Alabama unlawfully suspended the driver’s licenses of thousands of people unable to pay traffic tickets. The SPLC filed a federal lawsuit to stop the state from suspending licenses without considering a person’s ability to pay and finding that the person willfully failed to pay. It also sought to reinstate licenses suspended solely for nonpayment.
The lawsuit describes how the law is unconstitutional and harms thousands of low-income families across the state. The licenses of roughly 23,000 Alabama residents had been suspended for nonpayment under the rule.
Alabamians impacted by the punitive practice are stripped of their ability to support themselves and their families, as driver’s licenses are crucial to securing and maintaining employment, driving children to school, and meeting basic needs, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare the law unconstitutional and to issue an order blocking the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) – a state agency that, among other responsibilities, regulates driver’s licenses – from enforcing any order suspending driver’s licenses for nonpayment under the law. It also asks the court to require ALEA to reinstate any driver’s license previously suspended solely for nonpayment.
The lawsuit describes how Alabama courts routinely suspend driver’s licenses for nonpayment of traffic tickets without prior notice, an inquiry into an individual’s ability to pay, or an express finding that nonpayment was willful, as required by the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. ALEA carried out these suspensions and refused to reinstate driver’s licenses until an individual had paid all outstanding fines and costs to the court.
Individuals with suspended driver’s licenses often risk driving to maintain their livelihood and support their families, the lawsuit states. If stopped by police, they could face additional penalties – including up to six months in jail and hundreds of dollars in court costs.