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How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California, LCCR Report, 2015

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Alex Bender, Esq.
Stephan Bingham, Legal Aid Attorney, retired
Mari Castaldi, Program Coordinator, EBCLC
Elisa Della Piana, Director of Programs, EBCLC
Meredith Desautels, Staff Attorney, LCCR
Michael Herald, Legislative Advocate, WCLP
Endria Richardson, Staff Attorney, LSPC
Jesse Stout, Policy Director, LSPC
Theresa Zhen, Skadden Fellow, ANWOL
Special thanks to:
Jeff Selbin
The California Department of Motor Vehicles
The Judicial Council of California
All the clients and advocates who shared their stories with us

Table of Contents
Client Stories............................................................................................................................................................................5
I. Executive Summary............................................................................................................................................................7
II. The Problem: Explosion of Debt and License Suspensions..................................................................................10
III. The Process: How an Unpaid Ticket Results in Huge Fines, Fees and License Suspensions ................... 15
IV. The Impact: Disastrous Consequences of Court Ordered Debt and License Suspensions ......................17
V: The Cost: Hidden Traffic Taxes Hurt Government, Public Safety and the Economy.....................................20
VI: Solutions: Stop the Cycle of Suspensions for Collections, Protect Jobs, and Collect More Revenue...22
VII. Conclusion........................................................................................................................................................................24

Low-income Californians are being disproportionately impacted by state laws and procedures related to driver’s license suspensions. Due to increased fines and fees and reduced
access to courts, more than four million Californians have suspended drivers licenses. These
suspensions make it harder for people to get and keep jobs, harm credit ratings and raise
public safety concerns. Ultimately they keep people in long cycles of poverty that are difficult if not impossible for many to overcome. This report highlights the impacts on families,
how the problem happens and what can and should be done to rectify it.

4+ million
licenses suspended in California

$10 billion
uncollected court-ordered debt

5 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

Andrew, a 22-year-old single father, was working as a mechanic and making regular installment payments to the court on a couple of traffic tickets. A few months into the payments, his
two-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia. As his son’s sole caretaker, Andrew had to leave
his job to care for his son. His sudden loss of income meant that he could not meet the terms
of his payment plan, and the court suspended his driver’s license. His fines were handed off to
a collections agency, with an extra $300 “civil assessment” tacked on for his “failure to pay” as
planned. Andrew needed to travel over 25 miles to and from chemotherapy treatments several
times a week without a car, and he was terrified to bring his immunocompromised two-yearold on the bus. The court refused to hear his case unless he paid the full fine amount, and he
was told he could not get a license until the full amount of fines and fees was paid, even if he
resumed making installment payments.

“Without a license, I can’t work. Without work, I
can’t pay my fines to get my license back.”


Tammi had not been pulled over in years, so she was perplexed when she received a notice from
the DMV saying that her license had been suspended due to unpaid fines. She visited the court,
where a clerk informed her that she owed over $3,500 for several unpaid traffic tickets. Tammi
was sure the tickets weren’t hers, and suspected that they belonged to her sister, who she had
recently caught using her identity. She asked to see a judge, but was told that she could not,
unless she paid the full fine amount first. Though Tammi knew she was innocent, she was only
receiving $850 each month in Social Security benefits, and had no way of paying that much up
front. Simply because she was unable to afford to pay to appear in front of a judge, Tammi faced
the prospect of having her credit significantly damaged and her license suspended indefinitely.

6 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

I. Executive Summary
A recent report by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice found that the courts and law enforcement agencies in Ferguson, Missouri, are systematically and purposefully taking money from the pockets of poor
people—disproportionately African Americans—to put into court and city coffers.2 While the context may be different
in California, many of the practices are chillingly similar.3 Here, as in Missouri, a litany of practices and policies turn a
citation offense into a poverty sentence: the revenue incentives of fine collection lead to increased citation enforcement,4 add-on fees for minor offenses double or quadruple the original fine, and people who fail to pay because they
don’t have the money lose their driver’s licenses. Once an initial deadline is missed, courts routinely deny people the
right to a hearing unless they can afford the total amount owed up front, and payment in full becomes the sole means
for having a license reinstated.
As a result of these policies and practices, millions of Californians do not have valid driver’s licenses because they cannot
afford to pay citation fines and fees. In fact, over 4 million people, or more than 17% of adult Californians, now have
suspended licenses for a failure to appear or pay. These suspensions make it harder for people to get and keep jobs,
further impeding their ability to pay their debt. Ultimately, they keep people in long cycles of poverty that are difficult,
if not impossible to overcome. This report highlights the growing trend of driver’s license suspensions, how the problem
happens, the impact on families and communities, and what can and should be done about it.

The Problem: Explosion of Debt and License Suspensions
Over the past few decades, the fines and fees associated with traffic citations have steadily increased. What used to
be a $100 violation now costs nearly $500, and jumps to over $800 if a person misses the initial deadline to pay. As
the fees have gone up, and with the economic crisis, fewer people can afford to pay their tickets. In addition, instead
of suspending driver’s licenses only where public safety is at stake, courts now use license suspensions as a tool for
collecting this unpaid traffic citation debt. This means that once a ticket goes to collections, the person cannot have a
driver’s license until every cent of a fee is paid, even if she is making monthly payments for years.
For many people, this collection system creates unjust results. While people who can afford to pay, do, many who cannot
pay lose their jobs because they need a license to work. Parents cannot drive sick kids to medical appointments. Families
must choose between food and traffic fines. Some, including identity theft victims, suffer these harms even when they
did not commit the offense in the first place. The logical place to resolve these injustices is in court. However, missing
a deadline to pay a traffic fine now bars entry for anyone who cannot pay up front: courts across California require the
“total bail,” or maximum fine amount, to be paid before a person can exercise the right to a hearing.5 This means you
must pay or lose your license, even if you didn’t violate the law.
Without the ability to pay or an opportunity to request a fair remedy in court, the number of people with license suspensions is at a record high: over four million Californians have suspended driver’s licenses solely because they have not
paid the full fines for minor infractions. Ironically, the system is starving itself of revenue. When people cannot work,
they cannot pay traffic fines. When they know they cannot get a license even if they make monthly payments for years,
they stop paying. The result: California now has over $10 billion in uncollected court-ordered debt.

The Process: How an Unpaid Ticket Results in Huge Fines, Fees and License Suspensions
The consequences of an unpaid citation are swift and severe. After the initial deadline to appear in court or pay the
ticket is missed, regardless of the reason, the driver’s license is suspended and an additional $300 civil assessment is
added to the total fine amount. This is true even if the citation had nothing to do with driving – for example, a citation
for loitering or littering.
The result is a two-tiered system of justice in traffic courts across California, where only money grants access to the
courts. Those who have the money to pay up front can contest the ticket in writing, and can schedule a court date that
works with their schedule. In fact, they are often the only ones who can schedule a court date at all.
Yet, access to the courts is critical for those without money; a court hearing is often the only way to get relief from the
amount owed. State law requires courts to take into account a person’s ability to pay when assessing traffic fines and
fees, but the imposed fines rarely reflect ability to pay. For example, under statute, the civil assessment fee for missing

7 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem
a deadline is supposed to be “up to $300,” but courts routinely impose the full amount. Much of the money from these
fees goes to fund the courts, so the revenue incentives are at odds with the requirement to consider a person’s financial
In addition, many—though not all—California courts allow payment plans or community service to resolve traffic fines,
but those options usually are not explained or even mentioned in the courtesy notices mailed by the courts, nor are they
available in most counties unless you are able to get a court hearing. After a person’s license is suspended for failure to
pay a fine, the debt is usually referred to an outside collections agency. Court personnel claim “no jurisdiction” over the
case, and refuse to reconsider it, even if the fine was assessed in error. A person without the money to pay the ticket is
left with full payment as the only option to reinstate the license.

The Impact: The Disastrous Consequences of Court-Ordered Debt and License
The net result of high fees and limited due process is millions of suspended licenses in California. The impact on
California’s families is significant. Low- and middle-income jobs increasingly require driver’s licenses. Taking public
transportation to work can be onerous and time-consuming: one study found that job seekers in Alameda County had
to make on average three to four transfers between home and areas where work was available. Data shows that a valid
driver’s license is a more accurate predictor of sustained employment than a General Educational Development (GED)
diploma. Many cannot find work without a license. For those who are employed, many cannot keep their jobs without
a valid driver’s license. A New Jersey study found that 42% of people whose driver’s licenses were suspended lost their
jobs as a result of the suspension.6
As in Ferguson, these policies disproportionately impact people of color, beginning with who gets pulled over in the first
place. Recent San Diego and Sacramento data show that African-American people were two to four times more likely to
get pulled over for a traffic stop than white people; Hispanic people were also disproportionately stopped and searched.
In San Francisco, over 70% of people seeking legal assistance for driver’s license suspensions were African American,
though African Americans make up only 6% of the city as a whole. In the broader employment context, people with
African-American sounding names are significantly less likely to get job interviews than white people with the same
resume.7 Existing employment barriers based on race should not be exacerbated by court policies that further deprive
people of jobs and employment prospects.

The Cost: How Fines and License Suspensions Impose a Hidden Tax on Government,
Public Safety, and the Economy
Using license suspensions to collect debt rather than to preserve public safety means that there are millions of Californians
who are not a driving safety threat, but who cannot have valid driver’s licenses. According to the American Association
of Motor Vehicle Administrators, this type of license suspension is dangerous because it diverts police officer time and
attention from public safety priorities. The police, DMV, and courts spend millions arresting, processing, administering,
and adjudicating charges for driving on a suspended license. Add in the cost of jailing drivers whose primary fault was
failing to pay, and we have a costly debtor’s prison.
The current policies are counterproductive for employers as well: there is a cost to hiring and re-training a new person for
a job being done well by someone else. It is an unnecessary expense to both employers and the state to pay unemployment insurance for an employee who would be retained if the person had a license.
Additional costs to the state include the fact that many more families have to rely on safety net public benefits because
these millions of suspended licenses are a barrier to gainful employment. There are also the secondary impacts of
unemployment on the economy and on families living in poverty; children often bear the brunt of the harms of poverty,
and some of these costs will not be fully realized for decades.
Changing California’s practices regarding license suspension would come with some implementation costs. However,
by restoring driver’s licenses and allowing people to work, more drivers would be able to pay traffic fines and fees,
which would reduce uncollected court debt and increase revenue, as well as eliminate the hidden costs to California’s
families and economy.

