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Lawsuit takes on driver's license suspensions

A criminal defense against drug charges is vital for a person if they hope to keep their freedom, avoid fines, and forestall a criminal record. However, Pennsylvania is one of 12 states that also imposes other long-term consequences for these convictions by suspending a driver's license for anywhere between six months and two years. This suspension may be imposed even if the crime was unrelated to driving or even if it concerned possession of small amounts of drugs.

The suspension law is a consequence of the federal government's war on drugs in the 1990s. Congress passed a law in 1991 threatening highway funding to states that did not suspend driver's licenses for drug convictions.


The federal law contains a provision, used by most states, allowing them to choose not to enforce this suspension. Pennsylvania never made chose this option and, under its law, has therefore suspended driving licenses for approximately 150,000 drivers between 2011 and 2016. In addition to the suspension, Pennsylvania charges a $70.00 reinstatement fee.

The non-profit organization, Equal Justice Under Law, sued the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on behalf of two drivers who were convicted of drug offenses. It argued that the suspensions are unrelated to traffic safety and lowering crime, and that it causes an economic hardship because drivers cannot drive to work. They argue that this hardship, in turn, can create an incentive for individuals to commit drug crimes.

The group also claimed that this punishment unreasonably burdens minorities. It is unfair, according to the plaintiff, because there is no license suspension for crimes that threaten vehicle safety, such as texting and driving, failure to yield to pedestrians, and even speeding in some cases.

Pennsylvania renewed this law last year. However, several lawmakers introduced bills to eliminate this suspension or allow exceptions for drivers who need to drive to work, school, or their doctor. Governor Tom Wolf also supports legislation to eliminate this suspension, and there is pending federal legislation to eliminate the federal law on these suspensions.

An attorney can help a person defend their rights in these cases. Experienced lawyers can also help fight against penalties or, where appropriate, seek a fair plea agreement. In the end, a skilled legal professional will do everything he or she can to minimize or eliminate the impact of facing drug charges.

Source: City Lab, "Why is Pennsylvania still suspending driver's licenses for drug offenses?" Brentin Mock, Jan. 18, 2018

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