Should the California Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) suspend Driver Licenses for unpaid tickets / citations ?

You are a responsible person.  We have all been there.  You get a ticket – for anything, ranging from an Expired Parking Meter, Overnight Parking (in Beverly Hills, for example), No Parking During Rush Hour, “Rolling through” a residential Stop Sign, Photographic Intersection, Expired Registration, or even Exceeding Posted Speed Limit or speeding, etc.

For whatever reason, you never knew you’d received a Citation, never got a Court Date, or missed a Court Date, or did not have the money to pay the ticket.  You did not pay the ticket in a timely manner.  Next, your unpaid ticket account is turned over to a Cunning Collection Agency, and your amount owed doubles, even triples overnight.

Now you are faced with a dilemma, since you get a notice of suspension of your Driver License from the DMV and/or a collection agency (GC Services in LA County).  After swearing loudly, you either have to pay the ticket amount, plus a fine for your failure to appear in Court, or have your Driver License suspended.  If the latter takes place, you may not even realize it, but you are now on the proverbial slippery slope, sliding into the “Alice in Wonderland” universe of California Criminal Law.

If you (foolishly) take the risk of driving with a Suspended Driver License, you risk the possibility of being arrested and charged with a misdemeanor, i.e., driving on a suspended License.  You are then facing probation, fines and a dizzying access to the criminal “justice system” on the wrong side of the case caption (People of the State of California versus YOU).

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 But if you do NOT (foolishly) take the risk of driving with a Suspended Driver License, how are you going to earn a living ?  How will you ever support yourself and your family, and how will you pay off the tickets ?

However, just when you’re about to dial your Star Trek Phone, and say, “Beam me Up, Scottie” …. there is hope on the horizon !

There is now pending California State Legislation that would strip the DMV of their power to Suspend Driver Licenses for such minor missteps.

The question then becomes, should we allow the DMV to issue these Driver License Suspensions without the benefit of a Court Hearing in the first instance?

What happened to due process and the right to be heard?

The courts are geared to be large collection agencies for traffic tickets and minor traffic offenses.  Each day large numbers of people are herded through the system and have to pay either that day or over time (with another fee tacked on) for various traffic offenses.

If you do not have money to pay the fine, you may never get out of debt and could lose your right to legally drive.  The DMV can use civil remedies once they obtain a judgment against a defendant (you) if they can prove that there was notice given to the Defendant, and an opportunity to be heard.  By the way, who among us has never had something mis-delivered or not delivered by the U.S. Post Office at some point in time?

Shouldn’t we use our Court System for better things?  

Shouldn’t we not be complicit in allowing the Courts to act as a collection agency against those who either cannot afford the ticket payment, or who never got notice of the ticket and/or suspension in the first place?

Right now, the California Civil Justice system is way, way overloaded.  There are simply not enough Judges or Courtrooms to go around.  Various judges from the Criminal Courts are getting additional training to preside over civil cases.  Civil cases are being delayed for longer and longer time periods.  Both the United States Constitution and the California State Constitution guarantee case priority to criminal defendants because they are dealing with life and liberty, not just money.

However, in the case of poor, unfortunate individuals, or of those who did not even get notice of their traffic ticket and/or court date, we are dealing with both.

What say you ?