Hundreds of Jacksonville, FL, residents had their driver’s licenses suspended after receiving citations for pedestrian offenses.
ProPublica, working with the Florida-Times Union, published figures delving into an earlier report.
Between 2012 and 2016, some 2,000 individuals living in Florida’s Duval County were cited for petty offenses like jaywalking. Although tickets for crossing the street away from unmarked crossings carry but a $65 fine, more than half of recipients suffered a greater consequence.
Unable or unwilling to pay, some Floridians found their driver’s licenses suddenly suspended. Others, too, found themselves in a spot of trouble at the DMV, told that such small, outstanding fees prevented them from obtaining a license at all.
Last month, the Times and ProPublica investigated a possible racial bias in the issuance of tickets.
Despite accounting for only 29% of Jacksonville’s population, a disproportionate number of jaywalking citations were issued to African-Americans. Roughly 55% of pedestrian offense-related citations were written to blacks, with a similar percentage having their licenses suddenly revoked.
ProPublica reported earlier in the week that Jacksonville’s City Council is trying to put a halt to the practice.
On Tuesday, three elected officials asked Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams to order his officers to stop writing pedestrian tickets. Another council member, Garrett Dennis, sought advice from the Office of General Counsel to ensure local government had the proper authority to dictate law enforcement action.
Nevertheless, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office stood by its deputies and their decisions, saying there was no reason to a pursue an internal investigation. A spokesperson pointed out that anyone who felt wronged by a citation has the legal right to contest it before a judge.
In an interview Monday, Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas County) said that arguing against pedestrian tickets is the first encounter many people have with the criminal justice system – and, unfortunately, the issue often compounds from there.
“You don’t pay the fine, or you can’t pay the fine, but you still have to get to work – then you’re facing a Catch-22,” said Brandes, who has ‘repeatedly’ introduced legislation to curtail the effect of non-driving offenses on driving privileges. “Do I drive and not make it to work and get fired, or do I not drive and get fired? We just think that, unless it’s a driving-related incident, you shouldn’t have to make that choice.”
Brandes’ most recent bill suggests a fitting solution to the dilemma faced by thousands of Jacksonville residents since 2012 – allowing those who can demonstrate financial hardship to perform community service as an alternative to paying a fine.
But the bill, now on its third vote, has never mustered enough support within the state legislature to become law.
“Unfortunately, the clerks of courts have been funded based on transaction volume, and one of their highest-margin transaction is driver’s licenses,” said Brandes.
Jaywalking and non-payment of fees can spell trouble for children, too.
According to ProPublica and the Southern Poverty Law Center, teenagers cited for jaywalking can’t obtain licenses until they pay their fines, too.
For households already facing financial strife, the challenge of having one more family member effectively ousted from the workforce can be devastating.