Harold v. Richards


Pennsylvania targets people with drug-related convictions in a particularly severe way — unlike for all other criminal offenses, the state automatically suspends the driver’s license of any person whose conviction involved drugs.  These suspensions make social reentry nearly impossible; they deprive individuals of the ability to find and keep steady employment, to access medical care and addiction treatment services, and to care for their families during the critical period when they are trying to overcome the myriad consequences of a drug conviction and rebuild their lives.

Unlike the majority of states, Pennsylvania continues to enforce a relic of the failed war on drugs — a discriminatory policy that suspends licenses for drug offenses (including minor and first-time offenses) even where the offense did not involve traffic safety at all.  Between 2011 and 2016 alone, Pennsylvania suspended the licenses of nearly 149,000 individuals under this punitive scheme. Even though these individuals already serve criminal sentences for their convictions, they also lose their ability to drive for months, years and sometimes decades.  

Pennsylvania’s license suspension scheme disproportionately affects those who are over-policed and most likely to be convicted of drug offenses: people of color and people living in impoverished neighborhoods. Thus Pennsylvania traps thousands of former drug offenders in an endless cycle of hardship and poverty.

Plaintiffs Russell Harold and Sean Williams are fathers convicted of minor drug offenses. As a result of his years-long license suspension, Russell lost his job and he now has difficulty making it to doctor to treat his disability (and has missed many appointments entirely).  Russell’s license suspension also makes it impossible for him to spend time with and support his children and grandchildren like he did before.  Plaintiff Sean Williams is a young man who is stopped and frisked by police virtually every time he leaves his home, and as a result has been convicted of minor marijuana possessions. Without a license, Sean has lost out on numerous employment opportunities and can no longer care for his sick grandmother. Recently, Sean’s son was born prematurely and spent the first ten months of his life in intensive care the hospital. The baby will come home soon, but without the ability to drive, how will Sean get his fragile son to necessary doctor’s appointments or — an even more terrifying thought — seek medical help in case of an emergency?

Equal Justice Under Law is challenging Pennsylvania’s license suspension scheme as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, procedural due process, and the fundamental right to intrastate travel as recognized by the Third Circuit.  

 

case details


The Complaint

Motion for Preliminary Injunction

Status: Complaint, Preliminary Injunction, and Class Certification filed and fully briefed

Date Filed: 01/10/18

Plaintiffs: Russell Harold and Sean Williams, on behalf of a class of approximately 149,000

Defendants:

Leslie Richards, Secretary of Department of Transportation

Tom Wolf, Governor of Pennsylvania

Leo Bagley, Executive Deputy Secretary of the Department of Transportation

Kurt Myers, Deputy Secretary of Driver and Vehicle Services

Jurisdiction: Eastern District of Pennsylvania

 

IMPACT


This lawsuit seeks to put a stop to unlawful suspensions and restore the licenses of tens of thousands of Pennsylvania drivers. Already, it has spurred the state House of Representatives to take action on a previously-stalled bill eliminating drug-related license suspensions.