The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with other advocacy groups, has filed a lawsuit against the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for revoking the licenses of drivers unable to pay traffic fines and court fees.
Currently, motorists who fail to pay traffic fines are sent a notice informing them that their license will be automatically revoked in 60 days if the fines are not paid. The notice does not, however, inform recipients of their right to demonstrate an inability to pay the fine in court.
The lawsuit, filed on May 30 in conjunction with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), alleges that this process is a violation of the 14th Amendment and due process rights. It also points to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bearden v. Georgia, which determined that the ability to pay must be considered in court punishments.
“If you are in a position where you can’t pay because you don't have the means, that is something the court must take into consideration,” said Cristina Becker, criminal justice debt fellow for the ACLU. “Certainly when they’re taking away something like a driver’s license, which in this state could mean your livelihood.”
Becker said that over 90 percent of North Carolinians rely on a driver’s license to get to work, making license revocations particularly damaging to families who are already low-income. According to the North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Plan, 81 percent of employed adults drive alone to work, while 10 percent carpool.