8 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

Solutions: Stop the Cycle of Suspensions for Collections, Protect Jobs, and Collect
More Revenue
California should end the use of license suspensions as a collection tool for citation-related debt, allowing more people
to work and pay their debts. An array of other collection tools is at the state’s disposal. Additionally, California courts
must ensure that access to the courts and fair due process do not depend on income; individuals should not have to
pay up front to get a hearing.
The cost of paying a ticket is too high, for everyone. Current fees should be reduced by 50%. In assessing fines as punishment, courts should, as state law already contemplates, take into account ability to pay. Standardized payment plans
and community service options could alleviate the financial burden of fines and fees, as well as reduce the number of
delinquent accounts.
Finally, there are over four million drivers who need this relief now: make it retroactive. The right amnesty plan will
release current license suspensions and forgive debt for the poorest Californians, as an investment in California’s families
and future.

Real Life Story: Sam

Sam has received two driving-related tickets in the past two years - one in San Francisco and one in Oakland. He was not
able to pay either ticket, and further was unable to appear for his court date because he was participating in a program
that required him to stay at a rehabilitation facility. He is professionally trained and was previously employed as a chef,
but since his license suspension, he has been rejected by multiple restaurants after initial offers of employment due to his
license suspension. He continues to search for employment, but because of the license suspension is unable to find a job.
As a result, he is now on General Assistance, paid by county funds.

9 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

II. The Problem: Explosion of Debt and License
At its root, the problem of driver’s license suspensions in
California has four primary elements:
(A) Fines, fees, and assessments on traffic tickets and
other citations are higher than they have ever been, such that
today an individual is automatically charged $490 for what is
initially a $100 ticket.
(B) Courts are using license suspensions as a primary
means for collecting citation debt at the same time that budget
shortfalls have caused the state to increasingly rely on fees,
fines, and assessments to fund basic court operations.
(C) Cuts to court budgets have also corresponded to
an increasing practice by the courts of using pre-payment of
fines as a condition to accessing the courts, limiting the use
of court resources to those who are able to pay up front.
(D) The recent economic crisis, combined with California’s exceptionally high poverty rate, means many low-income
Californians are faced with the impossible choice of paying for
basic necessities and paying a ticket, with the consequence
of millions of suspended licenses and billions in uncollected
These four issues converge to a crisis point when low-income
individuals, facing economic and logistical barriers to appearing
in court and/or paying the steep fines associated with traffic
tickets, miss the deadline to do so. The result is huge additional
fees and endless license suspensions that trap people in poverty.
As the data below indicates, the California Department of Motor
Vehicles (DMV) has brought more than 4.2 million actions to
suspend drivers’ licenses based on a failure to appear or pay
fines, fees, or assessments in the past eight years alone.

By the Numbers:

In short, more than one out of every six drivers in California
is impacted. If these numbers were a contagious disease, it
would be a public health crisis.
The sections below will explore each of these four trends in
further depth.

A. Fines for Citations and Add-on Fees Have

The story of license suspensions in California begins with the
rapidly increasing costs of a single citation. In 2006, the California
Research Bureau (CRB) released a report entitled Who Pays for
Penalty Assessments in California.8 This report documents the
growth of “penalty assessments,” which are generally the statutory assessments added to a citation fine to fund various state
and county programs.9 According to the CRB report, actions
by the Legislature have caused fines to become steeper and
more complex over time.10 The report found that as a result,
in 2006 a $100 ticket actually cost $390.
In recent years, the cost of a single citation has continued to
go up. In 2008, California faced an unprecedented budget
shortfall due to the economic crisis. Every area of state government was subjected to significant budget cuts, and California’s
courts were no exception. To partially alleviate the budget
cuts, the Legislature authorized even more fees and assessments on tickets. For example, in 2011, a bill was introduced
to add a new penalty assessment, AB 1657 (Wieckowski). The
bill analysis from the Assembly Appropriations Committee
noted that, due to new assessments, the cost of a $100 ticket
was actually $479, and the cost of a $500 ticket was

According to a Senior Administrator for the Metropolitan Courthouse of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, there
are 1.8 million traffic citations filed by the Superior Court of Los Angeles County per year from over 150 law enforcement
agencies. Approximately 8,000 complaints for failure to appear were filed every week in the fiscal year of 2007-2008.
When the Clerk of the Superior Court of Los Angeles issues and files a complaint electronically under Penal Code
section 959.1(c) for failure to appear, it triggers a base fine of $75 per the Bail Schedule, which is then augmented by
various legislatively mandated penalty assessments and fees. In the 2007-2008 Fiscal Year, the fines, forfeitures, and
assessments related to the more than 8,000 complaints electronically issued and filed each week by the Clerk of the
Superior Court of Los Angeles County for failure to appear did indeed exceed $75 million.11

10 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

Cost of an Infraction Citation in California Traffic Court, 2015



BASE FINE (example)



State penalty assessment (Penal Code (PC) §1464)

$10 for every $10
base fine


State criminal surcharge (PC § 1465.7)

20% surcharge on
base fine


Court operations assessment (PC § 1465.8)

$40 fee per fine


Court construction (Government Code (GC) § 70372)

$5 for every $10 in
base fine


County fund (GC § 76000)

$7 for every $10 in
base fine


DNA Fund (GC § 76104.6 and § 76104.7)

$5 for every $10 in
base fine


Emergency Medical Air Trans. Fee (GC §76000.010)

$4 fee per fine


EMS Fund (GC § 76000.5)

$2 for every $10
in fine


Conviction assessment(GC § 70373)

$35 fee per fine


Night court assessment (GC § 42006)

$1 per fine




DMV warrant/hold assessment fee (Vehicle Code (VC) § 40508.6)

$10 fee


Fee for failing to appear (VC § 40508.5)

$15 fee


Civil assessment for failure to appear/pay (PC § 1214.1)

$300 fee




Source: California Vehicle Code, California Judicial Council

actually $1,829.12 Governor Brown ultimately vetoed AB 1657,
and in his veto message stated: “[l]oading more and more costs
on traffic tickets has been too easy a source of new revenue.
Fines should be based on what is reasonable punishment,
not on paying for more general fund activities.” 13
Today, according to the “Uniform Bail Schedule” promulgated
by the Judicial Council of California, a ticket with a $100 dollar
base fine, for example for failing to carry proof of auto insurance under Vehicle Code section 16020, actually costs $490
after imposition of statutory fees and assessments, and $815

Real Life Story: Laura

if the individual misses the initial deadline to appear in court
or pay the ticket.14 The chart above sets out the statutes and
amounts for each penalty assessment that is added to the
“base fine,” or initial penalty for the violation.
With the increasing costs of a single citation in California, more
and more people are unable to pay their debts. The burden of
this debt, itself a major issue, becomes vastly more significant
in light of the primary means being used for its collection –
driver’s license suspensions.

Laura cares for her elderly parents. She needs to drive them to medical appointments, grocery shop for them, and pick
up prescriptions. But she cannot, because she missed the deadline on two “fix-it” tickets, and now owes the full fine
amount plus $300 per ticket. As a result of nothing more serious than a broken taillight and a missed deadline, Laura
cannot provide what her parents need and cannot see a judge to plead her case.

11 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

B. Escalating Reliance on License Suspensions
for Debt Collection
1. Expanding Use of License Suspensions for Revenue
Originally, license suspensions were used to promote driving
safety by punishing and removing unsafe drivers from the road
and thereby encouraging safe driving.15 Over time, however, the
scope of license suspensions has expanded greatly, reflecting
a shift in the primary purpose of suspensions from protecting
public safety to collecting revenue.16 Today, suspensions are
routinely invoked for behavior unrelated to driving. For example,
California suspends driver’s licenses for truancy, vandalism, and
crimes by juveniles, among many other reasons.17

In courts across the state, suspensions for unpaid debt have
become a regular occurrence. Licenses are suspended for late
or non-payment for minor traffic violations, such as tickets for
broken taillights, misplaced registration stickers, and failure to

“The fines and assessments
being collected by the courts
have increasingly been used
not as a penalty for the
violation, but as a source of
revenue to fund government
operations, including the
report a change of address. They are also imposed for late or
non-payment for violations that are entirely unrelated to driving,
such as tickets for carrying an open alcohol container in public
or failure to pay transit fare. Additionally, anecdotal evidence
suggests that licenses are being suspended for failure to pay
costs related to criminal convictions, even though there is no
clear legal authority for license suspensions in those situations. 18

2. Collection Processes for Citation Debt

The use of license suspensions as a revenue-collection tool
has coincided with a shift in the way that court-ordered fees,
fines, and assessments have been both collected and used
by the state.

Real Life Story: Frank

In the majority of counties across the state, the responsibility
for collecting traffic court debt has been delegated by the
counties to the courts.19 When an individual fails to pay a ticket,
the courts are empowered to immediately take two punitive
measures: imposition of a late-penalty fine of $300, called
a “civil assessment,” and suspension of the driver’s license.20
These measures are part of a broader scheme called the
“comprehensive collection program,” which is set out in state
law.21 Counties and courts that follow the “comprehensive
collection program” scheme are authorized by law to recover
the costs associated with the collection effort.22
Counties and courts are increasingly assisted in their collection
efforts by private companies who provide contracted collection
services. Pursuant to state law, the Judicial Council of California
establishes guidelines for county and court collection programs,
including a standard agreement for contracting with private
companies to conduct collection activities.23 In 2014, the
Judicial Council signed a contract for a “Master Agreement”
with AllianceOne Receivables for the purpose of providing
collection services to participating counties.24 According to
this agreement, AllianceOne conducts collection services on a
commission basis, with commissions ranging from 13-17% for
most fines and fees, and capped at 10% for collection of victim
restitution moneys.25 The role and impact of AllianceOne and
similar debt collection companies will be discussed in more
detail in Sections III and IV below.
The fines and assessments being collected by the courts have
increasingly been used not as a penalty for the violation,
but as a source of revenue to fund government operations,
including the courts. According to the CRB report Who Pays
for Penalty Assessments in California, in the 1980s most states,
including California, used court-ordered penalty payments to
fund non-court activities, such as driver education programs
for local school districts.26 But a national movement to adopt
model standards for the use of court-ordered penalties urged
direction of these monies to fund court operations. In 1985,
California directed counties to send a portion of these funds
to courts to pay for trial operations, and in 2002, counties were
directed to send $5 of every $10 collected from a surcharge
on court-ordered penalties back to the court.27
Under the current statutory scheme, money collected from
court-ordered debt is distributed first to satisfy victim restitution (where applicable), and second to the recovery of the cost
of collection.28 After these two priorities are met, the funds

Frank was working part-time when he got a couple of traffic tickets five years ago. He was paying in installments
but had to stop because he could no longer afford those payments on top of increasing basic living expenses. He
currently owes $6,800—$4,000 of which is penalty fees. He was offered a job, but the offer was contingent on getting
a license, so he could not accept it. He remains unemployed and unable to pay off any of his debt.

