8 Comments

  • Is it really unconstitutional for a state to condition the privilege of driving on payment of fines?

    I like the result, but . . . . .

    One way to skin the car–find out the error rate–how many times does the state erroneously yank a drivers license? Deem it unacceptable and enjoin the state from ever making a mistake again. Then the state won’t do it.

    • I think the key bit is about how the rational basis test is hard to fail, but Tennessee managed to fail it anyway. If license denial is subjected to a rational basis test, then the courts will nearly all the time defer to states’ treatment of it as a privilege on which many conditions can be placed. And even if Tennessee this time did such a bad job of defending its fines and fees practice that it could not get over that low threshold, it could still try again, I believe, by re-enacting a rule after laying out a better trail of findings and rationales and the court would approach that new law deferentially.

      • That’s a bad road to go down—state is now playing “mother may I” with some federal judge.

        The opinion has a surreal quality about it (and it suffers from the same sort of deficiencies that Scalia identified in his Plata dissent). The issue here is really legal—can Tennessee condition the privilege of driving on not being delinquent on debts owed to the state? We all know that public transportation won’t get it done and that walking isn’t an option. And I am not sure Tennessee did a bad job. The defense should be strictly legal—yeah, we get to do this. Getting into the ramifications of people losing their license is silly and a waste of time. By forcing the state into this nonsense (and it is), you allow judges to be legislators.

        I think the policy is bad. But I also think the court’s opinion leaves a ton to be desired—in particular the “driving on suspended license” riff, which basically condones a scofflaw.

  • “Is it really unconstitutional for a state to condition the privilege of driving on payment of fines?”

    Maybe, maybe not. The reasoning of the listed court decision is a little thing.

    Either way it’s a stupid policy as is.

    1. If the reason for non payment is due to inability to pay (poverty), at best, you just make it harder for the person to ever pay the fine as they may not be able to work without a car.

    2. Many people continue to drive anyway, out of necessity. Here in Wisconsin, close to 90% of cases in traffic courts are driving after suspension/revocation.

    The policy would make sense, if and only if there was a means test attached to it and you only do the suspension if the defendant has the means to pay.

    I’ve seen people respond to this with “we can’t just let them off because they are poor.”

    If you are in that group, you have three options.

    1. Accept that you can’t squeeze blood from a rock.

    2. Offer them an installment plan on the fine that fits within their income/budget.

    3. Toss them in jail, because the fine is never going to be paid anyway. Of course if the original fine was a municipal citation where the municipality is using fines as a primary source of revenue, this is actually the worst option for the municipality, as jailing the the person for even one day will in most cases cost the city more than simply forgiving the fine.

    • I would say that there are a couple of other options that could be tried.

      First, suspend the license for non-work activities. That is done here in Florida for people seeking to get their licenses back from being suspended after a DUI. People can drive to work and make money, they just can’t drive elsewhere.

      Secondly, allow a simple payment plan with no interest. (You mention an installment plan, I am going further with a “no interest” plan.)

      Finally, one wonders as once the license is suspended, the insurance goes with it (it cannot be renewed) where the money for the insurance is going. Couldn’t it go to the fine?

      As most of the infractions are for suspended licenses based on failure to insure, one would think that the states would look at the insurance requirement itself, but we aren’t holding our breath for the end of that boondoggle.

  • 1. For a person living on the edge of poverty, how are they supposed to get food to feed themselves (and possibly the family) if they can ONLY drive to work and back. NOT a viable solution for a poor single parent with no other driver in the family.

    2. most states aren’t willing to offer installment plans with interest for payment of fines by people with limited means. What make you think an interest free installment plan would be politically viable.

    3. The working poor, if they can afford the insurance at all (as you state many simply go without) the insurance they have is likely relatively inexpensive, because they are only carrying the minimum liability insurance and have nothing to cover damages on their own vehicle (as it likely isn’t worth much). Most fines are due in no more than one month. It wouldn’t be that rare for one monthly auto insurance payment for this group to not be enough to cover a fine.

    • 1. People feed themselves by going to a store and getting food. It happens here all the time. People can walk to a store, ride a bike, take public transportation, ride with a friend, etc.

      2. If states aren’t willing to offer a payment plan, maybe they should. That’s the whole point of the exercise, isn’t it? To get the fine paid? As for politically viable, with all the heat that are on the current situation, do you really think that doing nothing is politically viable?

      3. The case at hand has two distinct issues – one where the license was suspended after a year for non-payment. The other was where the license was suspended once the time frame for paying was passed. The second is problematic on its face as you point out.

      Still if you aren’t paying insurance, you can get the money together over time and most likely within a year. If not, that is where a payment plan comes in.

      Or maybe it is better to re-examine the insurance requirement altogether as it has been a boon for insurance companies and states, but not so much for all citizens.

      There has to be a balance that can be found in making sure people comply with the laws and not making them worse off because of their economic status. Or is your solution that people don’t have to follow the law and its deal with the consequences?

    • I think everyone agrees this is bad policy. The problem, of course, is that people can just blow off fines. Then, of course, you have situations where cops don’t care about things like people driving without insurance, which is wrong wrong wrong.

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