Montgomery, AL – Alabama Appleseed, the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, and 17 other civil rights and poverty law organizations from across the nation today submitted an amicus brief in a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit challenging Virginia’s practice of suspending the driver’s licenses of those who cannot afford to pay court fees and fines. A lower court dismissed the case for jurisdictional reasons.
As the brief notes, the “mandatory license suspension for nonpayment of court debt is both unconstitutional and fundamentally unfair because it imposes substantially more severe punishment upon those who are unable to pay. Because the poverty rate of black Virginians is disproportionately high, and because blacks face well-documented bias in charging and sentencing, the statutory scheme also has a disparate impact on black Virginians. For those unable to pay court debts, Virginia’s license suspension scheme perpetuates a cycle of poverty and continued entrenchment in the justice system that devastates individual lives while doing nothing to further Virginia’s interest in collecting its court debts.”
“Virginians are not alone, Alabamians who cannot afford their fines and fees also face the suspension of their driver’s license,” said Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed. “Access to a diver’s license is not a luxury – it’s often a requirement for getting to work, school, or the doctor’s office. States must stop punishing people for being poor. We urge the 4th Circuit to ensure that this case moves forward.”
A copy of the brief can be found here.