Assembly approves two bills easing license suspensions

The Virginia Assembly has passed two bills making it easier for Virginians to avoid a license suspension.

The Virginia General Assembly has passed two important bills that are both designed to ease license suspensions in the state. According to US News & World Report, one bill will largely eliminate the automatic license suspension that currently results if a person is convicted of a first-time marijuana offense. The second bill, meanwhile, affects those whose driving licenses could be suspended if they fail to pay court debts. While the bills are partially designed to reduce the number of Virginians who are driving with a suspended license, critics say they do not go far enough.

Marijuana and court debts

Under current Virginia law, people who are convicted for the first time of simple marijuana possession have their driver's license suspended for six month automatically. The Assembly's recently approved bill, however, will mean that that suspension is no longer automatic unless the marijuana was discovered in a moving vehicle. Instead, judges would be given the option to impose a license suspension, but the suspension would not be automatically enforced.

Secondly, another bill that was approved by the Assembly requires judges to consider a person's financial situation when coming up with a payment plan for court debts. While people who miss a payment will still have their license suspended, the bill does require the court to first consider the person's request to enter a new payment plan.

The two bills are awaiting the governor's signature before becoming law.

Do the bills go far enough?

About 900,000 people - which is about one-sixth of all drivers in Virginia - have had their licenses suspended because of unpaid court fines. Critics of those suspensions say they disproportionately affect poor people and increase the chances of people driving on a suspended license. Getting caught driving on a suspended license can lead to more court fines, which in turn can lead to a cycle of court debt and further suspensions.

As the Daily Press reports, while the two bills dealing with license suspensions have gained bipartisan support, many critics say they still do not go far enough. They point out that the bills still punish all people who fail to make a payment on time, regardless of whether those people deliberately ignored their debt or could not afford the payments. A lawsuit was recently filed against the state, alleging that the license suspension for unpaid court debts is unconstitutional.

Criminal and traffic law

Anybody who finds themselves facing a criminal charge, no matter how serious, should get in touch with a criminal defense attorney immediately. An experienced attorney can help clients make sense of their legal options, including for both traffic violations and more serious offenses.