Judge rules against convicts who want their driver's licenses back

By Carrie Salls | Oct 12, 2018


PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed a lawsuit filed by a potential class of Pennsylvania residents who have had their driver’s licenses suspended because of convictions on drug charges that did not involve a violation of traffic laws, according to an opinion issued on Sept. 25.

The class action lawsuit was filed by lead plaintiffs Russell Harold and Sean Williams against Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials.

“Plaintiffs allege that the suspension of their driver’s licenses violates equal protection because it discriminates against people with drug convictions without a rational connection to a legitimate state purpose (Count One); violates procedural due process because it creates an irrebuttable presumption against plaintiffs, depriving them of their property rights (Count Two); and violates substantive due process because it deprives them of the fundamental right to intrastate travel without being narrowly tailored to achieve a significant government interest (Count Three),” the opinion said.

In addition, the ruling said Harold and Williams argued that their inability to drive hurts their chances of getting a job.

Secretary of Transportation Leslie Richards   PennDOT

As a result, the court said Harold and Williams are asking that the commonwealth be prohibited from suspending driver’s licenses for non-traffic safety-related drug charges and are asking the court to order PennDOT to reinstate their driving privileges.

In asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit, the defendants allege that Harold and Williams have failed to “state a claim on which relief may be granted,” according to the ruling.

Judge Cynthia Rufe said in the ruling that “the cases cited by plaintiffs do not support an argument that the law violates equal protection… The law bars plaintiffs from operating a motor vehicle for a defined period, and does so as a result of plaintiffs’ actions in violation of the relevant criminal statutes, for which they have been convicted in a court of law.”

Despite Harold and Williams’ claim they face stiffer penalties than those convicted of other crimes “because of legislative animus against drug crimes,” Rufe said nothing prohibits a legislature from imposing different punishments on a crime-by-crime basis.

“This court does not make policy decisions and takes no position as to whether the current framework is wise or socially beneficial,” the opinion said. “That is a decision to be made by the Pennsylvania legislative and executive branches. The court only determines that as a matter of law plaintiffs have not alleged a violation of rights secured under the Constitution.”

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Pennsylvania Department of Transportation U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

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