Court Will Stop Suspending Driver’s Licenses Over Unpaid Fines

parking ticketUnder pressure from civil liberties groups, Contra Costa County Superior Court announced last week a moratorium on the practice of suspending driver’s licenses over unpaid fines.

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In March, the ACLU of Northern California and other groups urged the California Judicial Council — the policy-making board of the California court system — for action, arguing that suspending licenses for unpaid fines disproportionately affects lower-income drivers.

The ACLU and others have been targeting individual courts as well in Bay Area counties. Contra Costa County Superior Court responded last week saying the Failure to Pay policy was under review.

“The court will suspend all FTP referrals until further notice,” Steven K. Austin, presiding judge of the Superior Court, wrote last week to the ACLU of Northern California and Bay Area Legal Aid. Austin added the moratorium had already begun.

In many instances, drivers receive an initial fine for some violation, with lots of additional fees tacked on. What was a $100 fine could be several hundred dollars and only swelling from there, sometimes escalating to thousands as payment is not made.

This often leads to a suspension, which limits the driver’s ability to get to work and perpetuates the problem, the coalition of civil liberties groups argued. And many of these citations are for minor infractions like not wearing a seat belt or not signaling on a turn.

By the end of 2015, more than 1.9 million Californians, many of who whom are unemployed, disabled or homeless, had suspended licenses for failure to appear or failure to pay on citations, according to data provided by civil liberties groups.

Data shows a strong correlation between high poverty rates and high suspension rates in the bay area.

“What we’re looking for is a system that doesn’t punish people for being poor,” Micaela Davis, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, previously told CalWatchdog. “What we see is that the fines and fees are so exorbitant on simple traffic citations that people simply can’t afford to pay.”

Detractors may argue that it’s the driver’s actions that incurred the fine in the first place, but Davis dismissed that notion, saying there are more effective ways of handling the issue.

“We can hold people accountable without also ruining their lives,” Davis said.

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  1. askeptic says

    Perhaps the entire bail/fee system needs to be reviewed with the intent of returning it to the system it once was, and not the Honey-Pot for local politicians and interest groups that it has become.
    Absent that, by deciding not to suspend licenses for those in arrears on paying their fines, there is no actual penalty for violating the vehicle code, and we will see a lot more behavior that the legislature has determined is detrimental to good order and safety (of course, we can argue the merits of their efforts until the cows come home, and they’re all hopelessly lost).
    If we’re lucky, our roads will only look like a 3rd-world hell-hole (about where they’re now), but they could get a lot worse.

  2. It is the drivers fault. They are the one that broke the law in the first place and they are the ones that chose not to pay the fine. Courts used to allow payments if needed. If they do not offer that now then they probably should start doing it again. It does not matter if these are minor infractions or not. If you break the law you may the price. This attitude of non punishment is why we have so many criminals on the streets now and why we have so many illegals here.

  3. how about a free market solution. Pay fine within 10 days, fine is cut 70%, pay within 30 days, 50% of fine.

  4. Mi has a lot of bulls*** fines for the younger kids, called “driver responsibility fees” starting at $400 bucks, because of a “rolling stop” or “no proof of Ins” in my car, that the 16yr old daughter used and she got the fine, it starts @ $400 and goes up and up and up…in one county I got a ticket for a rolling stop, everything was done online…and they gave you 29 days to pay it, which I thought was very cool, Jan 2015 got a ticket diff county, nothing can be done online, you have to go to the court house, I didn’t do it, I had no energy to drive to a county off my daily work route, which is a hr drive 1 way, I didn’t pay it, they sent the cops to my house, if I didn’t have the $252 cash, I was going to jail, and my lic had also been suspended, ended up going to that damn court house anyways…Mi can and will destroy a persons life, over a ticket, they cause a lot of hardship for the working poor, especially teenagers with the “responsibility fees” which means the parents will be paying that fee..

  5. I’m one of those lucky folks! $826 seatbelt fine given to a tired grandmother who forgot to buckle a seatbelt after stopping for an ice cream on her way home, to reward herself after a tiring week of babysitting grandchildren & dog–followed by a small town cop, both going 25 miles an hour, a mile from her home in a safe, small town. That’s making the world safer–of course, or perhaps it’s balancing a police budget on the backs of the elderly and working classes. $350 has already been paid (from a Social Security income, poverty level), arrangements made by daughter helping old mother recover from two broken bones & cancer. Now, out of the blue, they’re demanding $476 more.

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