Rhode Island Offers Hearings for 1,500 Suspended Drivers

May 21, 2010

Hundreds of drivers who had their licenses suspended without being told why can keep driving until they get a hearing to resolve the issue, the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles said.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the DMV in April after it sent notices to 1,500 residents saying their licenses would be suspended because they owed a fee of zero dollars for a violation that happened on 00/00/0000. The letters, which also gave no information about the alleged violation, were sent after the DMV upgraded its computer systems and found violations, some decades old, that had apparently never been resolved.

The DMV sent new letters dated last Friday, saying the original notices sent between September and May failed to provide information required by law. The letters offer people a hearing and to reinstate their license in the meantime.

Those accused of serious violations, such as driving under the influence, will not have their licenses reinstated as part of that process, said Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office.

Drivers have until May 28 to ask for a hearing, the letter said.

Kempe said the DMV has been working with the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal to address the problem brought to light by the ACLU.

“We do understand the frustration of the public,” she said.

Steve Brown, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he hoped the state would eventually dismiss all the charges, pointing out that the DMV will have to prove the violations.

“By dropping these ancient and often questionable charges now, the state will save itself a good deal of time and expense,” he said. “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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