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A federal judge has reinstated the drivers' licenses of two Tennessee residents, thanks to a class action lawsuit challenging the state's practice of suspending licenses for unpaid traffic fines. The suit is still ongoing, but the reinstatement is a good sign; groups representing the plaintiffs say this may be the first court decision of its kind.
Attorneys for Civil Rights Corps, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, Just City, and the law firm Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz filed the federal suit in September on behalf of what they say are more than a quarter of a million Tennessee residents whose licenses were suspended for unpaid traffic fines. These suspensions occur, the lawsuit says, without notifications or consideration of ability to pay, violating the Constitution's due process and equal protection clauses.
Tennessee - Residents - Fred - Robinson - Ashley
Two of those Tennessee residents are Fred Robinson and Ashley Sprague. According to the lawsuit, Robinson, 32, suffers from serious medical conditions, cannot work, and barely subsists on Social Security payments. Sprague is a mother of five who makes under $3 an hour as a Waffle House server.
Both Robinson and Sprague accrued misdemeanor traffic fines of several hundred dollars, and when they failed to pay, their drivers' licenses were suspended. Both were also told, when they tried to make partial payments, that no such installment plans were allowed. In addition to their other fines, they must now pay another $200 fee to have their licenses reinstated.
Liberties - Groups - Suspension - Laws - Meant
Civil liberties groups argue that such license suspension laws, meant to deter scofflaws, instead trap poor residents in a spiral of debt, leaving them unable to drive to work to pay off their fines without racking up even more debt—and possible jail time for driving on a suspended license. A September report from the Legal Aid Justice Center found that there are currently...
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