Traffic Tickets: Systematic Shakedowns

So this morning I met a guy who was on his way to the DMV to clear up his suspended license. He told me that recently, he was pulled over for a broken taillight and the police discovered that his license had been suspended over a year ago.

In California, driving on a suspended license is an arrestable misdemeanor that usually comes with the bonus of having your car impounded. But since this man “looked like a nice guy,” and was also in the car with his 88-year-old father (who he was driving to lunch like a good son), the officers let him go with a warning, instructing him to go home and avoid driving until he got the issue resolved.

Upon further investigation, this man realized that his license was suspended because at the time in question, he was pulled over in West Hollywood for looking down at his cell phone while stopped at a red light. Those officers gave him a $162 dollar ticket, but he somehow only paid $142 when he went to the Sheriffs department in person, because that’s how much he was told the fined was.

No one stopped him or told him that he was $20 short while he was there.

Fortunately, the DMV figured it out and sent him the IOU. Unfortunately, they sent it to his old address, despite having his current address on record and even printed right on his drivers license.

When this man failed to pay the remaining $20 that he had no idea he owed, the DMV suspended his license and ballooned his $20 tab to upwards of $800 over the course of the following year.

But don’t worry, there is a semi-happy ending to this story. You see, this man was able to hire a lawyer and gather all of the documents needed to prove his case. So now he is on his way to get his license reinstated… but only after spending over $3,500 in legal fees.


And that does not including all of his missed wages from work, etc…

That is so crazy to me.

And you may have already guessed it but this man was of course, white. I mean, let’s face it, had he been black or brown, this story probably would’ve ended after the “driving on a suspended license is an arrestable misdemeanor” part.

And even if a person of color would’ve been afforded the initial break, and even if they had been spared having their car impounded… what are the odds that they would’ve had the $3,500 in disposable income to prove the DMV/Sheriffs mix-up in court and resolve the issue without some kind of forced admission of guilt and partial burden of responsibility?


Anyway Black, Brown or white it shouldn’t matter. Our system continues to abuse us all. They are shaking down their own while crippling and imprisoning the rest. And all over completely trivial matters.

None of it should be acceptable to any of us.