Michigan to give break on driver’s license suspension fee

Driver’s license suspensions one of leading factors for sky high jail admissions

FILE - In this March 18, 2019, file photo, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel attends an event in Clawson, Mich. Enbridge Inc. said Friday, March 6, 2020, it has hired companies to design and build a disputed oil pipeline tunnel beneath the channel linking Lakes Huron and Michigan, despite pending legal challenges. Nessel is appealing a Michigan Court of Claims ruling in October 2019 that upheld an agreement between Enbridge and former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's administration to drill the tunnel through bedrock beneath the straits. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya File) (Paul Sancya, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

LANSING, Mich. – Despite a favorable court decision that would allow the Secretary of State to continue to suspend driver’s licenses for failure to pay court fees, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson joined with Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack to help people avoid suspension.

A May decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Fowler v Johnson upheld the Secretary of State’s practice to suspend driver’s licenses, saying: “That this policy may in many cases make that … payment harder to accomplish does not show that the law lacks a rational basis.”

“While it was clear the state would likely prevail, this onerous policy clearly penalized low-income drivers, putting them in a no-win situation by severely limiting their mobility and access to employment,” Nessel said. “It is time to re-evaluate laws that effectively criminalize being poor.”

As a result of the state’s offer to settle the case, the following sentence will be added to Michigan citations and court forms: “If you are not able to pay any fine or costs due to financial hardship, contact the court immediately to request a payment alternative.”

“I am proud that we are working to stop penalizing poverty,” said Benson. “There is a disconnect of logic in this law, and all Michiganders benefit when we make the justice system more fair.”

The new standard language must be part of the state forms within one year of the effective date of the settlement (Feb. 13, 2021).

“Driver’s license suspensions are one of the leading factors for sky high jail admissions in Michigan,” said Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. “This action is an important step toward reducing how many people come into contact with the system. It moves us closer to ensuring our policies treat people across the state fairly despite their socio-economic status.”