What happens when the intersection camera catches your car buzzing through a red light and you get mailed a ticket from your friendly village authorities when it wasn’t you driving the car because it got stolen before the alleged offense occurred?

Or, your Maserati gets impounded because it’s left standing in some no-parking area, but you weren’t the one leaving it there because it was pilfered from your cousin Ida’s driveway while you were celebrating New Year’s at Ida’s?

In our continuing discussion of new Illinois laws effective Jan. 1, here’s a helpful one regarding stolen or hijacked vehicles.

Illinois law has long allowed local governments to impose administrative fines, fees and penalties for violations of local traffic regulations, automated traffic law violations and speed enforcement (cameras that catch speeders or driving through a red light) and/or parking violations.

Now, under an amendment to the laws governing local administrative traffic fines, a person shall not be liable for violations, fees, fines or penalties under such laws during the period in which the motor vehicle was stolen or hijacked if a timely report of the car theft or hijacking was made to an appropriate law-enforcement agency.

There is an administrative hearing officer of the local government who is to rule on an accused’s objections to any alleged violations of local traffic regulations.

If the hearing officer finds an impounded motor vehicle was stolen or hijacked at the time the vehicle was impounded, the county or municipality must now refund any administrative fees already paid by the registered owner or lessee of the vehicle.

Typically, you would have paid a fee so that you get your car back immediately without waiting for completion of your hearing.

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You are still allowed time after the notice of a traffic violation to then file an objection to any fine or penalty imposed for the alleged violation.

So, if you win with your defense that your car was stolen, you now get refunded any fee you paid to get the car out of impoundment, and you are acquitted of any underlying violation that impounded the car in the first place.

However, to be entitled to such conclusive defense, you need to have timely filed a stolen-vehicle report.

What “timely” means is not defined in the new law. But we suspect it will not likely be considered timely if made six months after the car was stolen, and you only now make such a report because you just now got a notice from the city that your magnificent Maserati has been magnificently impounded for being magnificently parked in a no-parking zone.

If you didn’t file a timely stolen-car report, that doesn’t mean you lose your defense that your car was stolen and you weren’t the one who parked it. But, the hearing officer doesn’t have to believe your defense. However, a timely made stolen-car report requires acquittal.

Moral of this story: Immediately make your police report when the car is discovered gone — as most folks would likely do.

The other moral is that the next time you go to one of Cousin Ida’s fabulous parties, leave the Maserati at home and bring the 1998 Honda Civic instead.

Brett Kepley is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Inc. Send questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820.

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