Pima Co. looks to ease penalties for driving with suspended lice - Tucson News Now

Pima Co. looks to ease penalties for driving with suspended license

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Pima County is looking to follow the city of Tucson's lead to ease penalties for people who drive on a suspended license.

Driving on a suspended license in Pima County is a criminal offense which can lead to jail time.

Tucson decided a year ago to not prosecute people who are driving on a suspended license. Although there are civil penalties, they are not criminal.

The reasons the county wants to downgrade the offense are several fold.

First of all, 86 percent of the people who have their license suspended is due to not paying a traffic fine, such as speeding or not wearing a seat belt.

That's according to numbers released by Pima County Justice Court for the month of January, 2017.

"There's no reason to be incarcerating people for that," said Richard Elias, District 5 County Supervisor. "There's no reason to be adding extra charges on somebody in those kinds of situations."

Often, Elias points out, people do not know the license is suspended because they fail to open their mail or because they have moved and don't get the notice.

In the fight against the opioid epidemic, the county passed a resolution, 4-1, on June 20 that called for, among other things, the state to relax the penalties for driving on a suspended license.

Causes of Driver's License Suspensions by Tucson News Now on Scribd

The one no vote came from District 1 Supervisor Ally Miller who said "why is someone driving on a suspended license? Typically, it's a DUI suspension."

However, in a memo released by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says that is "false and misleading."

Jeff Young lost his license two years ago because he failed to pay a speeding ticket and in the process, lost his job as a cook.

"Sometimes I'd work until three in the morning and there are no buses running at 3 am," he said. "If someone couldn't pick me up, I'd have to ride my bike six miles and at that time of morning, that's not the safest thing to do."

That, and he's hot.

"If I had a car, it would have air conditioning," he said.

But he also admits, people need to pay their fines or face punishment but there is a limit.

"I think people need more time until they suspend the license," he said.

"We want them to keep their jobs," said Elias. "We want them to keep supporting their families even if they are making mistakes."

The Pima County Attorney's Office, which has advocated for reducing the penalties for driving on a suspended license, is working on a program which will help those people get their licenses back. 

It's still in the working stages which uses the University of Arizona as a resource. It should be unveiled soon.

It has a lot of support in the community.

"We have a better chance of having them come in, get things straight with us without taking them to jail on a bench warrant," said Elias. "Which is what's happening right now.."

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