12 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

are distributed to state and county programs. In 2011-2012,
the state received 60% of the collected funds, and two-thirds
of those funds were directed to trial court operations and
construction, as shown in the chart by the Legislative Analysts
Office.29 As a result, the courts across the state are tasked with
collection of debt from citation violations, and this debt is
ultimately used to fund the courts.

the reason for missing the initial deadline. In this way, access
to the court is contingent on having money. Moreover, even
for a person who can post bail, there is usually no opportunity
to appear before a judge. Instead, the individual must request
relief in writing, which creates an additional barrier for seniors,
people with disabilities, and anyone without the resources to
file paperwork on their own.34

C. Cuts to Court Budgets Reduce Access to

Finally, in some counties it has been reported that bail is required
not only for those who have missed an initial deadline, but for
anyone seeking a court date on their citation.35 A person cannot
have an initial hearing on their ticket at all without paying the fine
up front. If that person ultimately prevails in fighting the ticket,
they would in effect be seeking reimbursement from the court.
The result of this bail requirement is a two-tiered system of justice.
If you have money, you can get a trial, as is your constitutional
right. If you cannot afford to pay to get into court, you could
be stuck with no driver’s license and hundreds or thousands of
dollars in fines – even if you are innocent.

Since the Great Recession in 2008, the California court system
in particular has faced unprecedented budget cuts. The result
has been years of courthouse closures and layoffs, with over
$1 billion in budget reductions and closures of over 200
courtrooms.30 Members of the public seeking to use court
services have found fewer courthouses open for fewer days
for shorter hours and with longer lines, among many other
barriers to access. Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye of the California
Supreme Court has said that the current funding is simply “not
enough to provide timely, meaningful justice to the public.” 31
These court cuts have directly impacted people facing citations
in traffic court. In addition to the general lack of court access,
people with tickets have found themselves increasingly shut
out of the traffic court system as a result of courts’ growing
use of “bail” requirements. In essence, courts have begun to
require payment of “total bail,”32 or the full amount owed on
a citation, as a precondition to accessing court resources.
Across the state, once the initial deadline for appearing in court
or paying the ticket has passed, an individual must post the
full bail to receive any further process from the court.33 This
bail requirement holds regardless of the individual’s income
– there is no waiver or reduction process – and regardless of

“If you are poor, you are stuck
with no driver’s license and
hundreds or thousands of
dollars in fines - even if you are

COLLECTION PROCESS 6 (Nov. 10, 2014), available at

13 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

D. Current Policies Result in Millions of License
Suspensions, Billions in Uncollected Debt

Based on the cumulative suspension
and reinstatement actions by the
DMV, currently an estimated 4.2
million drivers in California have
suspended licenses.

1. With the Great Recession, License Suspensions
Together the trends of steep fine increases, expanded use of
license suspensions as a means of collecting these fines, and
reduced access to relief through the courts combine to make
the traffic court system an intractable problem for people with
limited income. The number of people who fall into this category
is huge in California due to the state’s exceptionally high rates
of poverty. A 2014 report by the U.S. Census found California
to have the highest poverty rate in the nation, with nearly a
quarter of residents, 8.9 million people, living in poverty.36
Across the state, the majority of families living in poverty have
an income between $29,500 and $37,400.37 In most of these
families at least one household member is working: 37.3% of
poor families have at least one member working full time, and
another 25.6% have a member working part time.38 As a result
of the Great Recession, California saw its rate of poverty grow
faster than that of the rest of the country.39

That the economic struggles of the Recession have played a
role in this issue is evident in the license suspension trends
reported by the DMV. The chart below shows the DMV’s license
suspension and reinstatement actions between 2006 and 2013.
The number of suspensions grew steadily through 2010, with a
decline in the number of suspension actions beginning in 2011,
likely due to the slow economic recovery occurring at that time.
Based on a cumulative analysis of suspension and reinstatement actions reported by the DMV, currently an estimated 4.2
million drivers in California have suspended licenses.40

License Suspension & Reinstatement Actions in California, 2006-2013

Suspension under
under §13365

Total Suspensions





























488, 816

545, 703

575, 473






Source: California Department of Motor Vehicles.

14 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

The number of license suspension actions for failure to
pay or failure to appear is particularly troubling when
considered alongside the total number of California
driver’s licenses. According to the DMV Newsroom,
as of January 1, 2014 there were 24,643,432 driver’s
licenses in California.41 Based on the above estimate
of total suspensions, the data indicate that 17%, or
approximately 1 in 6 licenses is suspended in California.

2. Uncollected Court-Ordered Debt Now
Exceeds $10 Billion
Unsurprisingly, the economic recession and the growth
in license suspensions coincide with vast sums of uncollected court-ordered debt. In its report Restructuring
the Court-Ordered Debt Collection Process, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) highlighted the inefficiency
and ineffectiveness of the state’s collection system for
court-ordered debt, including debt related to traffic
court citations. In particular, the report found that
total uncollected court-ordered debt now exceeds $10
billion.42 The LAO’s chart on the growth of uncollected
debt in California is shown here.

Eliminating license
suspensions for citations
unrelated to public safety
would likely increase the
amount of money collected.

The growth of uncollected court-ordered debt undoubtedly correlates directly with the massive number of
people facing heavy fines and saddled with a license
suspension as a result. Once people lose their licenses,
it becomes even more difficult to pay the debt and the
amount owed only increases. In essence, current state
policy is driving the bad outcomes in collecting debt.
The reliance on collection of court-ordered debt to
offset cuts to state funding has failed, leaving courts
in far worse financial condition. As set forth in the
“Solutions” section below, eliminating license suspensions for citations unrelated to public safety and tying
collection to income would likely increase the amount
of money collected.and tying collection to income
would likely increase the amount of money collected.

15 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

III. The Process: How an Unpaid Ticket Results in
Huge Fines, Fees and License Suspension
Many, if not most Californians can relate to the experience of
receiving a ticket—the lights and sirens turning on, the sinking
feeling when you realize they’re for you, the police officer
asking for license and registration. Despite the frequency of
this seemingly mundane event in our state there are many
misconceptions and gaps in our collective knowledge about
what happens after someone gets a ticket.

A. License Suspensions and Warrants

To begin, citing officers usually say you will get a notice in the
mail giving the fine amount and explaining your options –
but all too often the notice never comes. Most people do not
know that they are responsible for contacting the court even
if they don’t get a notice, and that their driver’s license will be
suspended if they fail to follow up themselves. The ticket itself
becomes the sole “notice,” which is problematic because of the
small size of the type font, sometimes illegible handwritten
officer notations, and the poor quality of carbon-copy paper.
Even if additional notice is mailed by the court, it usually does
not describe what people can do if they do not have hundreds
of dollars immediately available to pay the fine. Without
knowing that community service, reduced fines, or payment
plans are possibilities, people often think their only option is
to pay. With fines at an all-time high, many simply can’t pay,
so instead they do nothing – not realizing that doing nothing
can set in motion a financially disastrous chain of events.

Once the DMV has suspended someone’s license, there is no
way to lift the suspension and restore the license until after
the court notifies the DMV that the fine has been fully paid.50
This means that people who cannot afford to pay the fine in
full cannot have valid driver’s licenses, even if they have been
making monthly payments for years.

As described above, when people with tickets do not pay the
full fine on time, traffic courts respond swiftly. They notify the
DMV,43 which then suspends the person’s driver’s license,44
and they impose an additional $300 civil assessment on each
ticket. 45
This scenario plays out day in and day out at traffic courts
throughout the state. These courts, while known as “traffic
courts,” are in fact a subdivision of the county superior court’s
criminal division. Traffic courts handle driving and other trafficrelated offenses, such as failing to stop at a stop sign or wear
a seat belt, and also non-driving traffic tickets, like failure to
have current registration or proof of insurance. It is perhaps
less well-known that they also handle tickets that have nothing
to do with traffic at all, such as tickets for littering, sleeping
on the sidewalk, or failing to pay transit fare.46 Regardless of
the type of ticket, the result of missing one deadline in traffic
court is usually suspension of the person’s driver’s license and
the imposition of hundreds of dollars more in fees.

Real Life Story: Joshua

Courts are not required to notify the DMV about a person’s
failure to pay a ticket by the deadline.47 However, almost all
courts do so in practice.48 Sixty days after the court chooses
to report an unpaid ticket, the DMV suspends the person’s
driver’s license.49

For non-traffic municipal violations, like littering or sleeping,
courts often issue an arrest warrant for those who do not appear
or pay the citation.51 People are then subject to potential arrest
and incarceration for failure to pay, or, as in many counties,
law enforcement agencies decline to make an arrest on these
warrants, so they simply remain outstanding until the full fine is
paid. Scheduling a court date to clear these warrants is usually
not an option, because many courts require paying the full “bail”
amount before getting a court date. In this way, people who
cannot afford to pay end up with perpetual warrants, even if
they try to “turn themselves in” at court. Having an open warrant
not only subjects people to the constant threat of arrest, it
makes it difficult to get employment, benefits, or housing.52

B. Double, Triple the Fine, Even When It’s
Contrary to State Law
As described in Section II, when someone misses a deadline to
pay a traffic ticket, in addition to losing their driver’s license,
the court adds $300 to the original fine.53 Under state law,
this “civil assessment” may only be imposed if the person gets
notice and still does not pay or appear.54 However, people who
say to a court clerk that they did not get the required notice
often are told they still have to pay the fine.55
Also under state law, the fine should be vacated if the person
has “good cause” for not appearing or paying.56 However, many
courts do not tell people that if they have a good reason for not
appearing or paying, they may not have to pay the assessment.
If the person with the ticket figures out that they

Joshua, a homeless youth, received a misdemeanor citation for “lodging” while sleeping on the street one night. Because
he was staying far from the county courthouse and had no money for transportation, he could not make it into court
in time for his court date. As a result, a warrant was issued for his arrest and he began to be regularly harassed by the
police. Because of the warrant, Joshua was afraid to apply for public benefits or submit job applications knowing that
his warrant would make him ineligible.

