Judge: Tennessee Can’t Revoke Driver’s Licenses from People Who Can’t Pay Court Costs

Nashville Tennessean

By Dave Boucher

It’s unconstitutional for the state of Tennessee to continue revoking driver’s licenses from people who can’t pay court costs, a federal judge determined Monday.

The ruling from U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger will have broad national and state ramifications, said Claudia Wilner, a senior attorney with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice in New York City who worked on the case.

Calling Trauger’s ruling a “tour de force,” Wilner said the order means more than 100,000 people in Tennessee can start the process today of regaining their driver’s license.

“Practically speaking, this is going to be a huge benefit to the low-income people of Tennessee who are going to be able to drive to work, take their kids to school, go to the grocery store, visit the doctor, without fear of being arrested and prosecuted for driving without a license,” Wilner said in an interview Tuesday.

“Many, many people who have been unable to find work are going to be free to go back to work again.”

Court fees fuel the criminal justice system but are a significant burden for many people. Someone accused of petty crimes may still face thousands of dollars of court costs; as that person fails to pay, the costs increase.

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