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Lawsuit Claims License Suspension Targets the Poor

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Lawsuit Claims License Suspension Targets the Poor

The Legal Aid Justice Center filed an amended class action lawsuit against the state of Virginia because they claim Virginia’s law that automatically suspends driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2016 and thrown out by a federal judge last year. The complaint was modified by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year.

In the amended lawsuit, the Legal Aid Justice Center says that “the state traps thousands of Virginians in a nightmarish spiral from which there is no apparent exit” by suspending their driver licenses if they can’t afford to pay their fines.

“The indefinite suspension of the driver’s licenses of low-income Virginians erects significant barriers to their ability to pursue a livelihood and meet basic human needs,” the lawsuit said.

Nearly 1 million Virginia residents have suspended driver’s licenses because they are unable to pay court fees.

The lawsuit highlights the story of Damian Stinnie, a 26-year-old Charlottesville man who originally lost his license in 2012 after he couldn’t afford to pay his fines. He still, however, drove while battling lymphoma. Stinnie received more citations and served time in jail.

Angela Ciolfi, director of litigation and advocacy at the Legal Aid Justice Center, said the suspension law sets up two justice systems in Virginia.

“Those who can immediately pay court fines or fees are able to quickly untether themselves from their infractions, while those who do not have the resources to pay continue to be punished well beyond their original infraction — they are punished for their poverty, and set up for even harsher consequences as their debts compound, their jobs are lost, and their families struggle to make ends meet,” she said.

The lawsuits demands an immediate stop to license suspensions for court debt and a statement that the practice is unconstitutional.

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