16 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem
can ask the court in writing to cancel the civil assessment, most courts
will only do so under circumstances much narrower than the “good
cause” articulated in the statute; a child in intensive care does not
qualify as good cause, but death of an immediate family member does.57
In addition, even if you are eventually found not guilty of the traffic
violation in court, courts still require payment of the civil assessment.
Though state law sets these civil assessments at “up to $300,” and allows
the court to decide if and when to impose them, courts in practice
add the full $300 for every delinquent ticket, regardless of ability to
pay or severity of the ticketed offense. At the $300 level, these civil
assessments often grossly outweigh the base fine for the offense.
Even worse, in some counties courts threaten to charge additional
civil assessments of $300 when people miss payments on a payment
plan.58 As the sole recipient of the revenue collected from civil assessment penalties the courts have an incentive to impose the full $300
fee each time.59 This means that in the interactions that thousands of
Californians have with court clerks every day, very often the priority is
collecting these civil assessments, instead of determining whether the
extra fine is appropriate—and legally supportable—in the first place.

C. No Way Out
Many—though not all—traffic courts do initially have options if
you cannot afford to pay a fine, ranging from community service
to reduced fines for people on public assistance.60 In fact, when an
individual appears in court on a citation, the judge is required by law
to consider ability to pay if requested.61 However, many courts do not
tell people about the right to request an ability to pay determination
or mention that community service is an option.62 Once you miss a
deadline, those options evaporate because you cannot appear in front
of a judge to ask for them.63
Even for those clients who are able to sign up for community service,
it can be extremely challenging to successfully work off debt to the
court. The fees can total into the thousands of dollars, yet the rate at
which courts credit community service hours is lower than a typical
minimum wage as there is no statewide or statutory standard as to the
credit rate.64 Additionally, the timeline for community service is often
short and can require people to work up to 40 hours a week, which is
difficult for people who have jobs or care for family members. Seniors
and people with disabilities cannot always find a service assignment
they can fulfill. Even those who are able to obtain community service
as an alternative to payment find that their service does not count
towards the $300 civil assessment fine, and so even after working
off their underlying fines, their driver’s license cannot be reinstated.

Real Life Story: Robert

The involvement of collection agencies in most counties compounds
the difficulties of resolving an outstanding ticket. Individuals are
commonly told by court clerks that once debt is referred to an
outside agency for collection, the court “no longer has jurisdiction”
over the debt. In other words, even if a person has saved up enough
money to post the full bail amount and finally get a chance to see
a judge, once the debt is with a collection agency, she is told that
she still cannot get into court. Efforts to modify the debt, cancel
civil assessments, clear an outstanding bench warrant, request
community service, or contest the initial citation are all met with
the answer that the court can no longer take action on the case.
This means that people who are actively trying to deal with their
citations, many of whom are simply trying to reinstate their licenses
so that they can secure employment, are consistently turned away. 65
In some counties, the courts have, at their discretion, established
special hearings to address outstanding criminal and traffic fines
and fees. As part of these special court events, individuals are
usually required to make a showing of financial need and personal
rehabilitation to demonstrate that dismissing the fines and fees
would be in the interests of justice. If a judge finds that a person
qualifies then the fines and fees are dismissed or suspended by
court order. One such program is run through the “Stand Down”
events hosted by the U.S. Veteran’s Administration. At the 2014
East Bay Stand Down event, courts from four Bay Area counties
participated in a special calendar to dismiss outright any unpaid
court-ordered debt for veterans.66 San Francisco Superior Court
also recently implemented a new petition process by which
individuals can request to have the license suspension lifted if they
meet certain requirements, though the program is still in preliminary implementation stages. While effective, these programs are
relatively rare and available only to certain individuals, and thus
have had little impact on the overall problem of driver’s license
suspensions. A similar program in Alameda County has a waitlist
of over a year just to participate.67
For some people, having a lawyer helps resolve a traffic ticket, or
at least surmount the considerable barriers to getting in front of
a judge. Though courts will usually not set court hearings after
someone has missed an initial deadline, they will occasionally do
so when an attorney requests it, though the practice is informal.
Unfortunately, since most traffic violations are infractions and the
initial penalties do not include jail time, court-appointed attorneys
are not available for people who cannot afford an attorney on their
own.68 Legal aid organizations have taken a small percentage of
cases for low-income clients, but have very limited resources and
can help only a tiny fraction of people who need representation. 69

Robert was homeless and living in his car, with General Assistance as his only source of income. He went in to court
after receiving a failure to appear notice for infraction citations he received for expired registration and “using his car
for habitation.” He asked the judge to be able to work off his fines with community service. Robert ended up working
over 70 hours of community service for two outstanding tickets—satisfying approximately $700 in fines—but was then
told by the court that his driver’s license would not be reinstated until he paid his two outstanding civil assessments in
full, which amounted to another $600 and could not be satisfied through community service.

17 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

IV. The Impact: Disastrous Consequences of CourtOrdered Debt and License Suspensions
The consequences of unpaid fines and a suspended driver’s
license are devastating. First and foremost, a suspended license
is a significant barrier to employment – many people lose
their jobs or are denied jobs due solely to the lack of a license.
Bad credit reports stemming from unpaid tickets can keep a
family from being able to rent or buy a home. People without
licenses cannot get auto insurance and cannot legally drive,
whether for school, work, childcare, or medical appointments.
These are steep penalties for an offense like making a left turn
at the wrong time and not having money to pay the full fine.
The following section will address the impact of court-ordered
debt and license suspensions on individuals, communities, and
the state of California.

A. Impact on Workers, Employers, and the
Local Economy
The loss of the ability to drive is a major threat to economic
security, particularly for people who already have little or no
income. For those who are employed, the suspension might
cause them to lose their job once they can no longer drive
on the job or no longer have reliable transportation to work.
For those who are unemployed, not having a license can be
an insurmountable barrier to finding work: a license is often
needed for commuting, particularly as jobs are increasingly
located outside of inner-city areas; many jobs require driving
as part of the work responsibilities; and even for non-driving
jobs, employers often require applicants to have a valid driver’s
license as an indicator of reliability or responsibility.
Numerous studies have found a direct correlation between
driving and employment.70 A task force report to the Governor
of New Jersey cited a survey of suspended drivers conducted
by Rutgers University researchers, which found that following a
license suspension, 42% of people lost their jobs as a result of the
suspension.71 Of those who lost their jobs, 45% could not find
another job, and this effect was most pronounced for seniors
and low-income people.72 Of those who were able to find new
employment, 88% reported decreased wages.73 Similarly, the
Brookings Institute found in a survey of fourteen cities across
the country that while 72% of employed respondents had access
to a car and a valid driver’s license, only 37% of unemployed
respondents did.74 Among residents of Oakland, California,
67% of employed respondents had a valid driver’s license and
a car, and only 36% of unemployed respondents did.75

Real Life Story: Alyssa

Public transportation is not always a realistic option for community members living or working outside of major metropolitan
areas.76 Low-income and poor people often have to travel
on various transportation lines, and make more than one
transfer on their way to and from work.77 For instance, one
study found that job seekers in Alameda County had to make
on average three to four transfers between home (largely in
Oakland and northern parts of the county) and areas where
work was available (largely in southern and eastern parts of the
county).78 Suspended licenses can trap the working poor in an
impossible situation: unable to reinstate their licenses without
gainful employment, and unable to work without a license.
Workers are not the only ones harmed by their reduced access
to jobs. License suspensions diminish the labor force available
to fill jobs in some areas. Construction jobs, which have been
lauded as a critical source of growth for local economies,
generally require a valid driver’s license as workers often move
between job sites or drive machinery on the job.79 Other fields
such as home health care, motor vehicle sales and services, and
delivery services all require a valid license as a prerequisite of
employment. The pool of qualified workers diminishes significantly when licenses are suspended at high rates.80

In 2007, a valid driver’s
license was found to be a
more accurate predictor
of sustained employment
than a General Educational
Development (GED)
diploma among Workforce
Investment Act (WIA)

In 2010, when Alyssa moved, she missed the ten-day deadline to notify the DMV of her address change and got a ticket
as a result. She changed her address, but did not realize she still had to pay the ticket. She first realized her mistake when
the DMV suspended her license. Since Alyssa worked as a bus driver, she was fired from her job. She tried to set up a
payment plan, but without a license she cannot get a job and without a job she cannot make payments. She is currently
receiving CalWORKS in order to support her children with basic necessities. Her debt from one address change ticket,
originally a fixable ticket with a $25 fee, has risen to $2900.

18 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

Finally, employers are impacted as well. When employees lose
their licenses, employers must internalize the cost of replacing
workers who can no longer perform the job responsibilities.82
When qualified workers are gainfully employed, employers
typically will commit valuable resources to training and
preparing those workers to competently perform their jobs.
Losing a valued employee due to a license suspension is a
significant financial loss to an employer.

B. Impact on Financial Stability and Access
to Credit

After courts impose fines and civil assessments, they send
outstanding tickets to debt collectors. Fifty-four of California’s
fifty-eight counties contract with debt collection companies.83
Though there are state entities that collect debts owed to the
government, there are at least 10 different private companies
that also collect court-ordered debt in California, and most
of the traffic courts across the state have a contract with one
company: AllianceOne Receivables Management Inc.84 In some
cases when a debt is more than 90 days delinquent, it is further
transferred to the state Franchise Tax Board (FTB).85 The FTB,
which is empowered by the state to enforce court-ordered
debt, can collect debt from individuals by garnishing wages,
intercepting tax refunds, or levies against people’s assets.86
Despite the power of the FTB, uncollected court ordered debt
now exceeds $10 billion, most likely because many of the
persons do not earn enough to have their wages garnished
or have no assets.

A recent evaluation of a
subsidized car ownership
program in Vermont found that
having a car led to significant
increases in both employment
and income. 82

Private debt collection companies use numerous collection
techniques, including harassing the debtor by mail and phone
and reporting the debt to the major credit bureaus to appear
on an individual’s credit report.87 Reporting people to credit
reporting agencies can have many adverse effects on a family’s
financial stability, including the ability to rent an apartment
and secure housing. For people who are accused of a traffic
violation, this is especially punitive because, as described above,
some people are not even guilty, but simply cannot afford to
pay to get into court.
Finally, unlike debt owned by private creditors, court-ordered
debt is still owned by the court, and is not subject to any
negotiation or settlement, even though a private agency is in
charge of collection. In fact, the fines usually continue to go

Real Life Story: Maria

Maria was recently terminated from a job in her field of training, green construction, because her license was suspended
for unpaid tickets, and she could not drive between job sites. With two kids and no job or savings, she is unable to pay
the debt. Because the debt has been referred to a collections agency, she is also prevented from performing community
service in lieu of payment. Her previous employer would hire her if her license was reinstated, but without a job or income
to pay her debt, she has no way of getting her license back.

19 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem
up. There are extra charges for establishing payment plans and
for paying by credit card.88 In addition, because the agencies
are paid on commission, they often set arbitrary “minimum”
installment payments, or refuse payment plans to those people
who can only offer very small monthly payments. Even worse,
if out of desperation individuals agree to installment plans that
they cannot afford, they risk missing a payment and incurring
further debt. In some counties, a missed payment may result
in an additional “failure to pay” charge, which courts threaten
to treat as a new violation that comes with an additional $300
civil assessment fine.

