Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Driver's License Suspensions

Here's another thing that has been bugging me recently. I had a child support case in which I was defending a father who had gotten behind on his payments. The goal was not to get the payments reduced or eliminated, but merely to give him time to get caught up.

The issue that bugged me was the threat to suspend his driver's license until the arrearage was paid. Tennessee law arguably permits such an action. The question I have is - why?

It seems that we're suspending driver's licenses on a regular basis. A DUI carries a mandatory 1 year suspension for a first offense (higher for subsequent offenses). Perhaps that is understandable (at least for multiple offenders) since driving is an essential element of the offense. (I won't get into the issue of administrative suspensions prior to a finding of guilt, such as are permitted in Ohio, since Tennessee has had the wisdom not to enact that law.) But what connection does a driver's license have with the non-payment of child support? None.

In fact, there is probably a reverse connection. Does it not make more sense to leave a person's ability to drive intact, so that he (0r she) may continue to work and make the money needed in order to pay the support. Take away his right to drive and you have actually decreased his chances of paying child support. If the goal of the law is to get child support paid, this is counterproductive.

And it goes beyond child support. In Ohio, even minor drug crimes carry a mandatory six months suspension, even when there is no connection between driving and the crime.

How do laws like this get passed? Well, first there is this mistaken assumption that driving is a privilege that is granted us by the state. We have no right to drive. The state owns that right and permits us to drive only so long as we are good little citizens. If we do something the state doesn't like, they can take away our privileges (in essence, ground us like teenagers who bring the car home too late).

My opinion is that laws like this get proposed by someone who has an axe to grind and is blinded to all of the consequences. When the law gets debated, any dissenting voice gets stifled by the argument - if you oppose this you are in favor of not supporting children or you're soft on crime. So the law gets passed. The thing that really bothers me is that the courts ought to be looking at these laws critically and overturning them. Yet the courts just seem to buy in and permit the legislature to do what it wants.

Perhaps someday sanity will return to the process. Until then, we just muddle through as best we can.


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