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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - Driving on a suspended license termed “a crime of poverty.”

Surprisingly, at least to the ILB, Indiana driving privileges may be suspended for numerous offenses having nothing to do with driving. Maureen Hayden of CNHI reported yesterday on HB 1279, which is currently awaiting concurrence in the House (a motion to concur in the Senate amendments failed today by a vote of 50-35).

The 127-page bill deals with a number of motor vehicle issues, including making changes to statutes dealing with driver's license suspension and revocation. Those changes are the focus of Hayden's story. A few quotes:

INDIANAPOLIS — Unpaid parking fines, falling behind on child support, drunken driving: So many offenses trigger a suspended driver’s license in Indiana that more than a half-million Hoosiers have lost their driving privileges.

In fact, driving on a suspended license is the most common charged offense, prosecutors say.

A bill passed by the House and Senate hopes to keep more drivers legally on the road, supporters say, by eliminating most automatic license suspensions for non-traffic offenses and giving judges more leeway over how the penalty is used. The bill also creates a “special use” license with strict conditions such as the use of technology that monitors when certain drivers get behind the wheel.

Supporters say the law goes a long way toward helping the high number of Hoosiers with suspended licenses get back on the road legally without compromising public safety. There are about five million licensed drivers in Indiana and more than 556,000 who currently have their licenses suspended, according to the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles. * * *

David Powell, head of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said he’s seen many people who had few transportation options other than a car during the 20 years he spent as chief prosecutor in a rural Indiana community. People who lost a license didn’t want to lose their job so they kept driving on a suspended license, without insurance, and risked getting caught.

Powell called driving on a suspended license “a crime of poverty.”

“In my county, most of the cases I saw were people who couldn’t afford their reinstatement fees so they just kept driving and just kept getting caught and caught and caught,” he said.

That kind of decision has a spiral effect: The first time someone is caught driving with a suspended license, it’s a Class A infraction with a $150 fine. The second offense is a Class A misdemeanor with a fine up to $5,000 and up to a year in jail. A third time is Class D felony, with a jail term up to three years and a fine up to $10,000. Once more and it’s a Class C felony and up to 8 years in prison.

License reinstatement fees escalate from $100 to $300 for each offense.

The law currently allows judges to offer probationary or hardship licenses to some people who’ve had their driving privileges automatically suspended.

But the rules for granting those are prohibitively restrictive, said Chris Daniels, a lawyer with the Prosecuting Attorneys Council who helped draft the law with McMillin and Young.

“A big part of our goal is to keep the truly dangerous drivers off the road while letting people who’ve made a mistake but who can drive safely back on the road legally,” Daniels said. “Right now, we don’t have much of a mechanism in place to do that.”

ILB: Hayden has a lot more information that didn't fit in the story, such as:
Right now we have at least 8 OWI charges that carry a mandatory suspension. Most of those mandatory suspensions will go away. So will the mandatory suspensions for a lot of the non-traffic offenses. There are some administrative suspensions that 1279 is not addressing. The big one is refusing to take a chemical test when an officer has probable cause to believe you are operating while intoxicated. That mandatory suspension stays in place.

In addition, your license will still be suspended once a judge finds PC on an OWI case, but the judge can then go back and modify the suspension. I think failure to appear in court for an infraction will also still carry an automatic license suspension. Failure to pay child support still results in a suspension.

It would be useful to see a chart or table setting out all the offenses which currently can lead to a suspension, along with how they would be affected by this bill.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 5, 2014 07:46 PM
Posted to Indiana Government