NC Court Eyes Policy that Revokes Drivers’ Licenses for Unpaid Fines

Antionette Kerr

RALEIGH, N.C. – A federal court began hearing arguments Wednesday about whether North Carolina’s process of notifying drivers that their license will be revoked is unconstitutional.

Arguments from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice allege that the current process forces low-income people further into poverty in violation of their due process and equal protection rights under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

ACLU of North Carolina spokeswoman Molly Rivera says the automatic revocation of licenses for nonpayment of court fees unfairly impacts people with economic challenges.

“Having your driver’s license is a basic necessity for most North Carolinians, especially in rural areas,” she stresses. “This practice punishes low-income people with the loss of their drivers’ licenses simply because they are poor. That’s unjust and unconstitutional.”

Proponents of the current process say that not all who are skipping out on their fines are poor. The current North Carolina statute requires the automatic revocation of licenses for nonpayment of a traffic ticket 40 days after a court judgment.

But the law does not require a hearing before the DMV revokes a license to ensure that people punished under the statute are actually able to pay their traffic costs.

On Wednesday, attorneys for the state argued that driving is not a right, but rather a privilege. Rivera disagrees.

“We know that, of course, people in North Carolina need their drivers’ licenses to take care of their families, go to work, bring their kids to school, go to doctors’ appointments, buy groceries, all those things we all do every day,” she states. “So we know how important it is that people are able to drive.”

The suit also requests an injunction that would require the DMV to restore any licenses that were revoked solely for nonpayment.

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