Suspended License
March 27, 2007 10:29 PM   Subscribe

What recourse do I have in this situation? Girl meets jail when license is unknowingly suspended in Tennessee.

Last night I was driving home and got stopped for speeding. Shame on me. The whole ticketing process was taking longer than I've ever seen before, and before I know it another police car has pulled up behind me and I'm being asked to step out of my car.

The officer told me that my license was suspended and that they were arresting me. They were generally nice about it, however I had to wear handcuffs in and was booked.

Now here's the deal - best I can figure out my license was suspended as a result of not providing proof of insurance (I have been insured since 2001). I was in a car accident some months ago (not my fault) and was supposed to be provided with an accident report form that was to be filled out and sent to the state? But never was provided to me. I never knew about it.

Also never even knew my license had been suspended. No notices, no nothin.

This morning, it took me all of 30 minutes to go down to the DMV to provide proof of insurance and get my license reinstated.

Here's my question... how did this happen? How can I find all the details? is it legal for them to have arrested me and done this? Somehow I feel like I've been put through a lot of someone else's mistake.
posted by finitejest to Travel & Transportation around Tennessee (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Did you move? Did you give the DMV your new address?
posted by Brian James at 10:33 PM on March 27, 2007

Your license was probably not suspending for 'not providing proof of insurance'. Your license was probably suspended for not providing proof of insurance at the scene, not providing it within a window of a few months after the accident, and finally, a failure to appear in court to address the matter. This probably did not happen overnight, and you chose to ignore it. No biggie, I had similar shit happen to me. You probably owe the city or state a bunch of money, and in your unfortunate case, got pulled over with a suspended license. Which in some states, include my state of California, is a mandatory 30 day suspension - the cops have no flexibility on this.

As Brian James mentioned, the DMV not having the right address can complicate matters. However, changes your address at the DMV is one of the simpler things you can do - you don't even need to wait for a new drivers license.

All I can recommend is that you square away your attitude with respect to cops and driving. I can't tell you how many times I've tried to squirm out of situations like these, and it rarely pays off. If you have to return to court, get a local lawyer. If you don't, pay the fines and make sure:

1. your insurance sticker is valid
2. your lights all work
3. you don't blow red lights
4. try your best not to speed

swear to god, if you do these 4 things, you'll never get pulled over.
posted by phaedon at 11:03 PM on March 27, 2007

sorry if i sound a little pissy. not intended.
posted by phaedon at 11:04 PM on March 27, 2007

2. your lights all work

Interesting aside. When I was learing to drive I spotted so many cars with one brake light out that I printed up a sign with "One of your brake lights is out" written in reverse so it was readable in a mirror. I'd hold it up if I was stopped at the lights behind someone with a brake light out. I still have it in the car somewhere.

To everyone reading this: If you haven't checked your brake lights in more than a year there's probably about a 1 in 5 chance that at least one is dead. Go check them now.
posted by krisjohn at 12:57 AM on March 28, 2007

Ok, to answer the question: Yes, of course it's legal for them to arrest you. You were caught driving with a suspended license, and I'm guessing that means mandatory arrest in your state (otherwise they wouldn't have done it... and as you say, they weren't dicks about it).

As for the rest... as Brian James says, are you sure your address is valid with the DMV? That sounds like the first culprit. The second culprit could be notices lost in the mail. But I'm presuming the DMV would have sent several notices, and the chances of ALL of them being lost are pretty slim.

Unlike phaedon, I won't presume that you received several notices in the mail and chose to ignore them. I don't think you would have been so surprised at being arrested if you had. It sounds more like there was some communication failure on SOMEBODY's part (as often happens in giant bureaucracies), and you were just the latest victim of the DMV's horrible inefficiencies. I would consider following up with the DMV to find out where the communications breakdown happened, though I don't imagine you'll get much satisfaction.
posted by antifuse at 2:14 AM on March 28, 2007

Unlike phaedon, I won't presume that you received several notices in the mail and chose to ignore them.

There was no presumption on my part.

You simply do not get your license suspended if you can't show a cop your insurance card. You are given a ticket on scene to pay a fine or show up in court, depending on the violation.

And by the way, the DMV does not handle traffic citations.

Have a good one.
posted by phaedon at 3:45 AM on March 28, 2007

I was in an accident 5 years ago. The state requires me to send in proof of insurance every six months (when I roll over my policy). In 2005, I had to send it in, as usual, but my insurance agent sent it in early. The new insurance apparently susperceded the old insurance, and the state consdier me to no longer have valid insurance for the period from the date that my agent sent it in until the new policy went into effect. They told me none of this, and I only found out that my license had been suspended a year and a half later, in Kansas, when I was pulled over for being swarthy (well, 74 in a 70, when my sprrdo read exactly 70, and I'd just timed the speedo over 100 miles to make sure it was correct). I had to spend the day in county lockup while my girlfriend drow eight hours out there to pay my bail. And I didn't even get a ticket for speeding.
posted by notsnot at 3:59 AM on March 28, 2007

Phaedon's basically got it: when you get a ticket from a cop... any ticket from a cop, you have to pay it. If you don't pay it right away, but instead decide to fight it, but then accidentally forget about the whole mess, and let time keep on slippin'... slippin'... slippin'...

