Mississippi stops yanking driver's licenses for unpaid fines

A top Mississippi official said Tuesday that the state will stop suspending people's driver's licenses purely because they haven't paid court fines and fees, meaning tens of thousands of people who lost driving privileges could get them back in coming months.

Posted: Dec 19, 2017 10:45 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A top Mississippi official said Tuesday that the state will stop suspending people's driver's licenses purely because they haven't paid court fines and fees, meaning tens of thousands of people who lost driving privileges could get them back in coming months.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher made the joint announcement with lawyers from the MacArthur Justice Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center, after advocates complained that it was another way the state was criminalizing poverty. It parallels a court rules change enacted in July that requires a judge to determine whether a person can afford to pay a fine before jailing anyone for nonpayment.

"These changes are consistent with those new rules and a recognition across the state that a person couldn't be punished just for their poverty," said Micah West, a lawyer for the Alabama-based SPLC.

More than 100,000 people have had their Mississippi licenses automatically suspended at the request of a court clerk. MacArthur Center lawyer Cliff Johnson said it's hard to tell how many will get their licenses back, although he estimated it would be in the tens of thousands.

Both legal groups have also sued cities and counties in Mississippi for jailing poor people who can't afford to pay bail or fines. This time, it didn't take a lawsuit, although Johnson said "we discussed the potential for litigation challenging their license suspension policy." West said talks had been ongoing since January.

The state will begin reinstating licenses starting in January. Mississippi will waive its $100 reinstatement fee, sending letters to anyone who benefits. Officials say people should await written notification before driving again. People whose licenses were suspended for additional reasons, such as reckless driving or driving under the influence won't get them back. Licenses will continue to be suspended for people who don't respond to a citation or if a judge holds someone in contempt for failing to pay fines.

"We will continue to suspend licenses for other reasons allowed under Mississippi law, and we certainly take it seriously when people drive with suspended licenses," Fisher said in a statement. "The reinstatement of these licenses will not relieve the drivers of the legal obligation to pay the fines, fees or assessments."

Mississippi becomes the fifth state to require a consideration of ability to pay before suspending a license. Others include Louisiana, which enacted the change as part of a package of criminal justice changes last year. Mississippi lawmakers had been mulling the change as well — it was originally proposed last year in a bill meant to make it easier for people to re-enter society after being convicted of criminal offenses. The driver's license provision was dropped and Gov. Phil Bryant ultimately vetoed the bill because it allowed some repeat offenders to be paroled after serving only a quarter of their sentence.

Johnson said suspended licenses were also driving people deeper into trouble because, lacking other options, they kept driving, incurring citations up to $500 for driving without a license and up to $250 for driving without auto insurance each time they're caught.

"We're making it illegal for people to drive a car in a state where we don't have any public transportation," Johnson said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314710

Reported Deaths: 7254
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21646260
Hinds20369416
Harrison17949309
Rankin13643278
Jackson13450246
Madison10113217
Lee9986174
Jones8384163
Forrest7689152
Lauderdale7198240
Lowndes6403148
Lamar623686
Lafayette6203119
Washington5341134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462998
Panola4596107
Pearl River4519146
Marshall4450103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420872
Monroe4115133
Union411176
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3969110
Hancock379586
Leflore3498125
Sunflower336290
Tate334784
Pike3327105
Scott316274
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311770
Itawamba300577
Copiah297465
Coahoma295579
Simpson295388
Tippah288768
Adams286982
Prentiss280060
Marion269380
Leake268473
Wayne262841
Grenada261587
Covington259881
George248148
Newton246862
Winston227581
Tishomingo227067
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw208057
Holmes189174
Clay185554
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178941
Clarke178080
Calhoun170932
Yalobusha164638
Smith162534
Walthall134245
Greene130633
Lawrence128724
Montgomery127142
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton100025
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83923
Quitman81116
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67531
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 537813

Reported Deaths: 11024
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson791691529
Mobile41177808
Madison35002507
Tuscaloosa25871454
Shelby25076249
Montgomery24549591
Baldwin21290309
Lee15946171
Calhoun14556319
Morgan14364280
Etowah13890353
Marshall12262223
Houston10602282
Elmore10115206
Limestone10031151
St. Clair9890245
Cullman9730194
Lauderdale9449243
DeKalb8853188
Talladega8325176
Walker7259277
Autauga6971108
Jackson6830112
Blount6750139
Colbert6317134
Coffee5546119
Dale4869113
Russell444338
Chilton4343113
Franklin426282
Covington4138118
Tallapoosa4040152
Escambia394577
Chambers3581123
Dallas3564153
Clarke351361
Marion3137101
Pike311977
Lawrence302298
Winston275673
Bibb263064
Geneva252577
Marengo249664
Pickens234862
Barbour231956
Hale223677
Butler217869
Fayette212462
Henry189644
Cherokee184345
Randolph182042
Monroe178140
Washington167639
Macon160750
Clay156957
Crenshaw153357
Cleburne149241
Lamar143035
Lowndes139653
Wilcox127430
Bullock123041
Conecuh110629
Coosa108928
Perry107826
Sumter104932
Greene92634
Choctaw61024
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 68°
Columbus
Clear
66° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 66°
Oxford
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 68°
Starkville
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 68°
High pressure will continue to dominate our weather forecast for this weekend. This will keep our area filled with plenty of sunshine. However, there will be some changes next week in our weahter forecast as low pressure brings back some chances for showers and thunderstorms.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather