With Driver’s License Suspensions, a Cycle of Debt

States have begun suspending drivers’ licenses for unsatisfied debts stemming from any criminal case, from misdemeanors like marijuana possession to felonies in which court costs can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.

News Story (California, NATIONAL, Tennessee)

Shaila Dewan
New York Times (NYT)
April 14, 2015
Link to story

Tags: Civil Rights, Court Debt, Courts, Driver's license suspension, Legal Financial Obligations

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


Tennessee’s law has become part of a broader debate over criminal justice debt, a national issue since a Department of Justice report faulted Ferguson, Mo., for a law enforcement system that focused aggressively on raising revenue and jailing people who could not pay.

Many drivers who have lost their licenses in Tennessee, too poor to pay what they owe and living in places with limited public transportation.


But in recent years, a few states have reconsidered the policy amid concerns that it hurts low-income residents without achieving its intended goals. In 2013, Washington stopped suspending licenses for failure to pay nonmoving violations like expired registrations. Suspensions dropped by half, said Brad Benfield, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Licensing, and each month, there have been 500 fewer arrests for driving while suspended, saving an estimated 4,500 hours of patrol officers’ time.

And this month, a California lawmaker introduced a bill that would make it easier for people to reinstate their licenses, after a report said that four million California licenses had been suspended for failure to pay or failure to appear in court.