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New California law prevents driver's license suspensions

On June 27, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed a bill that will provide protection from driver’s license suspensions for individuals with unpaid fines, according to the Associated Press. Under the new law, the courts will not be able to suspend a person’s driver’s license for unpaid fines incurred through certain traffic infractions. The provisions will not apply to persons whose licenses are already suspended. Proponents of the new law reason that the suspension of a driver’s license for unpaid fines is an inefficient means of obtaining payment for fees because it undermines an individual’s ability to drive to work without breaking the law. Put simply, according to supporters, the new law is designed to avoid punishing people for being poor. Nonetheless, failure to appear in court may still cause a person to incur additional fines and be subject to license suspension.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Californians have faced an increase in overall penalties through additional fees, assessments and surcharges imposed by the legislature: “A $35 ticket for failing to signal a lane change actually costs $238. This goes a long way toward explaining why, as of March, 488,000 Californians had suspended licenses.” The hope for some is that the recently passed bill will help to alleviate some of that burden.

Traffic law is a subset of criminal law in California. As such, a person charged with a traffic infraction should be aware that he or she can plead not guilty and request a jury trial in writing, by mail. Doing so may help a person avoid being subject to suspension for failure to appear in court, as well as additional fines.

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