Drug War

Twelve States Suspended 190,000 Driver's Licenses Last Year for Drug Offenses

Virginia alone suspended nearly 39,000 drivers licenses for drug convictions in 2015, according to a new report.


License suspensions for drug offenses in FY2015 // Prison Policy Initiative

Tens of thousands of people across the U.S. have their licenses suspended for drug offenses, according to a report released this week by the Prison Policy Initiative.

The Prison Policy Initiative report found 12 states and the District of Columbia suspended more than 190,000 drivers licenses in fiscal year 2015 for non-driving-related drug offenses. Virginia suspended the most, with just under 38,849, followed by Michigan with 26,459 and Florida at 24,430.

States suspend hundreds of thousands of licenses a year for a variety of reasons, from failure to pay child support, to unpaid court fines or student debt, to littering. However, civil liberties groups have started pushing back against those laws recently in a number of states.

The Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit criminal justice advocacy group, says such practices are costly, ineffective, and needlessly harsh, placing a huge burden on the low-income residents who are disproportionately impacted by license suspensions.

"These drug suspension laws are one of the most punitive and unnecessary side effects of the War on Drugs," Joshua Aiken, a policy fellow at the Prison Policy Initiative, said in a press release. "The report finds that the burden of these suspensions fall most heavily on low-income people and people of color."

Spurred by a 1991 federal law that tied state highway funding to prosecuting the drug war, many states passed laws hitting drug offenders with six-month automatic drivers license suspensions. Thirty-eight states have since opted out of the law and dramatically reduced license suspensions for non-driving offenses, including drug crimes.

For example, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a bill into law in june, passed by near unanimous votes in both the state senate and house, ending mandatory suspensions of drivers licenses for drug offenses. According to the state senate, there were around 150,00 Ohioans who had their licenses suspended for non-moving violations.

Washington state stopped suspending licenses for unpaid court fines related to non-moving violations in 2013. Since then, suspensions have dropped by half, The New York Times reported last year, and the state estimated that it saved 4,500 hours of highway patrol troopers' time.

Other states that have reversed laws automatically suspending licenses for drug offenses include Massachusetts, Georgia, Indiana, and Delaware.

Civil liberties groups argue such license suspensions leave people unable to get to work, making them choose between driving on a suspended license—risking more fines and court fees, and a downward spiral of debt—or possibly losing their job.

In addition, states that maintain the practice also require people to pay fees as high as $275 to have their license reinstated—yet another heavy hit on the wallet for a low-income offender.

As Reason reported earlier this year, Virginia also has a particularly aggressive program to suspend licenses for nonpayment of court fines. There are about 900,000 Virginia residents—roughly 11 percent of the state population—who have suspended licenses at any given time in the state.

A nonprofit legal group, the Legal Aid Justice Center, is currently suing the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles over the state's suspension policies, which it argue violate poor defendants constitutional rights by not taking into account whether they have the ability to pay the fines and fees in the first place.

In November, the Justice Department filed a statement of interest in the case, siding with the Legal Aid Justice Center, which it says has a "plausible claim" that the state is abridging indigent defendants' 14th Amendment rights.

"Suspending the driver's licenses of those who fail to pay fines or fees without inquiring into whether that failure to pay was willful or instead the result of an inability to pay may result in penalizing indigent individuals solely because of their poverty," the Justice Department said.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Supreme Court quietly passed a new rule in November requiring judges to take into account a defendant's ability to pay when levying fines and fees.

In a Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial on Monday, the newspaper argued the state legislature should follow their high court's lead by introducing bills amending the state laws:

"Driving might be a privilege, but it is not merely a privilege. It is one means by which people exercise their right to move about freely from place to place, and revoking driving privileges sharply curtails that right," the editorial board wrote. "License suspensions should not be the go-to penalty they have become; governments should take away driving privileges only when an individual demonstrates that he can't be trusted with them. In short, only driving offenses — DUI, reckless driving, vehicular manslaughter — should carry driving consequences. Let the punishment fit the crime."

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  1. I keep telling people that Virginia will be the last to legalize any kind of drug for medical or recreation. Nobody believes me. This is just one more check mark on “Why Virginia is more backward than Mississippi”.

    1. You know I’ve noticed that Virginia’s name seems to come up in any discussion of retarded state policies. What’s the deal there, anyway?

