Lawsuit challenges suspension of driving licenses for unpaid fines

A group of civil rights advocates has filed a federal class-action lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s suspension of more than 250,000 driver’s licenses affecting people too poor to pay traffic tickets, reports the Nashville Ledger.

Attorneys with Washington, D.C.-based Civil Rights Corps, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice in New York City, Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz law firm of Memphis and Just City of Memphis have filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Nashville claiming the suspensions are made without “basic constitutional protections” and prevent tens of thousands of Tennesseans from having transportation to jobs, health care, child care and other fundamental needs.

The group of attorneys also contends the driver’s license suspensions raise racial injustice concerns because African-American motorists are four times more likely to lose their licenses than white drivers for failing to pay traffic tickets.

…“I see the destructive nature of this failed public policy nearly every day,” says Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City, a nonprofit legal group. “Already struggling against poor mass transit and limited job opportunities in their neighborhoods, people are forced to drive across town to find work.

“Getting caught means hundreds of dollars in costs and fines and potentially jail. Not driving means not working.

“This destructive public policy does nothing except erode our workforce and criminalize poverty,” Spickler adds. “We look forward to challenging this in court and bringing some much-needed relief to Tennessee’s working families.”

The lawsuit states Tennessee has suspended more than 250,000 driver’s licenses over the last five years for non-payment of fines, court costs and litigation taxes arising from driving offenses and traffic citations.

6 Responses to Lawsuit challenges suspension of driving licenses for unpaid fines

  • Norris Teachworth says:

    Many people who are released from prison cannot legally go back and forth to work because they owe fines. This is not a good thing.

  • Cindy cox says:

    My 26 year old daughter is in the same predicament due to fibres and unpaid tickets and can’t work because she can’t get their without driving.

  • Jennie Young says:

    Of course this should be challenged in court. I mean, really, how do you expect a person to pay his or her fines if they can’t get to work for the money. Putting people in jail because they can’t pay fines is equally self-defeating and just costs the system more money. The fact that it even has to be challenged in court is a sad commentary on the way that system works.

  • Randall says:

    They need to pay it not wait for there lic to be suspend it they give a period of time to pay for the fines so there is no excuse not to pay them I think it needs to stay like it is you don’t pay you don’t drive period

  • Linda says:

    From the above comments, we need better education in Tennessee!

  • David says:

    Driving is a privilege, not a right. Once this concept disappears from our traffic law we will be in a heap of trouble.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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