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NEW YORK TO STOP SUSPENDING LICENSES OVER UNPAID FINES

A bill which would end the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and driver  responsibility assessments has past both the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate and is currently awaiting the signature of Governor Cuomo. The new law, if signed could impact millions of New Yorker’s who are currently suspended for unpaid fines and fees such as Driver Responsibility Assessments.  In the 26 months from January 2016 until April 2018 New York issued nearly 1.7 million suspensions for traffic debt.  The suspensions create a cycle that is hard to get out of since, often, those with suspended licenses, cannot work to pay the debts.

Driving with a suspended license that is suspended based upon unpaid fines or driver responsibility assessments can constitute anywhere from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on a number of factors and can have serious consequences including mandatory probation and/or jail.

Similar laws that prohibit suspensions based upon traffic debt have already been passed in at least 9 states including large states such as Texas and California as part of a national trend to stop punishing poverty by eliminating cash bail and terminating suspensions based upon unpaid debts.

The new law would create a payment plan for drivers.  Instead of having a driver’s license suspended a driver would be required to pay the greater of 2% of the driver’s monthly income or $10 per month whichever is greater, to pay off the traffic debt.  The new law would also reinstate the driver’s licenses of the millions of New York drivers who are currently suspended due to traffic debts.  The new law does not appear to affect those who are suspended for failing to pay child support debts or failing to answer traffic summonses as opposed to the failure to pay the fines.

The new law can have a substantial effect on the way some of the busier traffic courts in New York State operate.  many Courts rely on the threats of suspensions to collect large sums in traffic fines and fees and the new law can likely add to the paperwork those Courts need in order to collect traffic debts.  Currently, if a motorist fails to pay a fine, the Court need only send a suspension notice to DMV and then wait for the motorist to pay the fine before getting the motorist’s license or driving privileges restored.  Busy traffic Courts are likely to have to do substantially more paperwork and track the smaller monthly payments that they will receive from motorists.  It is unknown how this will effect the plea deals, appearances and trials of traffic tickets that are issued after the effective date of the law.

The new law will not effect the NY DMV points system and drivers can still have their licenses suspended or revoked based upon traffic convictions.  It remains important to never plead guilty and simply pay a traffic ticket without speaking to an experienced traffic court attorney and understanding the full consequences of any traffic plea and the number of points that will be assessed.  It is also currently unknown whether the governor will sign this bill into law.   Stay tuned for further updates.

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