C. Impact on Formerly Incarcerated People
and Their Families
People who have been involved in the criminal justice system
are particularly vulnerable to license suspensions.89 When
a person with an outstanding ticket is arrested or incarcerated, that person will likely miss the court hearing on their
outstanding ticket, resulting in additional fines as described
above. Even though the courts usually treat incarceration as
a valid reason for missing a court date (and therefore dismiss
the extra fines), people in this situation cannot present their
case to the judge without first paying the full amount owed
up front. In this way, poverty and incarceration compound
each other to prevent someone from regaining their license.
Furthermore, there are mandated fines and fees that are
imposed following every criminal conviction in California.90
Unpaid fines and fees resulting from a criminal conviction have
in some situations been used by the courts as an additional
basis for suspending a license.91 As long as the debt from a
prior conviction is unpaid, the courts have imposed license
suspensions, even if the conviction had nothing to do with
driving. Such failure-to-pay suspensions have occurred even
while the defendant was still in the process of reentering the
community following incarceration, for example while on
probation or parole supervision.92
People who have served time are overwhelmingly poor, with
low education and literacy levels.93 Post-prison debt payment is
often subsidized by the person’s family, as returning individuals
struggle with basic housing and employment needs, as well
as other challenges of reentry.94 In addition to creating a
barrier to employment, the lack of a driver’s license impedes
the ability of formerly incarcerated persons to obtain public
benefits, health care, mental health services and a broad array
of services which will assist the person in a successful reentry
to society.95 Imposing a license suspension on people who are
in the process of community reentry, especially while they are

Real Life Story: Bea

still on probation or parole, is directly at odds with the state’s
purported goal of promoting reentry and reducing recidivism.96

D. Impact on Communities of Color
Just as the U.S. Department of Justice found in Ferguson,97
people of color in California are disproportionately impacted
by license suspensions. From the first time the siren sounds at
a traffic stop, enforcement is often discriminatory: data from
several localities shows that police disproportionately make
traffic stops of people of color, particularly African Americans.98
In two Sacramento neighborhoods surveyed, African Americans
comprised only 7.2% and 8.6% of the population, but accounted
for 22.4% and 27.7% of the drivers stopped respectively.99 In
San Diego in 2014, African-American drivers made up 11.2%
of traffic stops and 23.4% of searches, but they comprise only
5.5% of the San Diego population.100 This data demonstrates
that from the very beginning of the process, citations have a
disproportionate racial impact.
While neither the courts nor the DMV appear to track suspensions
based on race, there is evidence that license suspensions are
an especially heavy burden for African-American communities.
For example, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights conducts
a legal clinic in San Francisco for people with past arrests and
convictions. Over the past four years, the clinic has served a
total of 507 clients, and 132 of these clients sought assistance
with issues related to their driver’s licenses. African Americans
make up 55.6% of all clients of the clinic, and 70.4% of clients
with driver’s license issues.101 These statistics are stark, but
even more so given that African Americans make up just 6%
of the population of San Francisco as a whole.102 In addition,
the overlap between license suspensions and criminal justice
involvement also leads to racial disparities in suspensions. Because
African Americans make up a disproportionate percentage of
the people arrested and incarcerated,103 they are particularly
vulnerable to suspensions that result from contact with the
criminal justice system.
The statistics above indicate that traffic stops and license
suspensions fall disproportionately on people of color. Recent
events in San Francisco suggest that the problem is not just
one of disparate racial impact, but direct and institutionalized
racism. In March 2015, the San Francisco Police Department
initiated a department probe of racist text messages and
emails by more than ten of its officers.104 As in Ferguson, it is
impossible to ignore the racial justice and civil rights issues at
stake in the treatment of citation fines.

Bea had been homeless for several years, and got a citation for sleeping, a charge she would not have gotten
if she had a place to live. She could not afford to pay the citation. When, after waiting for years, she finally
got subsidized housing, she was thrilled, only to learn that because of the outstanding fees from the citation
on her credit report, the offer of housing was withdrawn.

20 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

V.	 The Cost: How Fines and License Suspensions
Impose a Hidden Tax on Government, Public Safety
and the Economy
As the number of driver’s license suspensions grows, various
local and state public agencies must bear the burden of a
hidden tax on their resources. This section describes some of
the fiscal consequences that result from license suspensions.
As legislative policy solutions to this problem are considered,
any fiscal analysis will be incomplete if it doesn’t consider these
very real costs to California.

A. Fiscal Impact on Public Safety
By imposing fees that cannot be paid and effectively creating
permanent license suspensions, the system is increasing
crime and decreasing public safety. In California, driving with
a suspended license is a misdemeanor offense that can carry a
penalty of up to 6 months imprisonment, or a fine of between
$300 and $1,000 for the first offense.105 A second offense within
a 12-month period carries a mandatory incarceration penalty.106
But, for too many people, the need to drive outweighs the risk

“California suspends
drivers’ licenses for many
reasons, but the vast
majority of suspensions
are for non-driving related
of additional penalties for getting caught, and they continue
to drive. Ironically, people whose licenses are suspended for
failure to pay on a citation have fewer options than people
whose licenses have been suspended for offenses such as
driving under the influence of alcohol, commonly known as
DUI offenses. People convicted of a DUI can request a restricted

Real Life Story: Joseph

license that allows them to drive to work.107 Because there is
no similar exception for people who cannot afford to pay their
to drive illegally to satisfy basic life necessities.
Arresting and prosecuting people for driving on a suspended
license drains law enforcement resources and does not enhance
public safety. As described above, suspensions for violations
unrelated to driver safety have been rising over the years. In its
report Best Practices Guide to Reduce Suspended Drivers, the
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators found
that these types of suspensions undermine safety, as “the costs
of arresting, processing, administering, and enforcing social
non-conformance related driver license suspensions create a
significant strain on budgets and other resources and detract
from highway and public safety priorities.”108 Officers who pull
over a suspended driver must respond to that offense with a
citation, and then later with a court appearance on the ticket.
This process takes the officer away from the field, leaving a
gap in law enforcement presence and services. In addition,
counties must bear the costs of punishing people for these
offenses. For example, in 2013 the California Board of State
and Community Corrections estimated that San Francisco
spends $173 per day per county jail inmate.109 These are very
real costs to an already over-extended criminal justice system.
License suspensions also undermine public safety to the extent
that they inhibit the reentry efforts of people coming out of
jail and prison. As already described, people who have been
incarcerated are particularly affected by license suspensions,
which create a major barrier to work. Yet, studies have shown
that having a job is a crucial factor in reducing rates of recidivism.110 By impeding efforts at employment, license suspensions
decrease access to legitimate work opportunities and pose a
threat to successful reentry for people who are attempting
to reintegrate into their communities. In addition, damaged
credit, the imposition of liens, and the garnishing of wages can
also act as a disincentive for people searching for legitimate,
over-the-table employment opportunities, increasing the
risk that people may become engaged with black market or
criminal means to survive.

Joseph had spent several years in and out of the criminal justice system due to his involvement selling drugs. After
his fourth conviction, in 2011, he turned his life around. He moved away from his old neighborhood and got a good
job for a delivery company. Four years later, he received a notice that his license had been suspended due to the fines
associated with his past criminal convictions. He learned that, until he paid the full amount, totaling over $8,000, he
would not regain his license and he would lose his job as a result. Joseph feared that, without a job, he would be forced
to return to the streets to support himself.

21 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

B. Fiscal Impact on the Court System
Driver’s license suspensions also impose increased costs on the courts. As described
above, driving with a suspended license is punishable as a criminal misdemeanor,
and accordingly, individuals charged with this offense are entitled to counsel and a
jury trial.111 Processing cases involving driving with a suspended license contributes
to undue burdens on the court system, including backlogs and costs associated
with arraignment and trial, as well as administrative and security costs. Additionally, as described above, when people cannot work or they get paid less because
they do not have driver’s licenses, they are less able to pay court fines and fees,
resulting in loss of revenue from additional uncollected court debt.

C. Fiscal Impact to State Social Services Agencies
A higher unemployment rate caused by suspended licenses also creates a significant
fiscal burden on state and county safety net programs. The most obvious burden
to the state and to employers is the unemployment compensation paid to those
who would otherwise be employed but for their suspended license. Furthermore,
when people become unemployable due to a suspended license, they often have
no alternative but to apply for public benefits to support themselves and their
families. Among the federal, state and local government programs that experience
these higher utilization costs are CalWORKs, SNAP (CalFresh), General Assistance,
Medi-Cal, and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. Unemployed
people are less likely to carry private health insurance policies, and thus rely on
government-subsidized medical coverage. They also do not pay state or federal
income taxes, and may cut back on spending, decreasing local sales tax revenue.
Unemployment and the resulting poverty create additional social costs that put
pressure on public resources. Children who live through deep poverty (incomes
below 50% of the federal poverty level) experience less vocabulary, higher truancy,
higher dropout rates, lower earnings as adults and increased use of public benefits.113
In other words, the harm of denying families the opportunity to work reverberate
through each generation, leading to entrenched poverty and further public costs.


Fiscal Impact on DMV

The process of suspending a license also imposes costs for the DMV. While any
changes to the current system will produce some implementation costs, it could
be a savings on an ongoing basis. The report by the American Association of Motor
Vehicle Administrators noted that DMVs incur exorbitant costs to process suspensions and maintain the IT systems for tracking these suspensions.115


Fiscal Impact of Uninsured Drivers

All licensed and insured drivers in California must additionally cover the costs associated with having unlicensed and uninsured drivers on the road. A review of the
problem nationally indicated that “[e]ach year, according to some estimates, losses
from automobile collisions in the United States exceed $150 billion….Although
it is very difficult to determine, the insurance industry estimates the uninsured
motorist population in each U.S. jurisdiction to range from as low as five percent
to as high as 30 percent.”116
Uninsured Motorists, 2014 Edition, published by the Insurance Research Council,
estimates the number of uninsured drivers at 29.7 million in 2012, with 4.1 million
in California, the highest of any state. This study also estimated total uninsured
motorist claim payments, discounting fatalities and total permanent disability
claims, to have been $2.6 billion in the U.S. in 2012, up 75% over the last 10 years
and costing $14 per insured individual.117

In Seattle, the Municipal Court of Seattle
Re-licensing Program was established
to reduce administrative burdens on the
court system resulting from individuals
caught driving with a suspended license.
At the time the program started, around
7,000 such cases were filed a year and
represented approximately one-third of
a city attorney’s caseload. Each case has
costs associated with it. For example, if a
suspended driver fails to appear in court,
it costs about $100 for arraignment and
about $80 per day to house them in jail.112
In a study done by University
of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Employment and Training
Institute, July 1998:
… single parents with
a valid driver’s license were
much more likely to leave
the AFDC [Aid to Families
with Dependent Children]
program. Nearly two-thirds (63
percent) of December 1995
AFDC recipients with a valid
license left AFDC by June 1997
compared to 44 percent of
recipients without a driver’s
Most single parent AFDC
recipients expected to work
had children under 4 years. For
these parents the importance
of transportation access was
even more critical.
Heads of household with a
driver’s license were more than
twice as likely to leave AFDC
and receive low-income child
care subsidies (14 percent) than
heads of households without a
driver’s license (6 percent).114

A pilot program was created in 2003 by
the Milwaukee Bar Association primarily
to reduce the backlog of court cases
involving individuals caught driving with a
suspended license, according to program
staff. By the time the center was formally
established in 2007, according to program
staff, it also aimed to remove suspensions
as a barrier to employment.

