. However, the attorney, law clerk, and paralegal cannot contact a client's workplace to request a copy of the client's paystub. They have not been in the client's life nearly as long as the client's family and close friends have been to write an effective character reference letter. They especially cannot read the client's mind to know what to include in the personal statement.
In other words, collecting mitigation and presenting it to the court stands as a two-way street. While the attorney and his or her staff are willing to do anything they can to help their client, the client needs to provide the attorney and staff the ability to provide that assistance. Specifically in DUI as well as misdemeanor and felony traffic cases, this involves the client collecting and forwarding copies of their paystub, proof of community service, character reference letters, personal statement, etc. to the attorney, law clerk, and paralegal in a timely manner.
Without the necessary documents, mitigation does not exist in DUI and serious traffic cases; without mitigation, a defendant holds no chance of possibly obtaining a lesser sentence or even a dismissal of his or her case. This stands as the main reason that attorneys and their staff constantly communicate with their clients to follow up on the status of the mitigation documents and to ensure that the client understands the dire importance of the mitigation documents. Through mitigation, clients are provided with an opportunity to highlight their qualities and to demonstrate how despite their current DUI or traffic violation, they can serve as law-abiding citizens. In essence, mitigation provides clients with a second chance to learn from their mistakes and to better themselves as members of society.
If you or someone you know has received a DUI or a serious traffic violation that requires a court appearance and need legal assistance, CTM Legal Group can help. Please call our office at 312-818-6700 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys. After the consultation and if you wish to retain us, don't forget to be on the lookout for correspondence regarding the mitigation documents.