Undeliverable: Suspended Driver's Licenses and the Problem of Notice
UCLA Criminal Justice Law Review, Forthcoming
Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2019-80
18 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2019
Date Written: November 19, 2019
In North Carolina, one in seven adult drivers currently has a suspended license, for non-driving related reasons. The government can suspend a person’s driver’s license for reasons unrelated to traffic violations, including failure to appear in court and failure to pay fines. To better understand what effects these driver’s license suspensions have on people, and whether they are even aware of the suspensions, we sought to survey a randomly selected 300 people in Wake County, North Carolina, who had their license suspended between 2017-2018. We sent these surveys by mail and found something unexpected and unrelated to many of the survey questions themselves: that the addresses on file for these people were extremely inaccurate. Over one-third had these mail surveys returned, for reasons that we detail. Only eight responded to the survey, suggesting that many others failed to receive the mail. As in many other states, in North Carolina, driver’s licenses are commonly suspended for failure to appear in court in response to notice of a traffic court date. Notices of such court dates are sent by mail, typically to the address on record at the Department of Motor Vehicles, as are subsequent notices notifying people that the consequence will be a driver’s license suspension. These undeliverable mailings suggest that large numbers of people, numbering perhaps in the hundreds of thousands in North Carolina, never receive actual notice of either their court date or the drastic consequence for non-appearance. They may have no idea that the state has suspended their license, and as a result, may suffer severe consequences if later stopped for driving with a revoked license. We conclude by discussing the due process and policy problems implied by these findings.
Keywords: Driver’s License Suspension, Fines and Fees, Due Process, Notice
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