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Illinois DUI While Deaf

Posted by Steven H. Fagan | Jul 05, 2024 | 0 Comments

Illinois driving deaf J88

Illinois DUI investigations invariably begin with a significant number of verbal interactions with police officers. These typically begin with the officer approaching a motorist, determining the identify of the driver and any occupants, and then continuing on to detailed verbal instructions and conversation designed and fine tuned over decades of law enforcement experience from around the country to help officers subjectively judge whether they are dealing with a motorist who may be impaired. But what happens when the driver suspected of DUI in Illinois is deaf or hard of hearing? 

DUI or Driving While Deaf

A police officer typically begins a traffic stop by speaking with the driver of the vehicle. They listen for impaired speech, and right away, people who are deaf or hard of hearing face a danger. They often have difficulty with clear speech due to the inability to adjust their enunciation, or to appropriately modulate their volume. Officers sometimes get the mistaken impression they are being yelled at by a belligerent drunk. 

Many traffic stops in Illinois where alcohol or drug use is suspected begin with simple questions like "have you been drinking?" "how much have you had to drink tonight?" or "where are you coming from?" For most motorists, these are easy to handle. When confronted with a motorist they do not immediately know is deaf, an officer might get a response that doesn't quite make sense, because the person they are asking doesn't hear them (either at all or properly) or can't read lips reliably. They simply don't fully understand the question. 

Officers ask for multiple documents at once - this is no accident. The request for a driver's license, insurance and/or registration is the first opportunity for the officer to observe how the motorist handles a multi-step request. How is the driver's short-term memory? Is the driver paying attention and aware? Is the driver sluggish? Does the driver have difficulty handling the requested documents or even realize they've just flipped past one of the requested documents in their hands? The theory is that when a person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, their normal performance will deteriorate when their attention is divided.

"Divided attention" also forms the theory behind standardized field sobriety tests, where verbal instructions will be given by the officer, to be followed by the question "do you understand?" and then followed by a demonstration.

How does a deaf person deal with this situation? 

The J88 Illinois License Designation

In Illinois, a licensed motorist who is deaf can request that a J88 designation be added to their Illinois driver's license - this designation is meant to let an officer know that they are dealing with someone who cannot hear or respond normally and needs assistance such as sign language, the ability to write or some other reasonable accommodation. The Illinois Secretary of State will not add this designation automatically, the deaf licensee must request the designation. You can find more information on the Illinois Secretary of State web page about J88.

Theory vs Practice in Illinois DUI Arrests

The unfortunate truth, whether it's a lack of training or merely a lack of experience and knowledge, many police officers do not know what a J88 designation means, do not recognize they are dealing with a deaf person and have no idea how to deal with a deaf motorist they may believe is driving under the influence in Illinois. That can lead to some very unpleasant interactions and complicate a situation that might otherwise be far simpler and end without an arrest.

So what can a motorist do who is in fact deaf? First, definitely request to have the J88 designation added to your driver's license. Second, clearly and as calmly as possible, say "I am deaf and cannot hear, please write your questions". If the officer refuses, again request a "reasonable accommodation pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act". Other than tendering your driver's license, insurance and registration, all of which you should have readily at hand any time you're driving, you should specifically tell the officer "because I don't want to miscommunicate or have any misunderstandings, I will not answer any further questions". That includes questions about drinking alcohol or consuming any other substances.

If the officer commands you to get out of the vehicle, you must comply. As far as taking Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, the inability to be certain you've heard instructions clearly puts any deaf person at a serious disadvantage in attempting what are already intentionally challenging physical tests that are very dependent on understanding the instructions - for most people, we recommend politely but firmly declining to take the tests, and certainly where someone is deaf. 

If you are arrested, do not try to explain or argue, save that for your lawyers, who will handle that professionally in Court in the proper manner. 

As always, you can communication with the attorneys at Fagan, Fagan & Davis by email at [email protected] or by texting us at 847-635-8200.

About the Author

Steven H. Fagan

Steve Fagan earned his law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law, is a member of the NCDD, NACDL, ISBA and a founding member of the DUIDLA. He is published and has taught CLE for lawyers on subjects such as sex offenses, DUI and criminal defense, focuses on trial work and Real Estate closings


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