GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A new website, FLDLcheck.com, enables Florida drivers whose licenses were improperly suspended to find out if their suspensions have been lifted through advocacy undertaken by Southern Legal Counsel and the ACLU of Florida. The site provides information to help people reinstate their permit to drive in cases where their licenses were unlawfully suspended for failure to pay court fees and fines related to local ordinance violations.
After the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLDHSMV) lifted more than 13,500 improper driver’s license suspensions in 2021, the drivers themselves were not notified. Southern Legal Counsel and the ACLU of Florida created the new website as a way for drivers to find out if they might be eligible to get their licenses reinstated and to learn more about the process.
“Florida clerks of court are not authorized to suspend a driver’s licenses for failure to pay court fees and fines on ordinance violations cases, and yet nearly half of them statewide were doing so,” said attorney Chelsea Dunn of Southern Legal Counsel. “A court has found the practice unlawful, and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has recognized it as improper and therefore lifted suspensions issued for that reason.”
The website allows drivers to search their name to determine if they had a suspension on their license that was lifted by the FLDHSMV for this reason, and it provides resources and an FAQ that answers questions drivers with suspended licenses may have. In addition, there is a map showing the 30 counties in Florida that were issuing license suspensions for nonpayment of court costs and fees on ordinance violations cases, as well as how many driver’s licenses were implicated in each county.
“A few counties, including Escambia, Lake, Manatee, Santa Rosa, and Sarasota, continue to issue these unlawful suspensions, so we are continuing our advocacy in order to put a stop to it,” said attorney Jackie Azis of the ACLU of Florida. “Southern Legal Counsel and the ACLU of Florida have already filed a lawsuit in Sarasota County seeking to stop additional suspensions from being issued.”
Florida, like many other states, now uses license suspensions as a coercive means of collecting fines and fees, with millions of suspension notices sent out every year. However, Florida law allows for the suspension of driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines on criminal cases, not in local ordinance violation cases.
“The practice of suspending a person’s driver’s license was originally used to promote the goal of highway safety, and it was related to offenses such as driving under the influence, reckless driving, repeated speeding tickets, and other driving-related offenses. More recently, suspension began to be used not as a safety measure, but as a fundraising tactic,” added Dunn.
Southern Legal Counsel and the ACLU of Florida achieved relief for these drivers beginning with their advocacy on behalf of Ocala resident Anthony Cummings, who was found guilty of violating a local ordinance that prohibited sleeping outside. The court assessed court fees and fines, which Cummings could not afford. When he failed to pay and the clerk notified the FLDHSMV to suspend his driver’s license, Southern Legal Counsel and the ACLU of Florida challenged this practice on Cummings’ behalf. The court held that several criminal court fees and costs were not authorized in ordinance violation cases and ordered they be removed from the judgment. The court also held that his license should not have been suspended, because the Clerk of Court did not have the authority to do so for failure to pay fees associated with a municipal ordinance violation.
Southern Legal Counsel and the ACLU of Florida then advocated with the FLDHSMV, which recognized it may not be lawful to suspend a driver’s license for failure to pay fines and fees arising from a municipal or county ordinance violation.
A copy of the court order can be viewed here.