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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Driver's License Cannot Be Suspended For Non-Payment of Traffic Fines

A federal judge has enjoined the Michigan Secretary of State from suspending drivers' licenses for failure to pay fines related to traffic tickets; for now anyway.

As should be the case, Michigan takes driving privileges very seriously. If you neglect to pay fines here in Michigan, even traffic tickets, your license can be suspended as a matter of law.

United States Federal Judge Linda Parker disrupted the legal landscape in this regard, enjoining the State of Michigan from suspending drivers' licenses for the failure to pay traffic ticket fines. In a federal class action law suit, Judge Parker determined that the drivers were likely to prevail on the merits that their licenses were suspended without due process.

Plaintiffs in the class action law suit, two drivers from the Detroit area, claimed Michigan's fine and suspension scheme was fundamentally unfair against; that it essentially equated to a "debtor's prison", unevenly punishing low income drivers. Specifically, the drivers claimed the statutory scheme violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the constitution.

Judge Parker ruled that drivers, at a minimum, are entitled to notice of an "ability-to-pay" hearing. In issuing her injunction against the state, she noted the significant interest people in Michigan have in maintaining a driver's license: the ability to get to and from work in a state that lacks an extensive public transportation system.

The current state of Michigan law as it relates to unpaid traffic citations, is that failure to pay 3 traffic tickets results in a license suspension. Legislation scheduled to take effect yesterday, increasing the number of unpaid tickets from 3 to 6, was rescinded by Governor Snyder; so the number of unpaid tickets that could result in losing your license remains at three.

When a driver's license is suspended, either through failure to pay traffic fines, or from an alcohol-related driving conviction, a "driver responsibility fee" is assessed that must be paid prior to re-issuance of the license. The amount of the fee depends on the underlying reason for the suspension. Although Michigan has maintained a robust fee structure to reinstate a driver's license, these fees are being phased-out by statute and will soon be eliminated.

In the drivers' class action law suit, the state asked the judge to stay her ruling so they could appeal her ruling, asserting that the judge tossed a proverbial "wrench" into the gears of a fast-churning machine.

Of course, with stakes this high, the Secretary of State immediately filed an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The appellate court did grant the state's request for a stay, but only for 30-days:
[t]he State argues that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to comply fully with the preliminary injunction in the immediate future. The injunction is broad in scope and provides very little direction as to what specific actions should be taken to comply with the constitutional due process requirements. Clearly, additional notice about the procedures available to persons facing license suspension is contemplated.
This limited stay was issued by the appellate court clerk; the full appeal will not be filed for several months.

The end-result in this case will be significant to both the drivers in our state, as well as the State of Michigan. We will monitor the case and report all of the significant developments.

Related Article: Federal judge eliminates bail for misdemeanors; click here.

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