HOLMBERG: Stop suspending licenses for crimes not related to driving

There are thousands of Virginians who have lost their driver’s licenses for crimes that have nothing to do with driving.

Over the years, the state General Assembly  has mandated suspensions for a host of crimes, including drug possession and non-payment of fines and court costs for all convictions.

It’s a strong punishment.

It’s also “a catch-22,” says noted Richmond defense attorney  Steve Benjamin. “We say to people, you’ve been convicted . . . now go out and become a productive citizen, get a job, pay off your fines, pay off those court costs and, by the way, your license is suspended. Good luck.”

Steven Huffman of Hanover County served a little more than three years on a felony marijuana charge. Long after his return to society, he still can’t drive, even though he has a good job and a nice car he inherited while in prison –  when his father was killed by an out-of-control driver in the Fredericksburg area .

“I’ve paid my fines, I’ve paid my dues, I’ve done my time,” he said. “What does a grown man got to do to drive in this world?”

John Baumann hears that frustration a lot. He’s the executive director of Offender Aid and Restoration of Richmond, a non-profit that helps former inmates and others convicted of crimes return to society.

“You put them in a position where they owe so much in court costs and fines and fees that they have to pay in order to get a license so they can work,” Baumann said. “Then it really is this vicious cycle, when you make it impossible for them to dig out of this hole.”

The whole idea of our corrections system is to correct bad behavior. Punishment, yes, but also a system to get these offenders on the right path, so they’re contributing to society, not preying upon it.

“It’s overwhelming,” Huffman said. “Like to the point where it’s like, can I just leave the country. Germany will give me a license . . . “

“It’s crazy,” Benjamin said. “It makes sense to suspend a person’s license because of a violation of the traffic laws. It’s a consequence directly related to violating motor vehicle laws. And it’s a safety measure – somebody can’t drive safely, then they probably ought to have a time out.

But suspending a license just as punishment for an unrelated criminal offense just doesn’t make sense. It’s counterproductive to the whole idea of a person re-entering society as a productive, responsible, adult citizen.”

Here’s the statute for suspension because of fines or court costs. There are others: https://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+46.2-395

Yes, it’s a privilege to drive in this state. Yes, it really hurts those who can’t drive, along with those who have to try to help them get back and forth to work, pick up their children, worship, go to counseling or drug treatment, especially in huge chunks of the state, where there is no public transportation.

So, let’s say you don’t care about those who make mistakes. Let ‘em walk, right?

The problem is we pay when they mess up. We pay for  their jail time, their medical treatment while they’re locked down. We pay for their attorneys and care for their children. We pay when they rob us and steal from us and, sometimes,  kill us, in part because they couldn’t get out of an emotional and financial hole.

It benefits all of us if we can correct them, help them play by the rules, work, pay taxes, raise their own children.

Can we just stop making it so hard to do right and so easy to crash and burn?

That’s my take, please leave yours here.  And thanks for listening.

 

24 comments

  • the citizen

    got a letter from soc.serv. one time about takin a paternity test, said they would take my lic if i didnt take test……..i took it to save my lic…..FYI baby wont mine……..YESSS

  • manalishi

    There comes a point where Law and order turns into cruel and unusual. Personal transportation has become a leading tool in Va for revenue and utterly abused. Punishment is understandable, But this obsession with oppression has resulted in taking away a persons means.

    • StaceyP

      The reality is people do commit crimes. They make mistakes. Then some of these people try to put their lives back together and try to be productive members of society and they cannot because they are oppressed. Some people simply cannot pay their personal property tax and loose their drivers license. Then the cost of getting it back is too overwhelming they drive anyway. Now they are a criminal and turns into a vicious cycle. The point is this drivers licence suspension obsession with our goverment is hurting our society and means big bucks for them that you pay for.

  • StaceyP

    I just want to add the out of control driver that killed Stephen Huffman’s father is driving his car right now.Stephen can not drive because he had marijania in his possesion 4 years ago. And he was not driving when he got into trouble.

  • Sandybritches@yahoo.com

    i think it was Bn Franklin that said, sometimes you need to water the tree of freedom with the blood of tryants and patriots, so are the ones that makes these laws doing it for money? if so, spill their blood.
    Ponytail you did a great story here. The best one i think you have ever done.

