AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va (WHSV) — The Legal Aid Justice Center says right now, one in six drivers in Virginia have a suspended license for failure to pay court fees.
Tim Martin, Commonwealth's Attorney for Augusta County, says this is a huge problem here in the valley. He has a different opinion on the automatic license suspension than the LAJC does.
The LAJC believes it is unconstitutional to suspend a license over unpaid court fees, arguing it prevents people from working, further preventing them from earning money to pay their fees, and causing the suspension to last for years.
Martin disagrees. He says people will continue not to pay fees if there is no negative consequence for it. There is no jail time for not paying court fees, and Martin says additional fees won't work for those who are already ignoring them, so there is no other way.
He says while some people are truly unable to pay their fees, based on his experience, this is not the case for most people. He says there are programs in place to help people who can't afford their court fees or fines. They allow you to keep your license as long as you're putting in effort to pay, by paying small payments monthly.
"The courts are generally very sympathetic, and they do a good job of giving people and opportunity," Martin said. "The fact is a lot of people don't take that opportunity, and they just do not care."
However, Martin says most people in this situation are choosing to ignore their fines and spend their money elsewhere.
"Keep in mind they didn't just get their license suspended because they were innocently walking down the street and it happened to them like catching a cold," Martin said. "They did something, they were assessed these fines and costs as the result of a conviction, and then they didn't pay them."
The LAJC wants those whose licenses were suspended for these reasons to be given back, but Martin says this automatic suspension is the only solution. He says most people in this situation continue to drive, and many with suspended licenses also have no insurance.
Martin says asking how to keep those drivers off the road is the big question.