The Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service has been taking a closer look at the impact driver’s license violations have on low-income Marylanders’ ability to get their records expunged and whether violations are pushing them into poverty.
When an MVLS lawyer assists a client with criminal record expungement, license violations may be treated like criminal cases because there’s potential for jail time. Even a conviction for driving with a suspended license with no jail time served can prevent the expungement of more serious charges which would otherwise be eligible for expungement, MVLS attorneys said.
Fines for drivers license violations can be forwarded to the Central Collections Unit, which adds a 17 percent fee. The unit can garnish a debtor’s wages.
“This is something that happens to so many of our clients. It’s an issue that continues to follow people for so long,” said Chris Sweeney, workforce development project coordinator at MVLS.
Clients often come to MVLS in a “crisis moment,” with one pressing legal issue, but attorneys also try to look for “indicators of poverty,” said Amy Hennen, managing attorney of consumer and housing law at MVLS.
“The license issue, we’ve really become aware of how prevalent an issue it is for some of our clients,” Hennen said.
MVLS has been learning about the prevalence of drivers license violations using a data-scraping tool created by former staff attorney Matthew Stubenberg. The Client Legal Utility Engine, or CLUE, scraped the Maryland Judiciary Case Search to find data on the types of punishments given to people convicted of driving without a license in Maryland.
The tool revealed the following data:
- From 2007 to 2010, there were 62,560 convictions for driving without a license.
- Those convictions resulted in at least $7,082,024 being assessed in fines, of which more than $1,872,713 was suspended, meaning that amount is not actually imposed on the defendant. Fines suspended are likely higher, but data on suspended fines is reported inconsistently and is difficult to assess, MVLS said.
- Courts imposed administrative costs of $1,840,938, of which at least $155,302 was suspended.
- Courts assessed a total of $831,157, with $245,917 of that suspended, for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund, a fund established to reimburse crime victims.