CalMatters highlighted BayLegal’s work to end traffic court practices that disproportionately affect low-income individuals and Black and Latinx drivers. The latter groups are more likely to be pulled over due to racial profiling. The article describes the work BayLegal did with Western Center and other partner organizations in Hernandez v. CA DMV. In this case, the California Court of Appeal decided that licenses could only be suspended over a failure to appear in court if the court expressly notifies the DMV that the failure to appear was willful. Prior to this decision, many low-income individuals, who are less likely to be able to take time off work, had their licenses suspended because of a failure to appear. As a result of this case, 550,000 drivers have had their licenses reinstated.
The article also talks about other work BayLegal is doing to limit courts’ use of license suspension as a debt-collection tool and includes the story of BayLegal client Stacy Kmetz. Although in 2017, the legislature eliminated failure-to-pay driver’s license suspension, Marin County traffic court and others have continued to use a person’s failure to pay the ticket in full as a means to maintain license suspensions. Although Ms. Kmetz ultimately appeared in her traffic case and worked out a payment plan, the court did not notify the DMV to lift the suspension as required by state law. At the time, she was out of work, and the suspension made it impossible to look for a new job. BayLegal attorneys effectively advocated for lifting of her suspension.
Read the full article, which talks about different ways traffic fines impact low-income individuals as well as solutions to these issues, here.