The revocation of driver’s licenses for unpaid court costs and fines has been a hot topic of late. Much of the focus has centered around the spiral of debt that can result when an indigent person’s license is revoked for this reason. The narrative goes like this: The person is convicted of a relatively minor violation of the motor vehicle laws. Court costs and a fine are imposed. The person, who is financially unable to do so, fails to pay those amounts. Forty days after the judgment, the clerk of court reports the failure to pay to DMV. DMV mails a revocation order to the person, which becomes effective 60 days later. The person could forestall or end the revocation by paying the amounts owed, but she lacks the funds to do that. Yet she must drive in order to keep her job. So, notwithstanding the revocation, she continues to drive. Soon, she is charged with driving while license revoked and is convicted. Court costs are imposed again. And again, she lacks the funds to pay. DMV issues another revocation. When this cycle repeats itself over time, the person may wind up owing hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars in court debt, which, again, she lacks the resources to pay.
Tag Archives: driver’s license
The National Center for State Courts recently published an Ignition Interlock Report reviewing the latest research on ignition interlock programs. Two of the studies cited reported efficacy rates striking enough to attract the attention of any policy wonk interested in highway safety.
Legislation enacted by the General Assembly this session again makes it possible for persons convicted of habitual impaired driving to (eventually) have their driving privileges restored.
Researchers at Stanford University recently published a study showing that a 2013 California law allowing unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses led to a significant reduction in hit and run accidents and did not increase the rate of traffic accidents and fatalities. The study’s authors said this latter finding “suggests there is no empirical support for the claim that unauthorized immigrants are less cautious drivers or generally more likely to cause accidents.” Instead, the findings suggest that “providing driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants led to improved traffic safety” and to “significant positive externalities for the communities in which they live.” What significance might this finding have for policymakers in North Carolina?
The court of appeals reversed a defendant’s DWI conviction yesterday in State v. Ashworth, __ N.C. App. __ (August 2, 2016), on the basis that the trial court plainly erred in holding that the driver’s license checkpoint at which the defendant was stopped was appropriately tailored and advanced the public interest. Unlike some checkpoint cases in which you can see the trouble coming in the recitation of facts, Ashworth is a pretty routine checkpoint case. Two officers with the State Highway Patrol set up the checkpoint to look for driver’s license and other traffic violations. The highway patrol had a checkpoint policy that the officers followed. A supervisor approved the checkpoint. The defendant admitted that he had been drinking almost immediately after he stopped at the checkpoint. So where did the trial court go wrong?
Fake IDs were ever-present on campus when I was an undergraduate. There were several varieties: a “novelty” driver’s license obtained from a private vendor, a doctored version of the underage person’s real driver’s license, a duplicate driver’s license from an older relative, friend or acquaintance who resembled the underage person, or, the gold standard: a DMV-issued driver’s license with the underage person’s picture but an older person’s name, address, and birthdate. These days, on-line vendors hawk fake IDs, and facial recognition software makes it nearly impossible to obtain the gold standard fake ID from DMV. Otherwise, not all that much has changed in the collegiate fake-id market.
Often an underage person’s use of fraudulent identification leads to charges that are purely alcohol-related, such as the unlawful purchase or consumption of alcohol by an underage person. But other criminal charges may stem directly from the use of the fake ID. Continue reading →
The 2015 North Carolina General Assembly convened earlier today, with new members sliding into place just as the first ice storm of the winter left the area. And while most folks’ attention will (as usual) be focused on the state budget, I’ll be watching over the next few months for legislation related to motor vehicle crimes. I’m particularly curious to see whether the General Assembly shows any interest in interrupting the cycle of driver’s license revocation, an issue that lately has attracted national attention. Continue reading →
Suppose a police officer patrolling a city street lawfully pulls over a car with out-of-state tags. When the officer asks the driver for his driver’s license, the driver tells the officer: I had a Maryland driver’s license, but it was revoked. May the law enforcement officer properly charge the defendant with driving while license revoked in violation of G.S. 20-28(a)? After all, the defendant (1) drove (2) a motor vehicle (3) on a highway (4) with a revoked license (5) knowing it was revoked. G.S. 20-28(a).
G.S. 20-28(a) historically has been interpreted not to support charges of driving while license revoked on these facts. See Ben F. Loeb & James C. Drennan, Motor Vehicle Law and the Law of Impaired Driving in North Carolina 84 (UNC Institute of Government, 2000) (“The offense of driving while license revoked has generally been interpreted to require that one’s license be revoked by the State or North Carolina and that notice of that fact be provided by the state.”); see also N.C. Pattern Jury Instruction-Crim. 271.10 (stating that for jury to find that notice of the revocation was given, of which the defendant had knowledge, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) notice was personally delivered, (2) the defendant surrendered his or her license to an official of the court, or (3) that DMV provided notice by mail in accordance with G.S. 20-48).
Why out-of state revocations don’t count. The terms “revocation: and “suspension” are defined in G.S. 20-4.01(36) and G.S. 20-4.01(47) to mean “termination of a licensee’s or permittee’s privilege to drive . . . for a period of time state in an order of revocation or suspension.” The requirement that the termination be stated in an order of revocation or suspension corresponds to the requirement that the State prove that a defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the revocation to obtain a conviction under G.S. 20-28(a). Traditional wisdom holds that the “order” referred to in G.S. 20-4.01(36), (37) refers to an order by a North Carolina court or the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (NC DMV). Separate statutory provisions authorize NC DMV to suspend or revoke the driving privileges of nonresidents in the same manner as it may for residents and prohibit a person from operating under a foreign license while subject to such a revocation order. G.S. 20-21; 20-22; see also G.S. 20-16.5(a)(5), (e), (f) (requiring surrender of a driver’s license from any jurisdiction pursuant to civil license revocation in an implied consent case). There is no question that a nonresident is revoked for purposes of G.S. 20-28(a) when NC DMV or a North Carolina court (in the case of G.S. 20-16.5) revokes the person’s privilege to drive pursuant to these provisions.
A contrary view. One could make a plausible argument that an out-of state revocation is a revocation for purposes of G.S. 20-28(a). A nonresident who is at least 16 years old who has in his or her immediate possession a valid driver’s license issued in his or her home state or country may lawfully drive in North Carolina if he or she operates the motor vehicle in accordance with the license restrictions and vehicle classifications that would apply in his or her home state or country. G.S. 20-8(3). The revocation of the nonresident’s valid license in his or her home state “terminat[es]” the nonresident’s “privilege to drive” in North Carolina, thereby arguably satisfying the definition of “revocation” in G.S. 20-4.01(36). And while it sometimes may be difficult for the State to prove that a defendant was notified of a revocation issued by another jurisdiction, there are instances, like the one recounted above, in which the State easily can prove that the defendant knew of the revocation.
There are no appellate court cases considering these arguments, which may indicate the universality of the view that only North Carolina revocations count. More than 163,000 charges of driving while license revoked in violation of G.S. 20-28(a) were filed in 2012, rendering it the third most commonly charged criminal offense, after speeding and displaying an expired registration plate. If the traditional view is holding fast, these numbers indicate that North Carolina issued revocations alone are more than enough to fill court dockets.
Those in the know, let us know. Are you aware of charges under G.S. 20-28(a) based on out-of-state revocation without any corresponding action by North Carolina?