UPDATE: Tennessee ordered to stop license suspensions for indigence
A federal judge has ordered the state of Tennessee to stop suspending driver’s licenses when people can't pay traffic fines and court costs.
UPDATE: A federal judge has ordered the state of Tennessee to stop suspending driver’s licenses when people can't pay traffic fines and court costs.
The ruling is expected to affect tens of thousands of drivers.
If you can't pay your traffic tickets, the state can no longer take your driver’s license.
An attorney Channel 3 spoke with calls this a significant ruling that will have a big impact in Tennessee and possibly other states.
“It takes everything we make to get by,” Abby Nelson said.
Nelson's fiancé, Dustin, had his license suspended more than a year ago when he failed to pay a speeding ticket. They have two children.
"It took us from one living condition to a lower one and that's hard. That's hard to go through,” Nelson said.
Nelson said they rely on their cars to get to work. She's a waitress and he's a factory worker.
The suspension has made it hard to make the money needed to pay the fees.
Now a federal judge's order will prevent the state from taking a driver’s license from people like Dustin who can't pay.
"This is a case to right that situation where there is a difference between the consequences to the rich and poor,” Jimmy Logan, an attorney said.
Logan's office deals with cases like Dustin's almost every day.
The ruling addresses unpaid traffic violations like speeding or not stopping at a stop sign. It also says drivers who are too poor could get their suspended license back without fees.
"The courts are supposed to, if an indigent person, is unable to pay their fines and costs work out some payment plans, but many times that does not happen,” Logan said.
The ruling builds on two other similar cases. One had to do with those who lost their licenses because they couldn't pay fines related to criminal convictions.
The same federal judge ruled against the state in July and the state appealed then.
Nelson said she's happy to hear this could help families like hers.
"Hopefully alleviate someone else's stress and anxiety because I know how difficult it is,” Nelson said.
Here are three ways to find out if you can get your license back:
- Go to the nearest reinstatement center.
- Go online to the state's department of safety website.
- Call (866) 903-7357 to find out if you're eligible.
PREVIOUS STORY: NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A federal judge in Nashville has ordered the state to stop suspending the drivers licenses of people who are unable to pay traffic fines and court costs.
In an order Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger also instructed the state to allow indigent drivers to get suspended licenses back without fees.
The lawsuit is the second of two similar cases. The earlier one dealt with people who lost licenses because they were unable to pay fines related to criminal convictions. Trauger ruled against the state in July, and Tennessee appealed.
Plaintiffs argue the suspensions leave people unable to work, making it even harder for them to pay court debts.
The rulings potentially affect tens of thousands of Tennesseans and could have implications for similar policies in dozens of other states.
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