Call Today for a FREE Consultation

262-923-8761

24 HOUR EMERGENCY CONTACT

License suspension keeps people from paying off court debt

On Behalf of | Nov 14, 2022 | Criminal Defense

If your driver’s license were suspended, what would you do? What could you afford to do? You’re not allowed to drive on a suspended license, but you have to get to work. Could you afford to take a Lyft or Uber every day? Is there public transportation? Could you arrange a carpool?

There may be ways to avoid driving much of the time, but sometimes there just aren’t. When it comes down to it, lots of people have little choice but to risk driving on a suspended license. They simply can’t find a viable alternative method of transportation to get to their job.

So it’s almost ironic that Wisconsin, like more than half of the states in the U.S., suspends driver’s licenses for nonpayment of certain debts. These debts include things like court fines and fees, restitution to crime victims and unpaid child support. You have to work to pay these debts, most of which can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. You have to work, and you have to drive if you want to work.

According to the policy organization Vera Institute for Justice, approximately 11 million people in the U.S. have had their licenses suspended for unpaid debt. Many of them are still driving.

If they are caught, they will almost certainly incur more debt in the form of fines and court fees. The more often they get caught, the more they will owe. The cost of license reinstatement goes up. It’s a never-ending cycle of debt and more debt.

Unfortunately, because People of Color are stopped by the police far more often than whites, their chance of getting caught is higher. It ends up being a tax on the poor and minorities.

“The current system is not working. No one’s paying the tickets, no one’s paying the BMV reinstatement fee. This isn’t lost money. People just don’t have the money to pay,” says one prosecutor.

Some jurisdictions are working to end the cycle

In some jurisdictions, such as Marion County, Indiana, prosecutors are well aware of the futility of the problem. License suspensions aren’t a harsh but effective measure that gets criminal justice debt collected. They’re just a harsh, ineffective, counter-functional disaster. Most of the debt generated by the license suspension cycle is never repaid.

Marion County’s prosecutor worked with nonprofits to hold workshops where people could get their criminal justice debt reduced or waived. The county has helped over 2,000 people get back to driving legally since 2019.

That’s great. However, it’s just helping people who have already been hurt by the system. We need to move away from a system that criminalizes poverty and focuses so much energy on people who pose little risk to public safety.

Archives

“I just want to say thank you for the outstanding work you have done for him and let you know how much we appreciate the time and attention you gave to his case. We are obviously overjoyed by today’s dismissal!” (Child pornography case dismissed after motion to suppress was granted)”

“After having had time to exhale, we thank each one of you and all the others who contributed to the exemplary Supreme Court presentation. We are proud of your efforts on our behalf and, equally important, on behalf of the many present and future defendants statewide.” (Client’s comment after Supreme Court oral argument)

“Thank you. Thank you. I am so pleased to hear that we won. It doesn’t seem that it was even a close call. I appreciate your efforts.” (Oconto County defendant after Buting, Williams & Stilling got his prison sentence overturned in the court of appeals) ”

“Your time and advice was appreciated more than words can express at a time when we really needed someone to guide us.” (Client)

“The outcome was amazing, one unavailable even under identical circumstances in probably 98 percent of federal courtrooms around the country. Separate and apart from the outcome, though, I am supremely impressed by your efforts on your client’s behalf. Your comments in support of the requested sentence were perfect in tone and, having now reviewed the extensive sentencing memorandum you filed, your work in that regard was exemplary as well. Your client was certainly fortunate to have you as his attorney.” (Local federal court attorney present at a sentencing)

“I can’t thank you enough, not only for all of the tireless work that you and your staff put into my case, but for telling me what I needed to hear, at a time when I absolutely had to hear it. I consider myself blessed for everything turning out the way it did, especially since I blindly picked you out of a phone book! You helped me, my family and friends in many more ways than the money ever could.” (Child pornography client)

“I think you will find that in any circles where Kathy’s name is raised, people will always respond positively and identify her as an extremely hardworking, knowledgeable and ethical lawyer who is timely and effective with any endeavor she takes on. These circles would include colleagues, friends, prosecutors, judges, professors and others who have crossed paths with Kathy. They would also include the many lawyers like me who have referred numerous cases to Kathy, invariably with positive feedback from the clients regarding her knowledge of their case, empathy, professionalism and fair-mindedness in addressing their concerns.” (Fellow attorney)

“Thank you for giving [our son] back to us. Wonderful work!” (Family of client accused of armed robbery after charges were dismissed)

“Yes, His perfect time and perfect place, you were a part of this plan. I almost didn’t hire you, but I took a step of faith trusting Him and look what happened? Praise God. Our Lord put you in your vocation for a reason, continue to help those He brings your way. May He bless you in ALL you do!” (Client who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in a northwestern Wisconsin county. He was released from prison after attorneys got his conviction reversed.)

“I really cannot thank you enough for your past help. You really know your stuff. It is actually funny when I think about my other past attorney’s knowledge and then when I talk with you. It’s like night and day. You’re like a walking book of knowledge with a purpose-driven life. Thanks.” (Brown County client of attorney Buting)

“A year later and I still believe your defense is the single best example of lawyering I have ever seen.” (Television reporter commenting on attorney Buting’s defense of Steven Avery)

“You have a certain brilliance that makes me sure that when you talk, it is good information and I am in good hands. You tell it to me like it is even when the things you say are not always the things that I would like to hear. You keep it REAL!!!” (Brown County client)

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! I feel like this was one of the biggest blessings that happened in my life. I put this along with my children being born healthy and when I survived that horrific shooting. I appreciate everything you have done for me. I couldn’t ask for better lawyers. I want to say thank you to everybody at your firm. I owe you more than the fee you so rightfully deserve. … You gave me back hope. Thank you, man! Out of my 36 years … I have never seen such kindness before. I don’t know what I did to deserve this; I’m very thankful nonetheless. Thank you for giving me hope again. Thank you for your generosity. There are still some really good people around.” (Federal criminal appeal client)

“There is no other attorney I’ve ever even heard of I’d rather have as chief counsel and leader of my defense/appeals than Jerome Buting. You’re the best. Period.” (Dane County client)

“Your advice and counsel were greatly appreciated. We appreciate you taking the time on your Sunday and evenings to help us. We are SO happy about the results! Thanks again.” (Waukesha County client)

“Thank you again … for everything. Five and one-half years of commitment, so many ups and downs and an outcome like that. You did a GREAT job.” (Waukesha County felony drug offense client)