CA DMV Reports Lifting 554,997 Improperly Imposed Driver’s License Suspensions

Categories: eNewsletter Story, Homepage, Litigation, News

The CA DMV reported to the CA Court of Appeals that it has lifted 554,997 improperly imposed driver’s license suspensions. This action comes as the result of Hernandez v CA Department of Motor Vehicles, a statewide lawsuit on behalf of several plaintiffs filed by Bay Area Legal Aid, Western Center on Law & Poverty, The ACLU of Northern California, East Bay Community Law Center, The USC Gould School of Law Access to Justice Practicum, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCRSF), and the law firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. The suit challenged the DMV’s suspension of licenses based on drivers’ failure to pay traffic citations or appear in court, a practice whose widespread application disproportionately created economic insecurity among Black and brown communities, amounting to what William Freeman, Senior Counsel at the ACLU of Northern California characterizes as “the racialized extraction of wealth from the most economically challenged Californians.”

Over the course of the lawsuit, which was filed first in Alameda County Superior Court in 2016, significant changes in DMV policy and practice have included:

  • The State of California ended the legal basis for suspending a license based on a driver’s failure to pay a traffic fine, and in 2018 the DMV lifted several hundred thousand existing failure-to-pay suspensions.
  • In June 2020, the Court of Appeal agreed with the plaintiffs that state law only allows a license to be suspended for a failure to appear in court when the traffic court notifies the DMV that the failure to appear was willful. In November 2020, the parties reached an agreement under which the DMV would clear failure-to-appear suspensions that did not include the required notification of a willful failure to appear.

This week’s announcement is the most recent large-scale successful outcome of this suit—one that will provide critical relief to hundreds of thousands of Californians. We celebrate this significant step toward more equitable economic justice along with our co-counsel firms and organizations, Mr. Hernandez, and the other plaintiffs.

We also remain focused on addressing significant remaining issues with the practice of driver’s license suspensions and the legal processes involved with it, including:

  • Ending failure-to-appear suspensions: More than 600,000 failure-to-appear suspensions remain, and are in most cases the result of financial circumstances and thus disparately punitive to low-income drivers.
  •  Ending civil assessments: Adding additional $300 civil assessments automatically to unpaid traffic tickets, with no consideration of individual circumstances, is another practice that disproportionately harms low-income, Black and brown Californians. “The widespread trial court practice of automatically imposing the full $300 amount reflects the questionable incentives set up by the current funding system,” said Novella Coleman, Litigation Director at Bay Area Legal Aid.
  • Reforming driver’s license suspensions for child support arrears: A system that places additional economic burden on parents who may be struggling to comply with court ordered support payments “causes unnecessary harm to parents and stresses family relationships without sending any additional money to the children whose well-being the system is supposed to protect,” says Michael Herald, Legislative Director for WCLP.

For further detail on these issues and the outcomes to date from Hernandez v CA Department of Motor Vehicles, please see the attached press release.