Every year Montana suspends the licenses of an estimated 10,000 Montana residents because they are unable to pay court debts, even though many are simply too poor to pay. Montana does not take the driver’s ability to pay into consideration before suspension, nor does it offer a community service option or a reasonable payment plan.
Montana has virtually no public transportation options, so the loss of a driver’s license in the state is particularly devastating. Unable to drive, people often lose their jobs or have a hard time finding employment, making it even more unlikely that they will be able to pay their debts to the state. This system traps people who are poor in an impossible cycle of poverty, and it’s bad public policy.
On August 31, 2017, Equal Justice Under Law — in partnership with local counsel Robert Farris-Olsen and Scott Peterson of Morrison, Sherwood, Wilson & Deola, PLLP — filed a class action lawsuit against Montana’s Governor, Attorney General and other officials for suspending driver’s licenses of people with safe driving records simply because they are too poor to pay their traffic tickets or court costs. Our lawsuit, DiFrancesco v. Bullock, alleges this scheme is fundamentally unfair and violates the Constitution.
Michael DiFrancesco is a 22-year old who has never been charged with a moving traffic violation or any violation related to road safety, and yet, Montana prevents him from having a license. Why? Because he was too poor to pay a fine from a single civil infraction of possessing alcohol when he was underage. His court debts have now ballooned to over $4,000.
Without a license, it’s difficult for Michael to travel to his job as a construction worker, so he has experienced intermittent unemployment as well as periods of homelessness.
This lawsuit is the first step toward ending this discriminatory system.
If your license has been suspended because you cannot afford to pay a fine and you have a clean driving record, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with a description of your situation.
Timeline: DiFrancesco v. Bullock
August 31, 2017: Equal Justice Under Law filed the initial complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Montana, Butte Division against the Governor of Montana, the Attorney General of Montana, the Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Division, and Chief of the Driver Services Bureau
For a link to our Press Release regarding filing, go here: Driving While Poor in Montana PR
November 7, 2017: Equal Justice Under Law filed a response to the State’s Motion to Dismiss
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