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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.

Confirmed Cases: 16560

Reported Deaths: 794
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds107426
Madison76728
Lauderdale75968
Neshoba72844
Jones70133
Scott66312
Forrest59539
DeSoto57510
Rankin4569
Leake45212
Holmes44330
Copiah3294
Jackson31415
Attala31118
Yazoo2964
Newton2884
Lincoln28031
Leflore27736
Oktibbeha27314
Harrison2697
Monroe26925
Wayne2623
Lamar2505
Lowndes2479
Pearl River21231
Pike20411
Adams20316
Washington1987
Warren19610
Lee1948
Noxubee1936
Covington1792
Bolivar16911
Jasper1674
Clarke15619
Smith15511
Kemper15511
Lafayette1544
Chickasaw14014
Coahoma1314
Clay1254
Winston1241
Carroll11911
Marion1169
Claiborne1155
Lawrence1071
Grenada1074
Simpson1040
Yalobusha1046
Sunflower923
Tate911
Hancock9012
Union897
Itawamba897
Marshall873
Wilkinson859
Panola843
Montgomery841
Webster844
Jefferson Davis823
Tippah7611
Calhoun674
Amite661
Walthall640
Humphreys637
Tunica583
Prentiss533
Perry513
Choctaw502
Pontotoc473
Jefferson421
Tishomingo360
Greene331
Stone320
Quitman320
Tallahatchie301
George292
Franklin292
Alcorn191
Benton140
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 19073

Reported Deaths: 672
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2321118
Jefferson1901104
Montgomery185843
Tuscaloosa83616
Marshall7089
Franklin5858
Lee56234
Shelby52819
Tallapoosa43466
Butler42118
Walker3862
Elmore3749
Chambers36026
Madison3534
Unassigned3062
Morgan3021
Baldwin2939
Dallas2923
Lowndes26512
Etowah26312
DeKalb2573
Autauga2415
Coffee2391
Sumter2287
Houston2265
Bullock2176
Pike2120
Colbert1902
Hale1859
Russell1810
Barbour1771
Marengo1756
Lauderdale1722
Calhoun1673
Wilcox1577
Choctaw15310
Cullman1521
Clarke1492
St. Clair1351
Randolph1287
Dale1240
Marion12411
Pickens1205
Talladega1195
Limestone1080
Chilton1071
Greene954
Macon934
Winston910
Jackson833
Covington821
Henry822
Crenshaw783
Bibb761
Escambia753
Washington736
Blount631
Lawrence510
Monroe462
Geneva440
Perry430
Conecuh411
Coosa401
Cherokee383
Clay282
Lamar280
Fayette160
Cleburne151
Tupelo
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