      1. I blame Tonio.

        1. But it probably has more to do with one of Virginia’s major population centers being the DC suburbs and the other one being the largest naval base in the world. It’s bureaucrats, rent seekers, and shills all the way down.

        2. Heh, good one, Citizen.

      2. We have decent taxes (compared to DC & MD) and a decent bidness climate, but it seems like the whole state is full of moral panic retards, both liberal and conservative. There’s the fear-mongering phobics in the conservative rural areas and fear-mongering soccer moms in NoVA and Charlottesville. And they all believe the hype about every new bad thing that comes down the pike.

        1. NoVA is definitely derptastic. I didn’t think Charlottesville was large enough to have much influence. It’s not much bigger than Fburg but without the surrounding suburbs.

          1. Charlottesville looms large, especially in the minds of Charlottesvillians.

            /former Charlottesville inhabitant

            1. Must be because they have UVA instead of UMW. They also have Mellow Mushroom.

              1. Mellow Mushroom is pretty good, as long as you’ve got something to do for the five or so hours it takes them to make your pizza.

                Side note: University Of Mary Washington is not a dumb name for a school AT ALL.

                1. It’s hers. Why do you want to take it away? The name is better than the original
                  State Normal and Industrial School for Woman at Fredericksburg.

                  I seem to hit MM when it isn’t busy.

                  1. I went there with my roommate once. We were the only customers. There were five people in the kitchen. It only took us two hours to get our pizza that time.

                    1. We have one. Not too bad of a wait, and some of their pizzas are decent.

                2. Heh…..my sister is a Mary Washington alum. In fact, she was a student there when they went from Mary Washington College to University of Mary Washington, and thought that it was a terrible change.

                  As far as pizza goes, there was an Italian place in Barracks Road Shopping Center that had excellent NY-style pizza, but it’s long gone now. Can’t remember the name of it now. This was in the late ’90s. The girl who lived in the apartment next to me during my second year who was unbearable adorable had a part time job there as a waitress.

              2. Gumby’s was better. Well, actually Gumby’s was the worst, but it was great for being awful. Are they even still in business?

                1. Fucking Gumby’s Pizza used to deliver a cheeseless pepperoni & onion pie to my lactose-intolerant housemate every Monday night. It smelled exactly like an armpit. You couldn’t even be in the room with him when he ate it.

          2. Along with NoVA, it’s one of the only prog strongholds in the state. You can kind of lump it in with NoVA, politically.

            1. The way that 29N tendril is growing, you can almost lump it in with NoVa physically as well.

              1. I need to get plugged in with y’all NoVa reasonites. I’m moving from Dallas out there in mid January, and I’ll need to know where all the good bars are.

                1. I ain’t the one to ask, as I’m an introvert and somewhat of a teetotaler.

                  My absolute favorite bar in Old Town closed down a few years ago and now it’s a tourist-friendly Mexican restaurant (it was a crappy dive with live Bluegrass on the weekends, and open mic on weekdays).

                  1. Ha, I was actually kinda kidding about the bar thing. The wife’s pregnant, so she wouldn’t appreciate me dragging her into a bar. I figured it would break the ice more than anything and get people talking about things to do in the area.

                    My wife and I are moving out there blind (minus a couple weeks we spent out there this summer), so we’re just looking for any suggestions of things to do, fun places to visit, etc.

                    1. Where are you moving to in noVA?

                    2. about 10 min NE of Gainesville. Just north of the battlefield.

                    3. I don’t know that area well. I only recall the battlefield and the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles.

              2. 29N is becoming an isthmus of leftist stupidity in a sea of rightist stupidity.

          3. But Charlottesville and the surrounding areas is where the money lives, so has outsized influence on opinion even if it lacks votes.

            1. The money is up north in Loudoun, Fairfax and Arlington. Even Stafford and Spotsyltucky have higher median incomes than Charlottesville and surrounding counties.

              1. Median, perhaps, but it’s a really big spread. The real, often old, money lives in Albemarle and Loudoun – horse country, Shenandoah valley.

                1. Ah, ok. Fburg hasn’t had those people since the Washingtons moved on.

                2. Yup. Cville/Albemarle County tends to have mostly people who are really rich or dirt poor. Not all that much in the way of middle class there. A whole lot of polo is played in Albemarle.

