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Lawsuit claims license suspensions have unintended consequences

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A new report from the Legal Justice Aid Center shows roughly 100,000 Michiganders currently have their driver’s licenses suspended because of a failure to pay court fees.

Angela Ciolfi is a study author. She said Michigan is one of five states that Ciolfi is a study author. She said Michigan is one of five states that require judges to suspend the licenses of people unable to pay their fines.

“It’s counterproductive because it sets up a vicious cycle where people who can pay do, but those who can’t pay lose their licenses and suffer a never-ending death spiral of debt and incarceration.”

Ciolfi said the practice of license suspension began 40-years ago.

“In the 70’s the Supreme Court said you can’t put people in jail just because they are poor. So states started looking for other ways to punish people for failure to pay and drivers license suspension became a convenient option.”

She said the practice unfairly targets low-income Americans.

“Funding the courts based on amounts it collects from people who come before them runs contrary to any basic notions of justice and fairness. Why should someone who makes one hundred dollars an hour pay the same as someone who makes $7.25 an hour, that is not equal justice.”

Ciolfi said courts need to work with offenders to help pay back fines or, in cases where any payment would be too much, find alternatives to payment, such as community service.

A federal lawsuit is underway against the state of Michigan aimed at ending the practice.