Sunday, November 16, 2008

License Suspensions: A Primer

I'm always amazed: every time the Enquirer has the opportunity to educate the public about a criminal justice issue, it fails. Today's article on license suspensions is an excellent example. The article notes the number of individuals who drive despite having a suspended license, and quotes HamCo Municipal Court Judge Nadine Allen regarding the drag this becomes on the court system.

Judge Allen is right: we don't do a good job, either in Ohio or in Hamilton County, on dealing with the enormous number of individuals who are caught driving with a license in a non-valid status. In this post, I'll describe the problem in greater detail. In my next post, I'll lay out my suggestion to fix this.

Driving without a license or with a suspended license in Ohio is a first-degree misdemeanor, which means that it's an offense punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. (The exceptions are driving on a license expired for fewer than 6 months, which is punishable only by a $150 fine and no jail time, and repeat driving under OVI-suspension, which is punishable by up to a year.)

It's important to understand the types of license suspensions. I suspect the most common is an "FRA suspension." "FRA" stands for Financial Responsibility Act, the Ohio law that requires all motorists to carry car insurance. The easiest way to get such a suspension is to be cited for a simple traffic violation during a time when you don't have car insurance. The BMV suspends a motorist's license in this situtation. (The BMV also conducts random checks on motorists' insurance; if you fail to respond to a BMV notice requring proof of insurance, your license is suspended.)

Closely related to the FRA suspension is a "judgment suspension." This generally occurs when a person is an automobile accident and doesn't have insurance, and the other driver sues and gets a judgment. In those cases, your license becomes suspended until you've paid off the judgment or entered into some sort of payment arrangement.

Falling too far into arrears on child support can cause a suspension. This can be fixed only by paying a certain percentage of the arrearage and making other arrangements with CSEA.

All felony drug offenses in Ohio carry a mandatory driver's license suspension.

The above suspensions don't carry mandatory jail time. But there are two that do:

First, a twelve-point suspension occurs when you accumulate 12 points on your driver's license. It's done automatically by the BMV. If you're caught and convicted of driving under a 12-point suspension, you'll face a mandatory three days of jail time.

Second, driving under an OVI (formerly DUI) suspension carries mandatory time that increases with each offense (first three days, then ten days, then thirty days). If you're convicted of OVI, the court will suspend your license (your license is also suspended automatically upon testing at or above .08). Ignoring either the automatic (or "administrative") suspension (even prior to conviction) or the court-ordered suspension are treated the same under Ohio law.

Finally, there are a broad category of people who, if caught driving, would be charged with "failure to reinstate." These are people whose license was suspended by either the BMV or a court and whose suspension has expired, but who failed to go to the BMV and pay their reinstatement fee (and perhaps satisfy some other requirements). These folks don't have a valid license, but aren't technically suspended. Nonetheless, the offense is a first-degree misdemeanor.

Now that we now what the various license suspensions, if we're worried about the impact these motorists are having on the court system, what do we do?

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