U.S. Sixth Circuit - The FindLaw 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Tennessee Must Stop Suspending Driver's Licenses of People Who Can't Pay

Most people come face-to-face with the law through traffic court.

In Tennessee, about 291,000 may see an about-face in their traffic cases. A trial judge has ruled the state can no longer revoke drivers licenses of people who cannot afford to pay their fines.

Judge Aleta Trauger has enjoined officials from enforcing license revocation laws. She also opened the door for hundreds of thousands of drivers to get their licenses back.

Too Poor to Pay

It wasn't the first time the judge ruled against Tennessee on a revocation issue. In July, she said it was unconstitutional to take a person's license for being too poor to pay court costs.

In the traffic fines case, Trauger reached a similar conclusion. Attorneys say it could have widespread ramifications.

"It's sort of the next logical step," said lawyer Josh Spickler. "To me and to the hundreds of thousands of people in Tennessee who've had their licenses suspended for this reason, it's just as big if not bigger."

Claudia Wilner, with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, told USA Today other states have similar laws. She said the Tennessee rulings could have national implications.

National Implications

Dustin, a defendant in one case, had his license suspended more than a year ago for failing to pay a speeding ticket. That made it harder for him and his fiancee to support their two children.

"This is a case to right that situation where there is a difference between the consequences to the rich and poor," attorney Jimmy Logan said.

He said his office deals with similar cases almost every day.

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