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TMLG partners with the ACLU and others to challenge South Carolina’s wealth-based driver’s license suspensions

October 31, 2019

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of South Carolina, Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center filed a federal lawsuit today challenging the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) policy of automatically suspending the driver’s licenses of people unable to pay traffic tickets.

The suit seeks to end the DMV’s indefinite suspension of driver’s licenses for nonpayment of traffic fines and fees without proper notice or a hearing, which bars more than 100,000 people from driving. It also seeks the lifting of suspensions for failure to pay traffic tickets imposed under this system, and the elimination of DMV reinstatement fees and fees charged for a hearing to dispute suspensions, which bar people from explaining to the DMV their inability to pay.

When the South Carolina DMV receives a report that a South Carolina resident or driver’s license holder has not paid a traffic ticket, it automatically suspends that person’s driver’s license without providing proper notice or a hearing to ensure that people who cannot pay will not lose their licenses. U.S. Supreme Court precedent makes clear, however, that the Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection of the law require consideration of a person’s inability to pay before they are punished for nonpayment of a court fine.

“The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles is running a wealth-based driver’s license suspension system that punishes people who cannot afford traffic tickets, far more harshly than those who can, in violation of basic constitutional rights to fairness and equal treatment of rich and poor in the legal system,” said Nusrat Jahan Choudhury, deputy director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. “Taking driver’s licenses away from people who are struggling financially drives them deeper into poverty, unemployment, debt, and entanglement with the legal system. We are suing to end this counterproductive and illegal practice.”

The complaint, White v. Shwedo et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

The ACLU’s Press Release is available here.

The ACLU’s Case Page is available here.

The ACLU’s Complaint is available here.

Read more here:

The State – SC DMV targets poor people with license suspensions, lawsuit alleges

AP – ACLU: South Carolina driving rule penalizes poverty