Will your license be suspended if you don’t pay traffic ticket fines?
What can you do if you can’t afford the fines? Can you get into court to explain the situation to a judge? What if you need your license to drive to work to make the money to pay the fines that they have suspended your license for not paying?
In October this year, the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit in Charleston, SC, alleging that SC’s practice of suspending licenses for nonpayment of traffic fines creates a catch-22 that unconstitutionally impacts minorities and people who are impoverished…
Can My License Be Suspended in SC for Not Paying Traffic Ticket Fines?
SC can and does suspend your drivers’ license if you do not pay traffic ticket fines. It’s authorized by SC Code Section 56-1-285, which says:
The Department of Motor Vehicles may revoke or refuse to renew the driving privilege of a person for failure to remit a tax or fee administered by the department. Upon payment of all taxes and fees administered by the department, and the payment of any applicable fee, the department may reinstate a person’s driving privilege.
What’s the problem?
The ACLU’s lawsuit alleged that the system violates drivers’ equal protection and due process rights:
The plaintiffs want the court to declare that the policy violates constitutional protections of equal protection and due process, and to order the lifting of suspensions and reinstatement of licenses for those who lost driving privileges under the policy.
The practice of suspending drivers’ licenses for those unable to pay traffic fines, whether intentional or not, has a disproportionate impact on SC’s black residents:
The policy weighs more heavily on black people, the lawsuit says: Blacks represent 27% of South Carolina’s population, but 48% of all people with licenses indefinitely suspended under the practice.
No Proper Notice or Hearings
Drivers do not get a hearing before their license is suspended, and they have no way to request a hearing without paying additional money – when lack of money is the reason for the failure to pay in the first place:
“None of the plaintiffs here are contesting the fact that they owe for traffic tickets,” Nusrat Choudhury, director of the ACLU racial justice program, said in a telephone interview. “They’re challenging the fact that they’re barred from driving because they can’t pay, and there’s no way for them to explain to the DMV the reasons that they haven’t paid their tickets.”
It Punishes the Poor for… Being Poor
If you can afford to pay your fines, you can drive in SC. If you cannot afford to pay your fines, or if you must choose between paying your fines and paying your rent, you lose your drivers’ license.
The plaintiffs say this makes for a “wealth-based” system of enforcement that deprives people of driving privileges — and impedes their ability to work — simply because they are poor.
If you have resources, you pay your fine. You’ve been duly punished. On the other hand, if you are not wealthy and have no money to give, you are punished again – not for the traffic offense, but for the crime of being poor – by having your license taken away.
In some cases, you are punished again – for the crime of being poor – with jail…
Can I Go to Jail for Not Paying Traffic Ticket Fines?
While the DMV may suspend your license, some courts will issue a bench warrant for your arrest if you do not pay fines…
What Can I Do if My License is Suspended for Not Paying Traffic Ticket Fines in SC?
Pay the fine. Or, if you can afford it, retain an attorney – we can help you to get your license cleared and to get you back on the road by communicating with the DMV and the court on your behalf and identifying the steps you need to take to restore your license.
But what if you can’t afford the fine or an attorney? There’s no easy answer for now – at least, not until the ACLU’s lawsuit is resolved. Beg, borrow, or… don’t steal, but find a way to pay the fine.
What Can I Do If I Have a Bench Warrant for Not Paying Fines in SC?
If you suspect you have a bench warrant for your arrest for failure to pay fines in SC, call us immediately. In most cases, we can:
- Confirm whether you have a bench warrant for your arrest;
- Identify the court that issued the bench warrant and the amount of fines that you owe;
- Negotiate with the court to get your fines reduced or to request more time to pay if possible (note that this may not be possible); and
- Follow through and ensure the court lifts the bench warrant once the fines are paid and, hopefully, before you are picked up by law enforcement.
If you have a speeding ticket or other traffic violation in Horry County, SC, call us before your court date so that we can negotiate a dismissal, reduced fine, reduced points, or a rewrite to a ticket that will not affect your license whenever possible.
If your license has been suspended or you believe there may be a bench warrant for your arrest for unpaid fines, we may be able to help you get your license restored or get your bench warrant lifted.
Magistrate Court Criminal Defense and Traffic Lawyer in Myrtle Beach, SC
Daniel A. Selwa is a criminal defense attorney in Myrtle Beach, SC.
Call now at (843) 492-5449 or send an email for a free consultation to discuss your case and how we can help.