    2. Virginia: Come because you can’t go around it. Stay because you’ve been arrested.

      1. Virginia is for lovers of police abuse.

        1. It’s a fine tradition that dates before the Civil War.

    3. Mississippi actually has rather decent Marijuana laws in place: http://www.clarionledger.com/s…../13268245/

      I’ve heard that this is partially due to the state’s large black population which has had some influence on state politics despite the overwhelming Republican dominance there.

      Also Mississippi’s Attorney General filed a brief in Gonzales v. Raich back in 2005 siding with California on its Medical Marijuana law, taking the “states rights” position on the issue. So there you go one really good thing about the state of Mississippi.

  2. On a per drug user basis, FL comes in lower than I would have guessed.

    1. Law enforcement there has bigger fish to fry. Often, literally.

      Also, how many Florida Men actually have drivers’ licenses, or any other non-fraudulent form of identification for that matter?

    2. Of course, the reality is that Florida is a diverse and quite large state. With no income tax, which attracts the wise and the crazy.

      1. Also, unless you are an iguana, it is hard to freeze to death outside in the winter.

        1. Note that we live above the python line.

          1. But well below the bum/mentally-unstable line.

            1. I keep telling you that Pinellas is trouble.

          2. My python line is so big that you need oxygen masks to live above it.

            /this is how we’re supposed to do it, right?


    3. I thought in Florida it was more of a drugs per user thing.

      1. It’s actually just one guy.

        1. You seem to know an awful lot about this.

  3. I have the honor of having had my license suspended in DC. I let my insurance lapse for a month. Took them 3 years to figure it out and bring me in for adjudication. When I got the notice that I couldn’t renew my tags because of insurance, it took me forever to track down WTF they were talking about.

    1. My vehicle registration lapsed. I noticed about a month late. Virginia simply backdated the renewal to the expiration without penalties. Letting your safety inspection expire is a capital offense.

      1. I think they give you one registration freebie – i let mine lapse for seven months when i was a dumb teenage, and they goddamn prorated it. A couple years later it happened again, and guess what? $180 ticket and a court date.

        It is true about the expired inspection. Kneel on the side of the road, two bullets in the back of the head.

        1. The State Police take safety inspections excessively (more so then they normally do) because it is their program. The DMV doesn’t care if you have a tag, but warned me about the police when I transferred my registration.

          For you furners watch out for the 80mph reckless driving technicality. It’s the lower of 20 over or 80. Easy to hit in the 70mph zones.

          1. There is one thing* that all MD drivers know, and that is do not fuck with VA police.

            * = I mean this quite literally, as in MD drivers know nothing else except this (not the rules of the road, not how to drive in inclement weather, etc.)

            1. MD drivers are particular targets. I think it is because they assume you are actually from Virginia but registering in MD to avoid the PPT.

    2. So did you just not drive during those three years or did you say ‘eff you’ to the man?

    3. Drove around without a valid drivers license for over a year b/c I insured my vehicles in TX, but decided I would just wait after TX jerked me around on my license. I think I paid an extra $125 to get my license reinstated when I re-registered my vehicles in FL, not knowing that I could get the whole guns-drawn-you’re-going-to-jail treatment if I was pulled over.

      1. Drove around without a valid drivers license for over a year

        You crazy bastard.

        1. As God is my witness, I thought it was valid. Mostly because I glanced at the threatening letter from the state I no longer resided in, and threw it in the trash like a good libertarian.

      2. How many people did you kill? Clearly you weren’t competent to drive without state certification.

  4. I have a friend here in Virginia that was recently charged with marijuana possession and had her license suspended. She has to take ASAP classes to keep the charge off her record. There is no way to get to the classes other than driving, so the suspended license is a two edged sword. Why can’t the government just let people put what they want in their bodies without having to get involved?

    1. Because WHAT ABOUT TEH CHIDLRUN?!?!?111?!!?/!?1

    2. Something, something FYTW.

  5. Civil liberties groups argue such license suspensions leave people unable to get to work, making them choose between driving on a suspended license?risking more fines and court fees, and a downward spiral of debt?or possibly losing their job.

    It’s called welfare – get on it.

    I would have lost my job because of my DUI, but I was allowed to keep my license, though only with an interlock device installed, which makes sense for anyone with a DUI. So, the judges and district attorneys are well aware of thae negative consequences of a drivers license suspension, they just do not care about them. Also, I kept the license because I’m white.*

    *’Sup ladies.

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