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Lawsuit: NC DMV license revocation rules hurt state's poor drivers
Class action filing alleges burden to low-income
Published Wednesday, March 20, 2019 10:18 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

A class action lawsuit aims  to force North Carolina to reduce the burden of revoking driver’s licenses on the poor.

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Seti Johnson couldn’t afford to drive.

The Charlotte resident had to decide between paying off hundreds of dollars in traffic tickets and court costs or rent. He chose to clear the legal obligations, and lost his home. As a result, he’s suing the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles over rules he says punishes low-income residents.

The class-action federal lawsuit – Johnson v. Jessup – aims to change DMV’s policy to revoke licenses over unpaid fines and court costs, which plaintiffs say is predatory and violates state and federal law. The trial started last week in Winston-Salem.

“I can understand if you do trouble and you get tickets and you decide to make certain decisions and get pulled over, but it was at the point where the minute I leave my neighborhood they didn’t even have to read my tags to see if my car was good or not before they would turn around and pull me over just because they notice my car,” said Johnson, 28. “It’s really hard because I basically had to choose my tickets over my rent, which is why I’m back in Charlotte now.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina and Southern Coalition for Social Justice are litigating to block DMV’s practice, which they contend forces the poor deeper into poverty and violates the U.S. Constitution’s due process and equal protection guarantees under the 14th Amendment.

The suit challenges DMV’s automatic revocations without providing notice of alternatives to full payment under state law and a hearing to ensure indigent drivers won’t lose their license.

In addition to Johnson, three other N.C. residents are plaintiffs, including Sharee Smoot of Cabarrus County.

During a 2017 traffic stop in Cabarrus County, where he lived at the time, Johnson learned his license had been revoked for unpaid traffic tickets. He was forced to use rent money to pay off more than $700 to reinstate his license, but was ticketed again for driving with a revoked license. The married father of three ultimately had to move in with family.

The charge was ultimately reduced, and Johnson was ordered to pay a $100 fine and $208 in court costs. Johnson was able to pay only $100, which resulted in an additional $20 fee because he couldn’t pay in full that day. Without a job, he struggled to pay the remainder and fears he’s more at risk of losing his license.

The plaintiffs contend DMV’s policy strips low-income drivers who can’t afford fines and court costs of the means to support themselves and their families.

Without a license, more people will struggle to find work or stay unemployed as well as carry out obligations such as taking children to school or shopping. More than 436,000 drivers had their licenses indefinitely revoked by DMV for failure to pay fines and costs as of fall 2017.

The plaintiffs want North Carolina law and the DMV’s revocation practices declared unconstitutional and restore licenses taken for nonpayment. They also want an injunction to prevent DMV from revoking licenses for nonpayment without providing sufficient notice and a hearing to determine whether drivers willfully didn’t pay.

When the DMV is notified that a driver hasn’t paid a traffic fine or court cost, it enters a revocation order that becomes effective 60 days after mailing the notice. The order does not advise drivers they can petition for a hearing to keep their license – only that outstanding payments


Once in the DMV taking care of all the citations that I was ticketed for, so I could have everything ready to prove to the court that I complied w the tickets, I would end up either w my car breaking down or couldn't find a ride. Yet after paying for everything right there at the DMV, why can't the tickets bevexponged at that point in time? Why do I have to travel once again to another facility to show and prove just somebody in a courtroom that I have legalized my driving privileges? Especially when I'm at the DMV taking care of my driving privileges. I own a 1982 Ford F100. Yes it might be a timepiece but it does have its problems. So in the event that I've taken care of my tickets yet I don't make it to the court date I get penalized twice for something that I took care of initially to begin with anyway. That right there is breaking the law when a person is standing at the DMV paying sometimes up to 3 to $500 to get my car legalized and to pay the tickets off why can't they just scratch them when you're standing there taking care of it? So yet if I miss the court date that I'm getting charged all over again for something that is out of my control. Just like , I went to the DMV and they dismissed a ticket. Yet but for some reason I got a letter in the mail saying that my license will be suspended because I didn't go to court. Now I this has happened three times already just in 2019. Transportation nightmares. I don't live on a bus line. I'm on a fixed income. Yet I have to drive they just need to quit tearing down all the trees and building all these ridiculous shopping centers just keep a couple of available open for people to be able to get food at we don't need money and buildings all over the place. Have a nice day.
Posted on May 10, 2019
Its a shame how the Police Dept. choice the people they want to harass on the road, while other drivers especially out of towners who have moved here still carrying the car tags from their previous State & drivers license too, NY, Virginia and more states, Etc. You people need God in your lives to stop all this EVIL stuff that's going on.
Posted on March 24, 2019
Im in that same situation.a navy vet trying to make a living,because of ticket in another state not even a traffic violence Accident not my fault didn't know I had a ticket anyway I have gotten stop 4 times in 1.5 months reason my tags were reported missing or loss is that what they are using now had to get a lawyer that I can't afford
Posted on March 21, 2019

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