Tag Archives: Driver’s license

End the criminalization of poverty

We have the opportunity to end the criminalization of poverty and “Fine Time” curing the 2017-18 session of the Massachusetts State Legislature.  Sen. William Brownsberger has introduced a comprehensive bill to prevent people from imprisonment because of inability to pay fines.

Read more in this opinion column published in USA Today.

Suspending driver’s licenses creates a vicious cycle: Column

Some states are recognizing the injustice of linking to the ability to pay court-imposed fines and fees.

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Though our nation feels more divided than ever, there is a common concern that cuts across party lines and entrenched ideological silos: a pervasive sense that we have failed to give all Americans an equal opportunity to attain the American dream.

Despite our best efforts, government policies too often create obstacles that prevent Americans from climbing the ladder of opportunity. Nowhere is this disparity more evident than in the criminal justice system.

It is universally understood that the justice system should be fair — and that those who violate the law should be held accountable, pay their dues, and move on. But too often, justice comes only for those who can afford it. And all of us pay the price.

Consider the case of Damian Stinnie. A product of Virginia’s foster care system, Damian graduated from high school with a 3.9 grade point average and went right to work, making close to minimum wage. Then he lost his job. In the four months it took for him to find a new position — another low-paying job in retail — he received four traffic citations. The total owed on the resulting fines and four sets of court costs was just over $1,000.

Making only about $300 a week, Damian could not pay his fines and fees in 30 days. The court gave him no other payment options. Instead, with no notice and no inquiry into his ability to pay, his driver’s license was automatically suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

As a result, Damian was caught between two untenable choices: risking more fines and possible jail time if caught driving with a suspended license, or losing his job because he didn’t have a way to get to work. Months later, when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, he then had to choose between breaking the law and making his doctors’ appointments.

Second, license suspension for conduct other than drunken driving makes us less safe by diverting resources from critical public safety concerns to arresting, prosecuting, adjudicating and sometimes incarcerating defendants for license suspension cases.

How can we stop this troubling and growing trend?

 

This type of commonsense criminal justice reform has strong bipartisan support. Even in a divided nation, we can agree that our criminal justice system must dispense justice fairly and equally, and that policies disproportionately punishing the poorest among us have no place in our courts.

Marc Levin is policy director of Right on Crime. Joanna Weiss is director of Criminal Justice Reform, The Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

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Driving toward legal driving

By Shira Schoenberg | sschoenberg@repub.com
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on March 23, 2016 at 2:30 PM

Beacon Hill

BOSTON – The Massachusetts House passed a bill on Wednesday repealing the automatic license suspension of anyone convicted of a drug crime.

“Over time, we’ve come to realize … a driver’s license, for someone who’s been convicted, paid their price, is important if we also want them to get back into society, get a job, support their family and meet those responsibilities,” said state Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation.

The bill, H.4088, passed the House unanimously, by a vote of 156-0, with little discussion.

Both the House and the Senate passed similar bills earlier this session, but differences between the House and Senate versions had to be worked out by a team of negotiators. That conference committee released a final version of the bill last week.

The bill will now go to the Senate and then to Gov. Charlie Baker. Baker has said he supports the concept behind the bill.

Under current law, established in 1989, anyone convicted of a drug-related crime, whether or not it relates to a motor vehicle, has his license suspended for between six months and five years. The offender must pay a fine of at least $500 to have their license reinstated.

The law was put in place during the federal war on drugs, as part of a crackdown on illegal drug use. Advocates for prisoners have since argued that the license suspension is unrelated to the crime, and the suspension makes it harder for offenders to reintegrate into society after they served their sentence. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has backed the bill, along with several sheriffs and district attorneys.

The bill that passed the House would eliminate the license suspension for most drug crimes – including the possession and sale of drugs. It would keep a five-year license suspension in place for anyone convicted of trafficking in cocaine, fentanyl, heroin or other opiates – although someone convicted of these offenses can apply for a hardship license.

Anyone whose license was already suspended would have it reinstated within 30 days of the bill being signed into law. Records of suspensions would be shielded from public access. The bill would repeal the current $500 license reinstatement fine.

A judge could still suspend someone’s license for a crime related to driving.