Friday, December 10, 2010

Lawyer files suit to end surcharge program

I've written in the past of Texans caught in the Kafka-esque nightmare of the DPS Driver Responsibility Program that imposes surcharges on drivers convicted of certain offenses such as driving while intoxicated and driving without insurance.

Fort Worth defense attorney Mimi Coffey has also had enough. Ms. Coffey filed suit in federal court seeking to end the surcharges on the grounds that the imposition of the surcharge violates the principle of double jeopardy. The argument goes that the person has already had a penalty imposed by the court as a result of the conviction -- be it a fine, jail time, probation or a license suspension - and that the imposition of another financial penalty is, in effect, punishing the motorist a second time.

"You can't deprive property without due process," Coffey said. "I think it's time somebody do something about this."
The situation worsens if a motorist cannot afford the surcharge as the sanction for failing to pay the surcharge is a license suspension. And this is where the program becomes a never-ending cycle for those caught up in its vortex: if you can't pay the surcharge your license is suspended and, should you be ticketed for driving on that suspended license you'll get hit with another surcharge and yet another license suspension.

The author of the original bill putting the program into place, Rep. Mike Krusee of Round Rock, thinks the Driver Responsibility Program needs to go. Even MADD says it's time to scrap it (provided the state find another way to fund trauma centers).
"We have seen nothing that shows the program helps deter drunken driving."  Bill Lewis, MADD public policy liaison
Others have proposed repealing the program as is and enact new legislation that would hit motorists convicted of DWI for surcharges. Let's see, a motorist convicted of drunk driving has a criminal conviction on his record that can never be expunged, he spent at least a night in jail and will likely be under court supervision for at least 12 months -- I think reasonable people would agree that's adequate punishment.

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