Melissa Stephens was forced to uproot her three children and relocate from their hometown of Wichita, Kansas to Las Vegas, Nevada because of about $8000 of traffic ticket debt. Her woes started in 2004 when she was ticketed for driving uninsured. Stephens couldn’t afford insurance at the time, but she still needed to drive to support herself and her family. Her mom was addicted to drugs and she didn’t have anybody else that she could depend on for financial support. Later on in 2004, Stephens was ticketed again and the fines attached to both of those infractions became delinquent. She received a notice in the mail stating that her driver’s license would be suspended, but Wichita’s subpar public transportation system and expensive Ubers didn’t leave her another choice besides to continue driving.
Stephens received multiple tickets for driving on a suspended license because she had no way of getting her children to school, to go grocery shopping, or accomplish simple, everyday tasks. The same officer kept stopping and citing her. She appeared in court at least ten times, which occasionally prevented her from going to work. Stephens also had a warrant issued for her arrest after she missed a hearing related to her ticket debt. When the court finally offered Stephens a payment plan, she was so far in debt that she didn’t opt into it, thinking that it was a lost cause and wouldn’t help. She was able to pay off $500 of her total outstanding balance.
The last time Stephens was ticketed for driving on a suspended license, she was arrested, jailed for 90 days, and ordered to serve a term of probation. She couldn’t see a way out of this situation except to start over in a new state where the public transit system is more accessible and the ubers are more available and affordable. Stephens found both of these in Las Vegas which led her to move there. As of October 2019, she was about to finish college and she hadn’t earned any new tickets. However, her unpaid fines and fees from Wichita are still hanging over her head and she doesn’t know when or how she’ll be able to settle this debt.