Mapping California’s Racial Bias in Sentencing Traffic Violations

A new report and interactive map show that poor and minority offenders bear the brunt of fines and sentences for minor offenses in the state.
News Story (California)

Tanvi Misra
April 13, 2016

Tags: Court Debt, Debtors Prison, Driver's license suspension, Fines and Fees

Organizations mentioned/involved: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR)


This coalition, called Back On the Road California, analyzed data from the DMV and sheriff and police departments in the state. It found that the rate of driver’s license suspensions for not paying fines or not showing up to court was five times as high in California’s black and Latino communities compared to the state average. Black drivers were also much more likely to be arrested for failing to pay these fines or driving on a suspended license, compared to whites. Minorities were more likely to receive traffic citations in the first place, “despite the fact that there is no documented difference in driving behavior,” the report reads.

“Law enforcement officers have discretion about whether to arrest someone on a warrant or driving on a suspended license for an unpaid ticket, and this new data shows that people of color—especially black people—are disproportionately arrested and impacted,” Elisa Della-Piana, legal director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is part of the coalition, said in a press release. “It’s a modern-day form of debtors’ prison.”