California’s 2017 omnibus budget bill included a provision that ends the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay fines and fees.
Amy Marie Palacios is a single mother with two children, who earned $20,090 in 2016 - below the federal poverty line for her three-person household. Her driver’s license was suspended in 2015 because she failed to pay the fine for a speeding ticket.
Ms. Corder drove to work with a suspended license because her job was her only source of income. She was stopped by law enforcement, received three new citations, and her car was impounded. As a result, she owed $1320 in fines and fees.
Plaintiffs allege that the Michigan Department of State’s automatic suspension of driver’s license of persons who owe court fines and fees, regardless of their ability to pay violates due process and equal protection.
Fowler’s license was suspended because she was unable to pay three traffic tickets, but she was never notified of the suspension. In the winter of 2013, her daughter developed a fever and she drove through an ice storm to take her to the hospital fearing the emergency vehicle services would take too long to come. On her way to the hospital, a police officer pulled her over. He allowed her to continue to the hospital but still issued a speeding ticket, which cost almost $600.00. She currently owes $2121 – an amount she simply could not afford.
Kitia Harris, a 25 year-old with an eight year-old daughter, suffers from interstitial cystitis, a chronic medical condition that makes her unable to work. Her driver’s license was automatically suspended because she owed $276 for unpaid court fines and fees.
This report is based on the authors’ research on traffic courts and driver’s license suspension practices in the San Francisco Bay Area. It details how much revenue courts collect from fines and fees, the harmful impacts those fees have on low-income Californians, and also advances several policy reform recommendations.
In late 2016, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors directed the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector to create a Fines and Fees Task Force (staffed by the Treasurer’s Financial Justice Project) to study the impact of fines and fees on San Franciscans & propose relevant reforms. About six months later, the Task Force published this initial report in order to provide an overview of fines and fees in San Francisco as well as an array of reform recommendations.
The Criminal Justice Debt Reform Builder is an online tool that allows users to quickly explore and assess fines and fees reform statutes in all 50 states.
This review of law and policy is the first-year report of a five-year study comprising quantitative and qualitative research that provides a detailed understanding of how fines and fees are imposed and enforced across the United States.