Court: Tennessee must stop revoking licenses due to inability to pay

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge has deemed the state's practice of revoking a person's license due to the inability to pay court fees is unconstitutional.

Under current Tennessee law, if a person doesn't pay their court fees their license is revoked.

According to statistics provided by The Tennessean more than 146,200 drivers lost their license simply because they could afford to pay court costs. Of that number, only 10,750 of those individuals were reinstated.

Josh Spickler is with Just City, a criminal justice reform group that sued the state over this law in 2017.

"The point of the case and the point of the ruling is very clear. You can't get money from someone who doesn't have it, no matter what the threat is," he said. "The only result of this law has been to send people further into the cycle of poverty."

Spickler says more than 150,000 people have lost their licenses because of this law, many of whom are taking a gamble every time they drive to work.

"Now you're driving without a license, which is a separate offense. There are court costs associated with that, but you still have to go to work and take that chance."

He says the state has plenty of other ways to collect debt, like garnishing someone's wages or putting liens on their property.

"They have lots of options, and this option didn't work."

The state now has 60 days to come up with a plan focusing on how they will reinstate all of the licenses revoked under the law.

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