The State of Pennsylvania has its own version of a discriminatory driver’s license suspension scheme: this one targets anyone with a drug-related offense.
Between 2011 and 2016, Pennsylvania suspended the licenses of nearly 149,000 drivers solely because of drug-related offenses – even if that offense was unrelated to driving and the offender had a perfect traffic safety record.
This law punishes safe drivers – even those charged with nothing more than possession of a small amount of marijuana. They’ve already faced sentences for their offenses; the license suspension is an additional punishment that serves no legitimate purpose and is an unfair attempt to punish drug offenders beyond their lawful sentence.
Losing a driver’s license is an extraordinary punishment that negatively affects virtually every aspect of a person’s life. Without the ability to drive, people can’t find and maintain employment, pursue education, keep medical appointments or care for loved ones. This law undercuts the state’s own interests in helping former offenders rehabilitate and live productive, law-abiding lives.
This discriminatory license suspension scheme particularly targets Pennsylvania’s impoverished neighborhoods, which are more likely to be policed, thus trapping many Pennsylvanians in an endless cycle of poverty.
38 states have already repealed similar laws. Equal Justice Under Law is now working to end this law in Pennsylvania, too.
On January 10, 2018, Equal Justice Under Law filed a class action lawsuit against Governor Tom Wolf and the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation challenging this discriminatory driver’s license suspension scheme that imposes counterproductive punishment on any person convicted of a drug-related offense. This is the beginning of the process to end the state’s unjust system and restore driving rights to hundreds of thousands of residents.
Russell Harold, Jr. is a 52-year old disabled resident of Philadelphia who lives with his elderly father. Because of charges of possession of small amounts of marijuana, his license was suspended; his conviction was unrelated to traffic safety and did not involve an automobile of any kind. Russell’s disability requires him to see a doctor several times a month, but because of his license suspension and unreliable public transportation, he has missed several of those medical appointments.
Despite his disability, Russell operated his own home cleaning business for over six years, using his personal vehicle for transportation to and for clients’ homes. Because of his license suspension, he can no longer drive himself to jobs and has lost a substantial amount of business. When he had a valid license, he made approximately $700 a week cleaning homes. Now that his license is suspended he makes no more than $200 a week – when he can find work at all.
Sean Williams is a 25-year old resident of Philadelphia and the father of a newborn son, who has been in intensive care for the first 8 months of his life. After being arrested for possession of small, personal amounts of marijuana three times, his license was suspended. None of his convictions were related to traffic safety or involved an automobile. In fact, Sean has never been cited for a traffic or car-related infraction of any kind.
Sean has been trying to find work to support himself and his newborn son but has lost out on many employment opportunities because he cannot drive. Sean’s son was born prematurely in April 2017. He has been in intensive care at the hospital for the past eight months, but will soon be coming home from the hospital. As a premature infant, he will require frequent medical appointments, and because of his vulnerability, public transportation poses a hazard to his health. Without the right to drive how will Sean get his son to necessary doctor’s appointments or – an even more terrifying thought – seek medical help in case of an emergency?
Russell and Sean are just two of many Pennsylvanians who are being unfairly punished for drug offenses. The system is hampering their ability to rehabilitate and live productive lives.
Timeline: Harold v. Richards
January 10, 2018: Equal Justice Under Law filed the initial complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Leslie Richards, Secretary of Transportation for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Read the complaint here: 1, 2017-01-10 P Complaint
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