NAACP and U.S. government respond to lawsuit against DMV

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- Attorneys from the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville are suing the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

They allege the department's automatic license suspension program for unpaid court fees and fines violates the 14th Amendment, equal protection under the law and due process.

Since the suit was filed, the NAACP and the U.S. government have become involved.

"The law itself requires that drivers licenses be automatically taken away without any consideration of ability to pay or the reasons behind a person's default on their debts to the court," explained Angela Ciolfi, Legal Director at the Legal Aid Justice Center.

In its suit, the center says for people who are too poor to pay, like 24-year-old Damian Stinnie who was named in the suit, the DMV policy perpetuates his poverty.

"It's very difficult for him even to keep a roof over his head, never mind make payments to the court," explained Ciolfi.

Stinnie's license was suspended automatically for unpaid court fees and fines.

The justice center says since he is unable to pay, he is now forced to make a dangerous decision.

"The system forces them to choose between keeping their jobs and driving illegally, or staying at home and losing out on their ability to make a living," Ciolfi said.

In the last month, the NAACP and United States filed two briefs of their own in the lawsuit.

The NAACP claims the DMV policy is also targeting minorities and exacerbating the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

"This disproportionally affects minorities, no question about it, because socio-economically they're more disadvantaged," explained David Heilberg, attorney representing the NAACP.

In its brief, the government argued if the allegations by the justice center are true, then the DMV may be violating the right to due process under the 14th Amendment.

The U.S. says this is why it would like to see the case go to a courtroom.

"This practice needs to stop and people need to be given a certain consideration so that they can pay their fines and not have their lives ruined," said Heilberg.

The DMV has responded in court filings that the lawsuit should be thrown out.

Represented by Virginia's Attorney General, the department says 1) people get their due process in the courtroom and 2) this matter should not be handled in federal court because the DMV is carrying out a law enacted by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The DMV is expected to file another response Tuesday night in response to the NAACP and U.S.

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