Does the DMV remember?
February 9, 2011 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Repercussions of unpaid Michigan speeding ticket from 30 years ago?

Help me help my relative!

About 30 years ago, my relative was issued a speeding ticket in Michigan. She was getting ready to emigrate from the US at the time, and didn't manage to mail in the fine. She asked her husband to do it, but he neglected to do so. Her recollection is that there were repeated notices (which she received a year or more after the fact), including one that stated her license was being revoked due to her lack of response to the citation and failure to pay the fine.

I'm a little surprised that her license would have been revoked for one unpaid speeding ticket, given that her driving record was pretty clean. There may have been the occasional speeding ticket, but that's certainly the worst possible thing that could have been on it.

In any case, she lived outside the US for the next 25-odd years, and the whole issue lay dormant.

Fast forward to the present day. She has moved back to Michigan, and has been avoiding applying for a license again, because she is incredibly embarrassed by this history, and also a bit nervous about what possible repercussions she may have to face.

So the question is (And yes, I know you are not a lawyer, and certainly not my lawyer, and I am not seeking legal advice):
a) How likely is it that her license was actually revoked?
b) How likely is it that the Michigan DMV still has a record of this?
c) In the event that that they DO have a record, what repercussions might she be facing?
posted by bardophile to Law & Government (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My understanding is that the suspension, and possibly a bench warrant, is in effect, though in some jurisdictions old traffic offenses might be cleared out after X number of years. The statute of limitations does not help here because failure to show is essentially a conviction. That leaves the question of whether the offense is still in effect and whether it's on record in the computer systems. You should Google and see whether your state court system has an open, searchable database. Regardless, I'm not one to jump on the "lawyer up" bandwagon, but doing so is prudent since she could get arrested at any routine traffic stop and end up in jail over a weekend until brought before a judge, and who knows what other repercussions it might bring.
posted by crapmatic at 11:26 AM on February 9, 2011

I'd just contact the DMV and ask. No-one here can really answer your question. After 25 years they may not even care anymore. She probably will just have to go through the whole "first-time" license thing and maybe pay an extra fine.
posted by elendil71 at 11:26 AM on February 9, 2011

Years ago in Michigan, I got a ticket for failing to come to a complete stop at a blinking red light. (this was at 3:00 in the morning) I was so angry I refused to pay the ticket (I also refused to show up for the court date - ah youth!) I also refused to pay the fine that was later imposed on me by the court. Long story short, my license was suspended for not paying the ticket. Years later, in California, I decided I wanted a driver's license. In order to do so, I had to call the court in Michigan, write a nice letter to the judge, and pay $400 (on a $50 ticket). The judge forgave me, and I got my DL.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:27 AM on February 9, 2011

IANAL and I am not from Michigan. But something similar happened to me in Ohio, which might be a good guide: my license was revoked for not paying the fine on a moving violation. I went to the police stations, paid my fine, then had to go to the DMV and get a new license. Cost a bit of money, but no harm. There was a warrant out for my arrest, it wasn't one where they were hunting me down. Since I paid the fine when I got to the police station, the warrant went away.

You'd need to check the specifics of Michigan law, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was similar.
posted by Hactar at 11:28 AM on February 9, 2011

a) very likely*
b) it depends on their record keeping methods and current computer systems
c) she can call the DMV, or the Clerk of the Court for the jurisdiction in which the ticket was issued, and ask

*I'm a little surprised that her license would have been revoked for one unpaid speeding ticket, given that her driving record was pretty clean.

It wasn't revoked for having a ticket, it was revoked for not paying the fine and not responding to the notices.
posted by amyms at 11:31 AM on February 9, 2011

This is interesting. A friend of mine was talking about a ticket received in Virginia about 15 years ago. She can't remember if she paid the fine or not, and can't remember the county in which it occurred. VA does have a searchable database of traffic cases, and she can't find her name there, but that doesn't necessarily mean she's in the clear. I'll tell her to watch this thread.
posted by heigh-hothederryo at 11:32 AM on February 9, 2011

A lawyer will know how to help her exercise her right to remain silent while possibly making the whole thing go away. Such results are possible in my jurisdiction (CA). YMMV. That said, there's a way to check one's status on the National Driver Register which your local DMV will be able to check through the Problem Driver Pointer System (PDPS).
posted by Hylas at 11:36 AM on February 9, 2011

Also, ignore advice about supposedly automatic convictions. She really needs to talk to a lawyer about this. There are not enough facts, but she very likely has some rights that a good lawyer can assert, such as the right to a speedy trial. (See, e.g., Doggett v. United States.) I have gotten many dismissals of old traffic matters this way.

