The War on Drugs and Your Driver’s License

In the 1980s and into the 1990s, many states adopted severe drug sentencing policies that resulted in packed prisons across the nation. Corrections costs were driven to near bankruptcy and communities, families and individuals’ lives were torn apart – all for drug offenses that were often non-violent and usually related to a cycle of relentless addiction. driving

As states have begun moving away from these types of policies, including minimum mandatory sentencing, it may also be time to explore whether the forms of punishment meted out are truly necessary and effective. One of those is the driver’s license suspension. Usually, people would loose their driver’s license for a period of time if they were arrested or convicted of an offense like drunk driving or reckless driving. However, they would usually have it returned after a certain time frame and completion of various requirements, such as paying fines and completing driver’s education classes. This ability to regain one’s license is important because in our modern society, one needs to have the ability to get to work, provide for their families and address their medical needs. The thinking goes we should only revoke the privilege when the individual has proven a threat to others on the road. But this kind of reasonable consideration was tossed aside when the War on Drugs came along.

Drug offenders started being denied all kinds of public services, and in the 1990s, Congress threatened to slash federal highway funds to states that didn’t revoke licenses of people convicted of drug offenses. So of course, some did, though a fair number also opted out when they learned how harmful these suspensions were and also how much it cost to oversee the process. 

Now, a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative looks closely at the dozen states plus the District of Columbia that continue to issue license suspensions to those convicted of drug-related offenses. Florida is one of them.

Every single year, the state of Florida automatically suspends 24,430 driver’s licenses every year as a result of criminal drug convictions – most of which have absolutely nothing to do with driving or one’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

Nationally, the report shows that 191,000 driver’s licenses are suspended for non-driving, drug-related offenses. From a practical standpoint, this means that people who need help to get a job and stay out of trouble when they are released from jail or prison – people who are already limited in their employment options – are even further restricted to the radius in which they can reasonably walk, bike or take public transportation. It also puts them at higher risk of additional criminal penalties if they decide to chance it and drive anyway to get to their jobs or try to handle other business of daily living, such as picking a child up after school, going to the grocery store, getting to work or going to the doctor. Unsurprisingly, many of these folks end up back in the criminal justice system.

And of course, it’s not just drug crimes. Some states will suspend one’s driver’s license for unpaid student loans, littering or failure to pay a toll. Communities that are poor, minority and have fewer means of alternative transportation are more profoundly affected by this.

These types of suspensions are slowly falling out of favor, but as our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys know, they are still ongoing in Florida. It’s bad policy and a waste of government resources. It’s estimated that Florida spends $72,000 annually on paper, envelopes and postage in order to correspond with those who licenses were suspended for non-driving reasons.

Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

Driver’s Licenses, Caught in the War on Drugs, Jan. 3, 2016, Opinion/ Editorial, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

NHTSA Pushes for Alcohol Detection Locks on All Cars to Curb DUI, Jan. 6, 2017, Fort Lauderdale Defense Lawyer Blog