Last night a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the Michigan Secretary of State’s office from suspending the driver’s licenses of people unable to pay their traffic tickets and associated charges.
A statement from Fred Woodhams, the spokesperson for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said this:
“We have received the opinion and order for the preliminary injunction. We are reviewing the judge’s opinion and look forward to the opportunity to fully present the state’s position. We believe that Michigan’s long-standing traffic safety laws are equally applied to all drivers.”
Judge Tom Boyd, president of the Michigan District Judges Association and 55th District Court judge in Ingham County, joined Stateside to help us understand what's happening.
Listen above for the full conversation, or catch highlights below.
On why things are changing
“With due respect to the Secretary of State, our traffic laws are horribly inequitable and they dramatically disadvantage people who don't have the ability to pay.”
On the current system
“If for some reason you don't pay money you owe to the court for a traffic ticket or something like that, immediately the Secretary of State suspends your driving privileges without any notice, without any opportunity to be heard, without any opportunity to explain why you didn't pay the ticket.
"Procedural due process means that the system, the procedure that the government puts in place is fair to everyone. And without an opportunity to come before some arbiter — a judge or something like that — and explain why you didn't pay that ticket, you just have no way to have fairness.
"Bottom line, people with money pay tickets. People without money struggle. We need to have a system in place that allows the person who is struggling to present the reasons why they're struggling.”
“This is how Michigan used to do it. This used to be something that district court judges did. A judge, he or she who knows their community and knows the people, would make the decision about whether someone was willingly failing to pay, or literally unable to pay. And that was taken away for administrative efficiencies so computers could talk to each other, and, in the process, people got trampled and that's what this [judge's] opinion says.”
On what happens next
“What does that mean for the rest of us going forward if the Secretary of State is prohibited from letting their computer automatically suspend people's driving privileges?
"My thought is the legislature will have to respond to that and have to create a system that makes sense. That is, a system that allows people who can't pay a ticket to speak to a human being and explain why. Probably they'll ask judges to make those decisions.”