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The Often Endless Cycle of Driver’s License Suspensions & Disproportionate Impact on Low-Income Residents

Posted by Ken Barrett | Jan 26, 2018 | 0 Comments

Driver's license suspensions are a tool for penalizing, enforcing and deterring criminal behavior and traffic violations. In many instances, an initial license suspension, such as one for a six-month period, can lead to a series of events that will result in an individual not having a license for many years. Rhode Island has relaxed its penalties for driving under suspension recently; however, suspensions can be assessed for many reasons and the financial implications are often significant. Millions of U.S. residents have suspended driver's licenses, many of which are solely related to an inability to pay. Many lower-income Americans are well beyond their period of suspension, yet face insurmountable financial hurdles preventing them from driving legally again.

A Self-Defeating Cycle: An Example

For example, a driver receives a $200 speeding ticket. He or she may send in the payment, or contest it in court, which ultimately will incur additional court costs. If unable to pay the court fine in full, the court may issue a state suspension on the driver's license, and the driver may not even be aware of it, and the court may issue an arrest warrant. Several weeks later, the driver is stopped and jailed for the contempt of court warrant and has his or her vehicle impounded. After a night or two in jail, the court imposes an additional $250 fine for contempt of court and court costs. Meanwhile, another $200 is needed for the vehicle release from the impound lot. In addition, the driver may face employment problems if work was missed while in jail awaiting court, and will need to find another way to travel to work for the time being. If and when he or she pays these costs, the driver will still need to pay a sizable license reinstatement fee.

Rhode Island Law Change

In 2016, the Rhode Island legislature made changes for first and second offenses of driving with a suspended or expired license. It is no longer a criminal charge, but instead a civil penalty subject to a fine of at least $250. Those crossing the state borders should be aware that first-time offenders in Massachusetts face up to 10 days in jail and in Connecticut up to three months in jail--plus fines.

Employment Related Problems & Limitations

Those unable to drive may have limitations in their employment options based on transportation. If they have a suspended license, these options are further reduced because the pre-employment background screen shows the suspension, not allowing them to “pass.” They may be limited to the lowest paying jobs. License suspensions for those whose employment requires driving -- such as delivery workers, most contractor work, auto mechanics, outside sales -- are obviously facing a problem.

Other Potential Driver's License Suspensions

  • Rhode Island law allows for suspending the license of juveniles who are truant from school, such as high-school dropouts.
  • Those persons behind on child support payments in Rhode Island may have their license suspended.
  • Those persons delinquent on state taxes may be unable to renew their driver's license.
  • Twenty U.S. states now suspend driver's licenses of those persons behind on student loan payments.

Having a car is necessary to get to work in most locations throughout Rhode Island. A driver's license is necessary to drive that car. Without it, your employment is in peril. Without employment, you cannot pay fines and fees. Alternatively, with limited income, you may have a hard time to pay fines and fees to reinstate your driver's license. It is indeed a downward cycle that disproportionately affects those who have low-income jobs.

About the Author

Ken Barrett

Attorney Kensley Barrett is a skilled criminal defense lawyer with a proven track record in handling a wide range of cases in Rhode Island. Known for his strong background in trial advocacy and negotiation, Barrett is dedicated to providing personalized and effective representation for his clients. Recognized as a "Rising Star" by Super Lawyers and with a 10.0 "Superb" rating on Avvo, he consistently achieves successful outcomes, including acquittals, dismissals, and reduced charges.


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Kensley Barrett

Our law firm was founded on the belief that working with us is more than just hiring a lawyer. Working with us will bring you peace of mind and also allow you to continue with your regular life while we attend to your legal matters. Our vast experience means that it allows us to excel in both aggressively representing your interests and generating the best possible result for you.