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DMV Advises Motorists Charged With Decades-Old Traffic Violations of Right To a Hearing

Posted: May 18, 2010|Category: Due Process

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The Division of Motor Vehicles has taken a first step to address an ACLU lawsuit filed last month challenging the legality of DMV actions in sending out deficient and confusing notices of alleged decades-old traffic violations to over 1,500 residents. In response to that suit, the DMV has mailed those individuals a new notice advising them of their right to a meaningful hearing to contest the violations, and creating a mechanism to lift in the interim any license suspension that may have been imposed.

The earlier notices that people were sent, prompted by the DMV’s recent consolidation of various computer database systems, gave motorists no information about the nature of the alleged offense leading to the license suspension, about the penalty for the offense, or even the date that the offense purportedly took place. For example, the notice received by Warwick resident Gerald Carbone, the plaintiff in the ACLU’s lawsuit, stated only that the “date of incident” was “00/00/0000,” that the reason for the suspension was that he was “not entitled to lic. issue,” and that the fee he owed was “$0.00.”

The new notice advises the recipients that if they request a hearing by May 28, any license that has been suspended as a result of the defective first notice will be reinstated (with a few exceptions for certain designated serious offenses), and any fines they paid will be refunded.

Rather than going through with new hearings, the state is considering dismissing all the charges in light of their age and the difficulties the DMV will face at any hearings requested by motorists under the revised notices. By law, the burden will be on the DMV to prove the alleged violations, not on the motorist to disprove them. If the DMV nonetheless decides to proceed with hearings, motorists who have requested one will receive a new notice that provides details about the charge and a hearing date. Until the hearing is held and a decision rendered, no adverse action may be taken against the license holder.

Noting the burden of proof imposed on the DMV to prove the alleged violations, RI ACLU volunteer attorney James Kelleher urged people receiving the notices to carefully consider the option of contesting the charge. He said: “Few things are as disruptive as the loss of a drivers’ license. We are pleased that this first step has been taken to correct this situation and to have these matters handled, if at all, in a way that protects and respects the rights of the license holders.”

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown expressed hope that the state would decide to dismiss all the charges instead of forcing motorists to spend the time and expense of dealing with decades-old allegations. Brown noted: “If the recent Operator Control hearing for Mr. Carbone is any indication, the state is going to have great difficulty meeting its burden of proof. By dropping all these ancient, and often questionable, charges now, the state will also save itself a good deal of time and expense. Otherwise, the DMV may very well face additional litigation from some of the motorists who have been most adversely affected by the agency’s unconstitutional actions.”

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