22 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

VI. Solutions: Stop the Cycle of Suspensions for
Collections, Protect Jobs, and Collect More Revenue
In the past several years, efforts to reform the problem of license suspensions have hit a dead end. Legal services advocates
have worked with several state legislators, the Judicial Council, and the DMV on two separate bills to attempt to address the
myriad issues created by the current traffic court system and the subsequent punitive license suspension and debt collection
process. While these proposed policy changes have been met with wide bi-partisan political support, the bills have thus far
been unsuccessful due to the perceived high price tag that analysts on the California Senate Appropriations Committee have
assigned to the proposed changes.118 The following detailed recommendations are intended to address the growing harm of
license suspensions, while acknowledging both the fiscal impact of certain of these proposals and the very real costs of simply
leaving the status quo.
There is no single solution to the problems outlined in this report. There are, however, two broad goals that, if achieved, would
have wide-ranging positive impacts on the economy and on the lives of millions of people and their families. First, California
must restructure its debt collection procedures for traffic court debt to end the use of license suspensions and alleviate the
financial burden of citation fines. Second, California must develop a pathway forward for the more than 4 million people who
currently have suspended licenses for failure to pay. The proposals below seek to address these two overarching goals.

A. End the use of license suspensions as a collection tool for citation-related debt.
1. Prohibit the use of license suspensions as a sanction for Failure to Appear and Failure to Pay violations in traffic court.

Eliminate the use of driver’s license suspensions as a tool for collecting court-ordered debt. This change should be
retroactive, reinstating licenses that have been suspended for a failure to appear or pay for citations in traffic court.
Instead of using license suspensions for debt collection, treat delinquent court-ordered debt as any other civil debt,
to be collected using the array of civil debt collection tools and penalties available to the state under current law.
Maintain current laws that allow for license suspensions to be imposed as a sanction for violations that jeopardize
public safety.

2. Require that any court or county that has discharged a debt—therefore is no longer actively collecting
it—must also release any existing license suspensions based on that debt.


Under current law, court-ordered debt may be discharged, subject to certain conditions. Upon discharge, the
debt is no longer actively being collected. Once debt is discharged, counties and courts should be required to
direct the DMV to release all license suspensions related to the collection of that debt.
Require that any county or court that establishes a “discharge of debt” plan must incorporate into that plan a
policy of releasing any suspension that is based on discharged debt.

B. Ensure that access to the courts and due process do not depend on income.
1. Allow people to access the courts without regard to income by eliminating the requirement to pay
“bail” in full before seeking relief from the court.

Require courts to establish a bail waiver or reduction process based on income, so that low-income people
can exercise their right to a trial or otherwise request relief from the court without first paying the full
amount owed.
Prohibit the requirement of bail where the court has issued a bench warrant for the failure to appear, so
that an individual who is voluntarily appearing in court may have warrants cleared and avoid the disruptive
and costly process of arrest for traffic court warrants.

23 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

2. Reform the use of civil assessments for failures to appear or pay.

Prohibit courts from requiring advance payment of a civil assessment when an individual is seeking to
demonstrate a “good cause” basis for vacating the civil assessment under the statute.
Extend the window during which an individual can cure a failure to pay or failure to appear from 10 days to
60 days, and longer if the good cause reason for the delay extends beyond the 60 days.
Allow individuals to seek a reduction of the civil assessment amount, based on inability to pay.

C. Standardize payment plans and reduce the financial burden of citation fines
for low-income people based on “ability to pay.”
1. Require all courts and counties to use a state-mandated payment plan formula that is tied to a
person’s current income.



Require that counties and courts offer individuals the option of setting up a payment plan to satisfy court-ordered
debt. Dictate that payment plans may be established at any time, but would not go into effect until a person’s
income exceeds a threshold amount equal to the earnings of 40 hours of work per week at the state minimum wage.
Once a person’s income meets the minimum threshold, payments under the plan could not exceed 10% of a
person’s income if the income is less than the federal poverty level, 20% if the income is less than 200% of the
federal poverty level, and 25% on higher incomes.
Establish a process by which an individual can request adjustment of their payment plan based on a change of
financial circumstances.
Require that these payment plans be accepted by any private debt collection agency for accounts referred by a
county or court for debt collection.
Require that all citation notices and court courtesy notices indicate that there is a payment plan option.
Allow a single payment plan established in one county to apply to and satisfy the debt owed on traffic tickets
that have been adjudicated in any county in California.

2. Reduce the burden of exorbitant fines, fees, and assessments.

Reduce by 50% all existing add-on penalty assessments, and prohibit the imposition of any new assessments.
Allow persons who are low-income to request a waiver of a portion of fines, fees, and civil assessments owed,
based on proof of indigence, calculated by a standardized schedule according to income. This opportunity for waiver should apply to any debt that has been adjudicated, regardless of which entity is currently
charged with collecting the debt.

3. Redirect the revenue from civil assessment penalties to the state general fund to eliminate conflict
of interest


As the direct recipient of the revenue collected from civil assessment penalties, courts are incentivized to impose
the full $300 fee each time, despite the statutory requirement under Vehicle Code § 42003 to consider a defendant’s ability to pay. Redirect these funds to the General Fund to alleviate this pressure.
Courts would need increased funding in the state budget to accommodate potential costs of administration and
loss of revenue.

4. Offer additional opportunities for low-income individuals to utilize community service as an
alternative to payment of court-ordered debt.

Allow people to work off traffic fines and fees, including civil assessment penalties, through performing
community service hours that are credited at a rate of at least the state or applicable local minimum wage.
Permit individuals to request community service as an alternative to payment even if they are paying under
an installment payment plan, if their financial circumstances change and they are unable to pay the agreedupon monthly amount.
Require that all citation notices and court courtesy notices indicate that there is an option to request
community service.

5. Reduce the burden of license suspensions for people being released from jail or prison who are
struggling towards successful community reentry.

Establish an explicit statutory prohibition on the use of license suspensions for collection of court-ordered
fines and fees related to a criminal conviction as a counter-productive barrier to reentry.
Expand current law under Vehicle Code § 41500, which allows people serving a sentence in state prison to
have outstanding traffic citations dismissed, to include people serving a county jail sentence.

24 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem

D. Implement additional procedures by which
the millions of people with
current license suspensions can seek relief119
1. Develop a “fine amnesty” program that will result in restoration of licenses.



Enact an amnesty program for individuals who have unpaid traffic court fines, without regard to when the fines
were incurred.
The program should restore the driver’s license if the person agrees to make payments using the standardized
payment plan proposed above.
The program should also reduce the debt owed, using a sliding scale based on ability to pay. Persons on public
assistance and those with income or earnings are below the federal poverty level, up to 100% of the poverty
level, would receive an 80% reduction of the amount owed. Persons with incomes between 100% and 250% of
the federal poverty level would get a 50% reduction.
The program should also include an opportunity to complete community service of the reduced amount, in lieu
of payment, if the individual is below 250% of the federal poverty level.
The DMV would be required to send a notice to all persons with suspended licenses for failure to appear or pay
under Vehicle Code § 13365, informing them that, under the new Amnesty Program, they can have their driving
privileges restored. The notice must be compliant with the Dymally-Alatorre language access provisions.
The amnesty legislation should provide funding for a public relations campaign to inform the public about the new
amnesty program, and should also provide funding for services to assist individuals in applying for the program.

2. Require that the DMV purge any license suspensions based on failure to appear or pay after 3 years.

Under current law, Vehicle Code § 12808(c), the DMV may remove a failure to appear or pay notice and
issue a license after five years. Modify this law to require the DMV to take this action, and reduce the term
to three years.

VII. Conclusion
In today’s society, driving is often a lifeline to work, health care, and education. When cities discriminatorily enforce
traffic laws, when we suspend licenses for people who cannot pay a citation, when we close the courthouse doors
to people who are poor, we are limiting families’ growth and survival. California should stop suspending licenses
for failure to pay, allow poor people access to the courts, and move millions of Californians back toward economic

25 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem


1. To preserve clients’ privacy, the names used in this report
are pseudonyms.
2. See Civil Rights Div., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Investigation of
the Ferguson Police Dep’t, Mar. 4, 2015, http://www.justice.
3. As noted by Vanita Gupta, Acting Assistant Attorney General
of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice,
“The Ferguson report really does highlight some issues that
jurisdictions around the country are plagued with.” Campbell
Robertson et al., Ferguson Became Symbol, but Bias Knows
No Border, N.Y. TIMES, Mar. 7, 2015,
4. Ben Worthen, Sharp Acceleration in Traffic Tickets, WALL ST.
J., July 8, 2010,
5. In its Ferguson report, the U.S. Department of Justice criticized
Ferguson’s municipal court for the very same “onerous” practice
of requiring payment in full and not offering the possibility of
a payment plan after a defendant’s failure to appear in court.
See U.S. DEP’T OF JUSTICE, supra note 2, at 3.
6. See infra Section IV.
ON LABOR MARKET DISCRIMINATION (July 2003), available at
9. See id. at 3-5.
10. See id. at 7.
11. Respondent’s Return to Sept. 12, 2012 Order to Show Cause
at Attached Exhibit (Second Declaration of Greg Blair, Senior
Administrator for the Metro. Courthouse of the Superior Ct.
of L.A. County.), Steen v. App. Div., Superior Ct. of L.A. County
(Cal. 2012) (No. S174733).
13. Veto Letter from Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. to the Members
of the Cal. State Assembly (Sep. 17, 2012), available at http://
SCHEDULES 16 (2015), available at
4 (Feb. 2013), available at
16. All fifty states now suspend driver’s licenses for non-traffic
safety reasons. See id. at 5. In its March 2015 Ferguson report,
the U.S. Department of Justice strongly critiqued Missouri’s
state law mandating driver’s license suspensions for non-traffic
safety reasons such as failing to appear in court or make a
required payment, noting that such suspensions, apart from
making the resolution of court cases more difficult, can have