The down side is that the lawyer might cost as much or more than the fine.
posted by Hylas at 11:42 AM on February 9, 2011

Response by poster: Additional complication: She has no record of her drivers license no.
posted by bardophile at 12:00 PM on February 9, 2011

It looks like this site might have some answers. It also links to a general phone number for Michigan government services:
If you want to find out the number of points on your driving record, call 517-322-1460.
That number also directs you to 517-322-1624 (the Record Lookup Unit), where you can speak to a representative. It also says that $8 buys you a copy of your driving record. Orders can be placed here, under Forms. I don't know what information is required from her to get that. I guess it seems like wishful thinking that your relative might still have a copy of her old drivers' license, but perhaps just her name is sufficient.

I am under the impression that there is rarely a statute of limitations on speeding tickets. If it was me and I was still driving, I would contact them, find out the status, pay any outstanding fines, and try to get a valid license. And I don't know whether this applies, but I would not drive ever without a valid license, because getting pulled over and having this come to light during the traffic stop could be really problematic.
posted by juliplease at 12:02 PM on February 9, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, there's no question of her driving without a valid license. She would never dream of doing anything like that. Even the speeding ticket was from a speed trap at the bottom of a hill. :)
posted by bardophile at 12:07 PM on February 9, 2011

This is a speeding ticket, not a murder conviction. If she's driving without a licenses, the penalties for that will be far more severe than whatever she faces if she comes clean with the DMV, and applies for a new license.
posted by schmod at 12:32 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

a) Your license absolutely can and will be suspended if you don't pay your fines. That isn't just a Michigan thing either: true of every state in the union.

b) Hard to say. DMVs aren't necessarily the world's most organized places, particularly with records created decades before the transition to modern electronic databases. It might be worth worth just showing up and applying for a license as if nothing's ever happened.

c) If they connect her with her past fine, she'll have to pay it and that'll be that. The DMV doesn't necessarily give a damn beyond just wanting their money at this point. Or they might not, in which case she's good to go.

I think it's highly unlikely that she's going to be arrested when she shows up. At worst they'll just direct her to pay. That could be quite an expensive proposition--25 years of interest sucks--in which case it's probably worth hiring a lawyer to see what can be done. Courts can be decent about this sort of thing.
posted by valkyryn at 12:41 PM on February 9, 2011

Additional complication: She has no record of her drivers license no.

They can probably find her by full name, date of birth, and SSN.
posted by Hylas at 12:49 PM on February 9, 2011

I got a speeding ticket in Oklahoma 25 years ago that I never paid. I had lived in California for nearly 20 years when I moved to Texas three years ago. I went to apply for a Texas license because my California one was expiring. They refused to issue me a Texas license because of the Oklahoma ticket. From 25 years ago.

I contacted Oklahoma, they told me to pay the fine. After three attempts to do so, I learned that my license had been suspended (or revoked not sure if that's the same thing) and that I should return to Oklahoma and blah blah blah. That was way more trouble than it was worth.

On my next visit to California, I simply renewed my CA license and I've been using that ever since. I do think that it makes a difference if the issue is with a border state, i.e. Texas and Oklahoma are next to each other. And they don't want people playing one off against the other, crossing into Texas to get a license because the Oklahoma one has been revoked.

But California has never raised the issue of the Oklahoma ticket. I'm back in California now and I'm glad I never got a Texas license. Fuckers.
posted by shoesietart at 4:44 PM on February 9, 2011

You never know. I had a speeding ticket from more than 1994 in California that caught up to me in 2008. How? The rat bastards at the State of California took the fine right out of my state tax refund. The very last tax refund check I was ever expecting from that state, and they took most of it. (I left California and moved to Texas)

Incidentally, it showed up even more recently - on the background check performed for my top secret clearance.
posted by drstein at 1:07 PM on February 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your suggestions. I have passed the information on. Will try to post a followup if she takes action in time.
posted by bardophile at 3:03 AM on March 12, 2011

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