43 States Suspend Licenses for Unpaid Court Debt, But That Could Change

Lawsuits say the practice severely penalizes those too poor to pay.

News Story (NATIONAL)

Beth Schwartzapfel
Marshall Project
November 21, 2017

Tags: Court Debt, Driver's license suspension

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Aid Justice Center (Virginia)


Tennessee is one of 43 states, plus the District of Columbia, that suspends driver’s licenses for people with unpaid court debt, according a recent reportby the Legal Aid Justice Center, a Virginia-based organization that filed a lawsuit there challenging the practice. Although Tennessee says it gives drivers 30 days notice before suspending a license, Sprague and her lawyers say she was not told about her suspension and the state does not notify people in every case.

Only four states require a hearing beforehand to determine whether the failure to pay is willful or simply a reflection of poverty, the report found. Almost a million people in Virginia and 150,000 in Tennessee currently have their licenses suspended for failure to pay, according to documents filed in lawsuits there.