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State of Texas Sued for Suspending Over 1.4 Million Drivers' Licenses Following Punitive Fines

December 5, 2018

Download a copy of the lawsuitRodriguez et al. v. Mach et al.

Cause No. 5:18-cv-1265 (W.D.Tex. San Antonio)

 

PRESS RELEASE

 

San Antonio, Texas – Today, Equal Justice Under Law, a national civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the Austin Community Law Center, filed a lawsuit against Governor Greg Abbot and Texas’ Department of Public Safety to challenge the Driver Responsibility Program (DRP), which levies hundreds or thousands of dollars in surcharges following a traffic infraction and often results in an automatic license suspension.  
 
As of January 2018, over 1.4 million Texans had suspended licenses for failure to pay DRP surcharges. These fees are in addition to — not in lieu of — any punishment and fines already imposed for an individual’s underlying traffic offense.  Hundreds of thousands of Texans cannot afford to pay the surcharges, and many never even receive notice of the charges or the program, but they still have their licenses suspended indefinitely if they cannot afford their debts.
 
Losing a driver’s license is an extraordinary punishment that negatively affects virtually every aspect of a person’s life. Without the ability to drive, people can’t find and maintain employment, pursue education, keep medical appointments, or care for loved ones. For those with disposable income, prompt payment is no problem. But, for the 4.4 million Texans living below the poverty line, surcharges on top of fines are an excruciating burden.
 
“This unfair license suspension scheme particularly targets Texas’ most impoverished residents, who are often unaware additional charges are owed under the DRP,” says Phil Telfeyan, lead attorney in the case and Executive Director of Equal Justice Under Law. “Individuals who cannot pay will often lose their job and their home – becoming homeless — for a minor ticket that wealthier drivers simply pay and forget.”
 
There are four named plaintiffs in this case representing thousands of bereft Texans. They are a 75-year-old resident of San Antonio who spends hours on public transport every day to provide in-home care to patients younger than she is in order to afford her surcharge fines; two U.S. Navy Veterans, one of whom became disabled in the line of duty; and a man experiencing homelessness solely because he cannot find adequate work without a license.

 

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Equal Justice Under Law is a legal nonprofit providing pro-bono legal services to those most in need. The organization is dedicated to achieving equality in our justice system by litigating against wealth-based discrimination. Since its founding in 2014, Equal Justice Under Law has filed thirty lawsuits in fourteen states and the District of Columbia targeted at ending unequal practices in our justice system.

 

The Austin Community Law Center is a nonprofit law firm. Our mission is to make legal representation radically more affordable, invest in a stronger community, and fight for justice.

 

San Antonio Federal Courthouse 

 

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