“broad ramifications for individuals’ ability to maintain a job
and care for their families.” See U.S. DEP’T OF JUSTICE, supra
note 2, at 50-51.
17. See, e.g., CAL. VEH. CODE §§ 13201.5, 13202.4, 13202.6,
18. Interview with Meredith Desautels, Staff Attorney, Lawyers’
Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, in
San Francisco, Cal. (Mar. 9, 2015).
PROCESS 6 (Nov. 10, 2014), available at
20. Id. at 9.
21. CAL. PENAL CODE § 1463.007(c).
22. Id. § 1463.007(a).
23. Id. § 1463.010(b).
24. Master Agreement for Collection Services between Judicial
Council/Administrative Office of the Courts and AllianceOne
Receivables Management Inc., Master Agreement No. MA-201302
(Jan. 1, 2014), available at
lpa-allianceone-ma201302.PDF (last visited Apr. 3, 2015).
25. Id. at Exhibit B, 1-3.
26. See Nieto, supra note 8, at 4.
27. See id. The Trial Court Funding Act of 1985 changed the
fine distribution formula to require counties to fund the trial
court system by remitting monies generated from fines to
the states. In 2002, the State Court Facilities Construction
Fund required counties to remit up to $5 for every $10 in fines
collected by the courts to the State Judicial Council for the
purpose of improving county court facilities.
28. Id. at 12-13.
29. Id.
30. Maura Dolan, New California budget fails to ease court
woes, chief justice says, L.A. TIMES, June 20, 2014, http://
31. Press Release, Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Cal.
Sup. Ct. (June 20, 2014), available at http://www.courts.
32. In general, total bail refers to the base fine on a citation
plus the penalty assessments. Each year the Judicial Council
promulgates a “Uniform Bail & Penalty Schedule” for traffic
offenses to standardize the handling of these cases across the
14. Traditionally, payment of bail has been used to guarantee
a person’s appearance in court, as well as a way for a person
to forfeit the right to contest a ticket, essentially pleading
guilty of the offense and eliminating the need for further
court appearances.
33. See, e.g., Superior Ct. of Cal., County of San Francisco,
Local Rules, Rule 17.1 (Jan. 1, 2015), available at http://www.
34. Interview with Meredith Desautels, Staff Attorney, Lawyers’
Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, in
San Francisco, Cal. (Mar. 9, 2015).

26 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem
35. See, e.g., Superior Ct. of Cal., County of Marin, Traffic
Court – Plead Not Guilty – Court Trial, http://marincourt.
org/traffic_plead_not_guilty.htm (last visited Apr. 3, 2015)
(“Individuals who wish to plead ‘not guilty’ on a citation may
schedule a court trial date by appearing in the Traffic Clerk’s
Office on or before the due date on the citation. Pursuant to
Vehicle Code section 40519 (a) and (b), they must post the full
bail before a trial date will be set. The Court places the bail in
a trust account until after the court trial has been conducted
and the judicial officer has made a ruling. If the Court finds
the individual not guilty or if the case is dismissed for any
reason, the bail is refunded within a few days after the trial.
If the Court finds the individual guilty, the bail held in trust is
applied to the fines and fees ordered by the judicial officer.”);
Interview with Maura Prendiville, Senior Staff Attorney, Legal
Aid of Marin, in Marin, Cal. (Jan. 12, 2015).
available at
SAFETY NET 8 (Oct. 2013), available at
(Aug. 2013), available at
39. Id.
40. This data was obtained directly from the California DMV. It
captures only suspension and reinstatement actions, as opposed
to a total number of suspended licenses, as the DMV does not
specifically track that data point. As a result, the estimate of
4.2 million suspended licenses reflects our best assessment of
the suspension problem. Notably, it only includes suspension
and reinstatement actions based on failures to appear or pay,
as reported by the courts to the DMV (under Vehicle Code
section 13365). These numbers do not include other types of
suspension actions, for example suspensions following a DUI.
Our estimate may include some licenses that have
been reinstated, as the DMV does not track the people who
request to have their licenses reinstated after five years based
on no additional failures to appear or pay during that period
(under Vehicle Code section 12808). However, this number is
likely to be low, as this possibility is not widely known, and
in general, the DMV takes very few reinstatement actions in
comparison to suspension actions.
Moreover, any uncounted reinstatements are likely
outweighed by the suspensions not captured in this estimate.
The cumulative estimate is based on data only as far back as
2006, and there are most likely suspensions that occurred
prior to 2006 that are not included in the 4.2 million estimate.
Additionally, data was not received for 2014, which according
to the data trend would add around 500,000 more suspension

41. Cal. Dep’t of Motor Vehicles, DMV Newsroom, DMV Facts, Top
10 DMV Facts (as of 1/1/2014),
dmv/dmv/dmvhomes/pressroom (last visited Apr. 3, 2015).
42. See Taylor, supra note 19, at 10-11. Note that this $10 billion
estimate includes all court-ordered debt, both debt related to
infrations and debt related to criminal convictions. See id. at 5.
43. See CAL. VEH. CODE §§ 40509.5(a)-(b), 40509(a)-(b).
44. See id. § 13365.
45. See CAL. PENAL CODE § 1214.1.
46. In fact, given the rise of anti-homeless laws across California,
many traffic courts hear a high volume of cases against homeless
people who did little more than be homeless in public; things
like sleeping, sitting or standing (loitering). See generally
IN THE GOLDEN STATE (Feb. 2015), The resulting
fines, arrests, and criminal records often prevent people from
getting jobs or housing, in effect keeping people homeless.
47. See CAL. VEH. CODE §§ 40509.5(a)-(b), 40509(a)-(b) (noting
noting that “the magistrate or clerk of the court may give notice
. . . to the [DMV]” upon a failure to appear in court or failure to
pay a fine) (emphasis added).
48. Courts typically withhold reporting to the DMV if there is a
court appearance scheduled on the ticket before the deadline.
But when the person misses a court appearance, courts decide
the case solely on the basis of the ticket. See id. § 40903. In
practical terms, this means that the person is automatically
found guilty, and the ticket (now a conviction) gets reported
to the DMV. See, e.g., Superior Ct. of Cal., County of Alameda,
Local Rules, Rule 4.320 (Jan. 1, 2015), available at http://www.;
Superior Ct. of Cal., County of Santa Barbara, Local Rules, Rule
2107 (July 1, 2014), available at
local-rulesTOC.shtm; Superior Ct. of Cal., County of Stanislaus,
Local Rules, Rule 4.29 (Jan. 1, 2015), available at http://www.; Superior Ct. of Cal., County
of Sonoma, Local Rules, Rule 23.1 (Jan. 2015), available at; Superior Ct. of
Cal., County of Santa Clara, Local Crim. Rules, Rule 12 (Jan. 1,
2015), available at
criminal/criminal_rules/criminal_rules.shtml; Superior Ct. of
Cal, County of Mendocino, Local Rules, Rule 18.9 (Jan 1, 2015),
available at
49. See CAL. VEH. CODE § 13365. Note that when the court
sends notice under section 40509 (rather than section 40509.5),
the DMV will suspend the driver’s license only if the individual
already has at least one prior notice of a failure to appear in
court or pay a fine on their record. It appears that most courts
rely on section 40509.5 for this reason.
50. See id. §§ 13365(b), 12807(c). Note that after five years,
the DMV has the authority to remove and destroy the court’s
notification of a person’s failure to pay their ticket. See id. §§
12808(c), 4760.1(c). However, the removal and destruction does
not happen automatically, and it is not clear when the DMV
actually exercises this authority. Neither is it clear whether the

27 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem
the DMV’s destruction of the record would automatically result
in a reinstated driver’s license.
51. Interview with Meredith Desautels, Staff Attorney, Lawyers’
Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, in
San Francisco, Cal. (Mar. 24, 2015); Interview with Anna Kirsch,
Staff Attorney, East Bay Community Law Center, in Berkeley,
Cal. (Mar. 24, 2015).
52. See, e.g., FISHER, supra note 46.
53. See CAL. PENAL CODE § 1214.1 (“In addition to any other
penalty in infraction, misdemeanor, or felony cases, the court
may impose a civil assessment of up to three hundred dollars
($300)…”). The civil assessments collected under this section
are deposited in the “Trial Court Trust Fund,” which is administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts. See CAL.
GOV’T CODE § 68085.1.
54. See CAL. PENAL CODE § 1214.1.
55. This is even true in the case of identity theft. See story of
Tammi, supra p. 1.
56. See CAL. PENAL CODE § 1214.1.
57. In most jurisdictions, the court will only cancel a civil assessment if, in addition to showing “good cause,” the defendant
submits payment in full for both the $300 civil assessment and
the underlying citation amount. Further, even though the statute
itself does not define “good cause,” the only grounds allowed
by most jurisdictions are (1) hospitalization, (2) incarceration,
(3) active military duty, or (4) death of an immediate family
member. In order to prove death of an immediate family member,
the San Francisco Traffic Court requires people to produce a
copy of the death certificate and proof of relationship to the
deceased. See Superior Ct. of Cal., County of San Francisco,
Traffic Div., Courtesy Notice (Sept. 14, 2014), available at http://
Notice%20-%202014.pdf (last visited Apr. 3, 2015).
58. Interview with Meredith Desautels, Staff Attorney, Lawyers’
Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, in
San Francisco, Cal. (Mar. 24, 2015).
59. See CAL PENAL CODE § 1214.1; CAL. GOV’T CODE § 68085.7(b).
This law requires that the amount of each county’s annual
contribution to the state Trial Court Trust Fund be reduced by
the amount that the county received from civil assessments
in that fiscal year.
60. See CAL. PENAL CODE § 1209.5. Some courts will allow
a defendant to perform community service in lieu of paying
the fine if the fine presents a hardship to him and his family.
See, e.g., Superior Ct. of Cal., County of Sutter, Application and
Declaration for Community Service, (June 2014), available at
Superior Ct. of Cal., County of Sutter, Declaration of Financial
Circumstances for Community Service, (June 2014), available
Declaration %20of%20Financial%20Circumstances%20for%20
61. See CAL. VEH. CODE § 42003(c).
62. See Interview with Elisa Della-Piana, Director of Programs,
East Bay Community Law Center, in Berkeley, Cal. (Mar. 12, 2015).
63. See supra Section II.C.