  • nolicenseinva

    I got into alot of trouble too. All not violent and non driving related. My licence was suspended 6 months for each charge. A total of 3 1/2years. Well that time has passed and now dmv will not start the suspension time untill all fines are paid and pay a reinstatement fee I was unaware and now I feel I will never drive. 7 years without a licence for selling pot. Cruel and unusual punishment I think.

  • P. Turner

    My family was talking about this just a week ago about how unfair some of our laws are. If you get into trouble, there are so many fines, etc. to pay that it will take forever to pay them and then on top of that they take your driver’s license and you cannot even go to work to earn the money to pay the fines. It is a vicious circle and one that a lot of people cannot ever get out of. They have to commit another crime in order to live. It seems that the least likely among us to have the money to pay all of these fines put upon us, are the ones it hurts the most. I know we all must pay our debt to society, and yes, you should not commit the crime, but we all make mistakes during our life and our goal should be to help those that we can. It is cheaper to give them a helping hand up so they can earn a living and support their families so they do not have to go on government assistance. It costs more to give assistance to a family of say 3 or 4 and to jail their main provider than figure out some way they can continue to work to support their families. Of course I am not talking about people who commit violent crimes, etc. But if your crime did not in any way involve driving, taking their only way to earn a living for their families is an awful thing to do.
    In my opinion its just another way to get more money on the backs of those that can least afford it.

  • John

    It makes no sense for anyone to have their license suspended for no other reason than because they have violated a driving offense. Furthermore, no one should continue to be punished after they have paid whatever debt to society they court ordered to pay. Return those driver’s licenses and voting rights! Let’s stop being sheeple and just blindly following unjust laws and demand out lawmakers change these laws.

  • Fletcher Voelcker

    There’s only two groups responsible for this yet 93% of Virginia voters support, promote and fund these two corrupt groups. Even when they force known corrupt candidates upon us 93% of you continue to vote for them. If you vote for either of these two corrupt parties when you don’t have to then you are the problem not the solution.

  • ter2me

    I pretty much agree with everything in the article, with the exception of people who do not pay child support. If you don’t pay support for your child, you can walk.

    • John

      Oh yes, let agree with the fact that we shouldn’t revoke someone’s right to drive or vote because of totally unrelated offense but give an exception for child support, by the way let’s add this then that. History is very important for High Schoolers because it teaches us not to make the same mistakes again. Folks, adding certain crimes that you feel is so important is exactly what they did in the past which is why this communist Virginia is stripping more and more of our rights away.

  • timothy

    To solve the problem all together then we the people need to get it put in to vote that driving be not a privilege but a right granted to all Americans who are knowledgeable about driving and may no other crime that is unrelated to driving directly effect your right to possess your liscence.

  • WorkingMan

    Stop suspending licenses, period. Most people still drive after suspension. Then they wind up in jail for doing it. And then people continue to moan about jails being filled with non-violent people.

    It’s like putting a BIG wedge of chocolate cake in the fridge – and then telling your teenager (who’s just smoked a little pot) he’d better not eat it.

  • John

    Va is full of cowards and talkers and no one that walks the walk. And states that doesn’t let their people vote for their judges deserves it. You people let it go this for, don’t blame it all on your officials, y’all did it to yourself .

  • Tabetha

    They should definitely stop suspending license for crimes that have nothing to do with driving and make it easier for people to do right!!!

  • J.f. Willey

    Got some good news for yall griping about the cronie insubordiante government has done to you. you do not need a license. It is your right to travel in your own automobile. they cannot take a right and convert that right into a privilege or even collect a fee to u can be licensed to use that privilege. Please educate yourselves with your constitution guys. There are supreme court rullings that support this too.. #TimeToTakeBackAmerica

    • nolicenseinva

      Please post a link to the law you are referring to. Last was told, Virginia gives Tyne privileges to drive. Virginia claims out odds not a right. But then again, bu I’m a puppet that doesn’t know anything, other than what umm Tom’s

  • sw

    I find these laws totally ridiculous. My daughter was a passenger in a car with someone who was stopped. The officer asked her if she had drink anything and she admitted she had. They got her for underage drinking (she was 18) and suspended a drivers license she had not even gotten yet for one year. Over two years later she still has not gotten her license because she can’t afford the reinstatement fees although she is not being reinstated because she never had a license to begin with. I would have understood the punishment if she had been driving. There was no alcohol in the car and she was already old enough to vote and go to war. This was totally crazy.

  • Sharon Payne

    And you can’t get on a payment plan for your fines if the fines are not driving related.
    There must be thousands of people that are affected by these laws.

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