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Lawsuit pushes back on drivers license suspensions

Michael Gil

A civil rights groups filed suit filed against the Michigan Secretary of State last week.

The suit argues it is unconstitutional to suspend the licenses of drivers who can’t afford to pay their fines.

Phil Telfeyan is the Executive Director of  Washington DC based, Equal Justice Under Law, which filed the suit.

He said the state routinely adds on late fees and fines and eventually suspends the license of someone who can’t pay.

“Michigan’s policy completely undercuts any interest it might have. Michigan’s goal of course is to recoup that court debt, they want to get their court debt repaid. But by taking away driving ability we’ve seen that it creatives instability in employment that makes it much much harder for the state to recoup the debt that it wants to recoup.”

Telfeyan said one of the plaintiffs in their case started with an initial fine of 135 dollars, but after additional fines and fees levied by the state now has a bill of over two thousand dollars.

He said the state needs to work with residents who struggle to pay fines.

“Unlike many other states Michigan's suspense of licences for unpaid debt is automatic. The secretary of state does it automatically after a certain amount of time has passed. It doesn’t inquire into someone's ability to pay it doesn’t give the option of lower monthly payments.”

Telfeyan says his group advocates for payment plans, community service, or tickets that reflect the income level of the people who pay them.

He said the case is awaiting a court date.

The Michigan Secretary of State declined to comment, saying it does not comment on pending litigation.