64. Effective January 1, 2015, the minimum wage in San
Francisco is $11.05 per hour. Minimum Wage Ordinance, CITY
Mar. 19, 2015). However, the hourly rate for community service
in San Francisco is $10 per hour. See Superior Ct. of Cal., County
of S.F., When You’re In Court,
divisions/traffic/when-in-court (last visited Apr. 3, 2015). In Los
Angeles, some people are credited only $8.00 for each hour of
work when the minimum wage is $9 per hour. See Interview
with Theresa Zhen, Skadden Fellow, A New Way of Life Reentry
Project, in Los Angeles, Cal. (Mar. 18, 2015).
65. Interview with Mariella Castaldi, Program Coordinator, East
Bay Community Law Center, in Berkeley, Cal. (Dec. 1, 2014).
66. Josh Richman, East Bay Stand Down Helps Veterans Get
Back On Their Feet, CONTRA COSTA TIMES, Sept. 13, 2014, http://
67. Interview with Mariella Castaldi, Program Coordinator, East
Bay Community Law Center, in Berkeley, Cal. (Dec. 1, 2014).
68. See CAL. PENAL CODE § 19.6.
L. Sandefur, The Impact of Counsel: An Analysis of Empirical
Evidence, SEATTLE J. FOR SOC. JUST., 2010, at 9(1):56-59.
70. There is a substantial empirical literature on transportation’s
relationship to poverty and employment. Researchers have
consistently found that among welfare recipients, transportation can lead to increased access to job opportunity, higher
earnings, and increased employment stability. See, e.g., Evelyn
Blumenberg, On the Way to Work: Welfare Participants and
Barriers to Employment, ECON. DEV. Q., Nov. 2002, at 314-25;
Robert Cervero et al., Transportation as a Stimulus of Welfareto-Work – Private versus Public Mobility, J. OF PLAN. EDUC.
AND RES. Sept. 2002, at 50-63; Sandra Danziger et al., Barriers
to the Employment of Recipients, in PROSPERITY FOR ALL? THE
Work and Car Ownership Among Welfare Recipients (U. of Cal.
Transp. Center, Working Paper No. 19, 1996), at 20; Paul Ong &
Evelyn Blumenberg. Job Access, Commute, and Travel Burden
Among Welfare Recipients, URB. STUD., Jan. 1998, at 77-93;
Steven Raphael & Michael Stoll, Car Ownership, Employment,
and Earnings, J. OF URB. ECON., Feb. 2000, at 109-30. Most
studies find that transportation is a barrier to employment
for the poor in general. For example, in a study conducted
in Illinois, more than 25% of former Temporary Assistance to
Needy Families (TANF) clients interviewed reported having
transportation problems. Of the unemployed clients, 41% had
transportation problems. Of the employed clients, only 19%
had transportation problems. See George Julnes & Anthony
Halter, Illinois Study of Former TANF Clients, INST. FOR PUB.
AFF., U. OF ILL., July 2000, at 103, 105.
REPORT xii (2006), available at

28 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem
72. Id.
73. Id.
LICENSE SUSPENSION POLICIES 2 (June 2005), available at http://
75. Id. at 87.
76. Evelyn Blumenberg & Michael Manville, Beyond the Spatial
Mismatch: Welfare Recipients and Transportation Policy, J. OF
PLANNING LITERATURE, Vol. 19, No. 2, 2004, at 4.
77. In a study of three California counties (Alameda, Fresno, and
Los Angeles), researchers Evelyn Blumenberg and Daniel Baldwin
Hess examined welfare recipients’ access to jobs and the county’s
corresponding public transit systems. The study found that
commuting by car enables greater access to jobs, while those
commuting by public transit face numerous barriers, including
“long headways, limited service hours, costs, difficulty using transit
to make multiple stops on the way to or from work [,] and safety
issues after dark.” Evelyn Blumenberg & Daniel Baldwin Hess,

Measuring the Role of Transportation in Facilitating the Welfareto-Work Transition: Evidence from Three California Counties, J. OF
THE TRANSP. RESEARCH BOARD 1859 (2003), available at https://
78. Waller, supra note 74, at 84.
79. See generally John Pawasarat & Frank Stetzer, The EARN
(Early Assessment and Retention Network) Model for Effectively
Targeting WIA and TANF Resources to Participants, U. OF WIS.
EMP. & TRAINING INST., 2007, available at https://www4.uwm.
80. Margy Waller, High Cost or High Opportunity Cost? Transportation and Family Economic Success, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
POLICY BRIEF (Center on Children and Families, Washington D.C.),
Dec. 2005, at 7, available at
TEN BIG STATES 4 (1999) (describing “a market failure” that “lead[s]
employers to bear as a cost of doing business a chronic labor
shortage and high turnover rates among those who do attempt
the difficult commute.”).
82. Margy Waller, High Cost or High Opportunity Cost? Transportation and Family Economic Success, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
POLICY BRIEF (Center on Children and Families, Washington D.C.),
Dec. 2005, at 7, available at
83. Waller, supra note 74, at 2.
84. See Administrative Office of the Courts, Statewide Collection
Services for Court-Ordered and Other Debt, Programs and Vendors
List, Req. for Proposal No. ECU-2013-01, available at http://www.
pdf (last visited Apr. 3, 2015).
85. See Master Agreement, supra note 24. The Judicial Council
is required to set best practices for collection of court-ordered
debt. See CAL. PENAL CODE § 1463.010. See also Judicial Council

of Cal., Judicial Council Approved Collections Best Practices (rev.
Mar. 3, 2014), available at
documents/collectbp.pdf (last visited Apr. 3, 2015).
86. Taylor, supra note 19, at 7.
87. See, e.g., Master Agreement, supra note 24, at Exhibit A, p. 2.
88. In Alameda County, a one-time $35.00 fee is charged just to
initiate a payment plan, and then a $6.00 processing fee is added
to each installment payment. See Superior Ct. of Cal., County
of Alameda, Look Up or Pay Your Traffic Ticket, https://apps3. (last
visited Apr. 3, 2015). In San Francisco County, an additional $10
is charged by AllianceOne for making a credit card payment over
the phone. Interview with Stephanie Funt, Second Chance Legal
Clinic Coordinator, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San
Francisco Bay Area, in San Francisco, Cal. (Mar. 17, 2015).
89. In a study of Workforce Investment Act (WIA) participants,
only 7% of male participants with a history of incarceration in
state adult correctional facilities had a valid driver’s license. See
Pawasarat & Stetzer, supra note 79, at 2. The worst employment
and earnings outcomes were for participants with Department
of Corrections histories. Measures of post-program outcomes
were dismal with only 15% employed at earnings of $4,000 or
more in the quarter after exit (the poverty level at that time for
a family of 4). Id. at 14.
90. See, e.g., CAL. GOV’T. CODE § 29550 (“actual administrative
costs” for a criminal justice administrative fee); § 70372 (“five
dollars ($10) for every ten dollars ($10)” for the “state court
construction penalty”); § 70373 (“thirty dollars ($30)” for felonies
and misdemeanors for “court facilities assessment fee”); § 76000
(“additional penalty in the amount of seven dollars ($7) for every
ten dollars ($10) or part of ten dollars ($10)”); § 76104.6 (“one
dollar for every ten dollars ($10), or part of ten dollars ($10)” for
the “DNA Identification Fund”).
91. Interview with Meredith Desautels, Staff Attorney, Lawyers’
Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, in San
Francisco, Cal. (Mar. 9, 2015). Desautels cited two clients of the
Second Chance Legal Clinic whose licenses were suspended in
San Francisco in 2014 as a result of unpaid fines and fees related
to their criminal convictions.
92. Id.
93. It is estimated that 80-90% of those charged with criminal
offenses qualify for indigent defense. Nearly 65% of those incarcerated in the U.S. did not receive a high school diploma; 70%
of prisoners function at the lowest literacy levels. See ALICIA
DEBT: A BARRIER TO REENTRY 4 (2010), available at http://www.
THE FAMILY 3 (2015).
95. Bannon, supra note 94, at 27-29.
96. See e.g., CAL. PENAL CODE § 17.5(a).
97. See U.S. DEP’T. OF JUSTICE, supra note 2, at 63-70.


29 | Not Just a Ferguson Problem
99. Id. at 49.
100. Andie Adams et al., SDPD Traffic Stop Data Raises Concerns
Over Racial Profiling, NBC SAN DIEGO, Feb. 26, 2015, http://
101. Interview with Meredith Desautels, Staff Attorney, Lawyers’
Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, in
San Francisco, Cal. (Mar. 9, 2015).
FRANCISCO, CAL. (2014), available at http://quickfacts.census.
103. See Bannon, supra note 94, at 4.
104. Phillip Matier & Andrew Ross, SFPD Looking at More
Officers in Offensive-Text Probe, SFGATE.COM, Mar. 17, 2015,
105. CAL. VEH. CODE § 14601(b)(1).
106. Id. § 14601.3(d)(1).
107. See id. §§ 13352(a)(4), 13352.4(c).
15, at 2.
109. Chris Roberts, San Francisco Pays Top Dollar to House
County Jail Inmates, S.F. EXAMINER, Mar. 31, 2013, http://www.
110. For example, an Illinois study of individuals released from
prison found that only 8% of those who were employed for a
year committed another crime, compared to the state’s 54%
average recidivism rate. Presentation by Dr. Art Lurigio (Loyola
U.) Safer Foundation Recidivism Study, Am. Correctional Assoc.,
135th Congress of Correction (Aug. 8, 2005).
15, at 15.
LOW-INCOME INDIVIDUALS 26-27, 31-32, 38 (2010).
LOW-INCOME INDIVIDUALS 26-27, 31-32, 38 (2010).
114. Greg J. Duncan & Katherine Magnuson, The Long Reach
of Early Childhood Poverty, PATHWAYS, Winter 2011, at 22-27,
available at
115. John Pawasarat & Frank Stetzer, Removing Transporta-

tion Barriers to Employment: Assessing Driver’s License and
Vehicle Ownership Patterns of Low-Income Populations, U. OF
WIS. EMP. & TRAINING INST., July 1998, at v, available at https://
15, at 16-19.

INSURANCE RESOURCE GUIDE 6 (2005), available at http://www.
(2006), available at
118. Press Release, Insurance Research Council, New Study

Reveals a Declining Trend in the Percentage of Uninsured Motorists
(Aug. 5, 2014), available at
(Aug. 4, 2014), available at
120. Note that not all the recommendations under this section
would not be necessary if the Legislature retroactively applies a
new policy to end all use of license suspension for collection of
court-ordered debt, pursuant to Recommendation A.1, above.