Between 2016 and 2017, Nichole Norris, a rural California resident, received three seatbelt tickets and another citation for not having car insurance. These tickets amounted to a whopping $4000. At the time, she could not afford to pay for these tickets seeing as how her strained finances caused her to have a lapse in insurance in the first place. Norris’ inability to pay for these tickets led to a license suspension which she was not aware of until an officer told her about it during a routine traffic stop. For a large part of her adult life, Norris has lived in rural areas and was living in a rural part of California when she was ticketed. Because there is no public transportation near her home, no one could drive her where she needed to go, and the fact that it already takes her at least 45 minutes to drive to work, Norris made the difficult decision to continue to drive despite her suspension, as many other Americans do who find themselves in the same situation.
In some parts of the country, unpaid fines are taken over by collection agencies, but in Norris’ case, her employer received multiple letters about garnishing her check. As a current law student, Norris attempted to contest her tickets and spent 100 plus hours litigating her case in court. When she lost, the judge gave her the maximum fine. Norris struggled so much to pay off her fines and fees that she couldn’t pay her electric bill, her services were cut off, and her landlord evicted her. She tried her best to gain some relief from her looming debt by calling many offices and she finally connected with someone at a Tax Franchise company who assessed her finances. He concluded that she had little to no discretionary income after covering her monthly necessities and granted her a $25 monthly payment plan. As a new mother, she was relieved and thankful for this accommodation, but the stress and worry of missing a payment still stuck with her as she cared for her newborn child and juggled all of her other responsibilities.
One would think that this situation was resolved but Norris received a letter in the mail that stated her license would be suspended in June 2019 if she doesn’t pay $150 for her tickets, despite her commitment to her payment plan.
Norris’ story highlights the fact that even people who have the know-how to navigate the legal system and play an active role in their defense still struggle to gain relief from their court fines and fees. Also, it shows that entering into a payment plan does not always eliminate the risk of a failure-to-pay license suspension.