...well, they can and will suspend your license. First they'll send you a notice that you haven't paid. Then they'll send you a notice that you have an upcoming court day. Then they'll send you a notice that you missed your court date and, by default, accepted your guilt, so "Pretty please, pay your fine." After that, the license is suspended.

Even given the incompetence of local bureaucracy, I doubt they'd screw up mailing virtually the same letter to the same address over and over again. If they had your address wrong, well, it's your responsibility to make sure they have it right if you move. If you didn't move, and they somehow still had your address wrong, you're going to be having a lot more of these little problems in the future when registration comes due, or excise tax (if applicable) is owed, etc.

I'm not saying you ignored the notices, because that would be calling you a liar and that's pretty rude. But I will say this: make sure the Department of Motor Vehicles has your correct address, because that's just about the only way this could have happened.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:45 AM on March 28, 2007

Mod note: a few comments removed - please stop with the "did she know/not know" derail -- take it to metatalk or email, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:56 AM on March 28, 2007

I'm not sure that there is any recourse. A very similar thing happened to my husband. His license had been suspended years before (for some sort of non-payment of something or other), and although he dealt with it at the time and his license was reinstated, somehow the paperwork wasn't circulated properly, and a couple of years ago he was arrested in front of his workplace and taken to a jail a couple of towns over, with a stop in the middle to transfer (in broad daylight, in handcuffs) to another police car.

Bailed him out. We got printouts from the DMV showing that his license had been reinstated, and a couple of weeks later he took them to court and the judge dismissed the case. It took 10 minutes.

Word of advice, once you have fully resolved this matter, keep the relevant documents you have gathered (DMV printouts, any documents you may get in court etc.)in your car for a while. I'm a little foggy on the details now, but Husband was stopped a couple of months later for something minor (brake light?), and the officer (who, luckily, my husband knew) noted that there was still a pending warrant in his record FOR THE SAME THING. He was able to show the officer on the spot that the matter had been resolved, but it might have been awkward otherwise.

I'm sorry this happened to you. It was pretty scary for both of us.

I think it is a mistake to think that any government agency efficiently communicates info to any other, so keep the facts at hand.
posted by MsElaineous at 5:30 AM on March 28, 2007

Same thing happened to my boyfriend, and I'm not sure there's anything you can do about it.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:26 AM on March 28, 2007

Many times the government WON'T send you anything in the mail about such matters. In many jurisdictions in Texas when you sign a ticket (or other document) that document becomes your promise to appear and and resolve the matter. The government will assume you'll keep your promise without any further communication. Always read the fine print. If you have a copy of the documents from the accident, perhaps you can review those for such statements.

Can you request a copy of your driving record?

/Talk to a lawyer. (I am a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer.) Some criminal attorneys specialize in situations just like yours.
posted by GPF at 6:26 AM on March 28, 2007

It's happened to me and to my wife.

In the state of Ohio they don't have to tell you your license is under suspension.

We got it both cleared up by just telling the truth to the judge (they don't hear the truth to often, so it's a nice change of pace for them)
posted by Mick at 8:06 AM on March 28, 2007

phaedon is misinformed about the process in some states. In Virginia, certain random events will provoke the DMV to send you a letter requiring proof of insurance. It can happen when you renew your license or when an accident report is filed with them. They send you a letter via certified mail and if you don't respond within a certain period of time, they suspend your license.

I had virtually the identical thing happen to me as the original poster, although the cops didn't arrest me. They did write me up for driving on a suspended license and required my then girl-friend to come pick me and my car up. DMV's records did not show any evidence that I received the letter (they make a note of the certified receipt, apparently) and the judge dismissed the charges. I never received any letter and my address information was current. I had moved a few months prior to the time they suspended my license, so I can only assume that they sent it to the wrong address, although they insist they did not. In my case, I was randomly chosen to get the letter when I renewed my license and changed my address. I was never in any accident.

The point of this long-winded post is that in Virginia (and I assume other states), it is quite possible for your license to be suspended for failing to respond to a letter. It doesn't require that you did anything wrong at the scene of an accident or that you miss any court dates.
posted by Lame_username at 8:10 AM on March 28, 2007

Where I live, you can end up eventually getting arrested for an unpaid parking ticket. Your only notice that you have to pay the parking ticket is that ticket on your windshield, if it blows away before you get back to your car, it can cause a lot of trouble.

I don't think finitejest is lying about this.
posted by yohko at 8:22 AM on March 28, 2007

My guess is you ran afoul of this.
If there was another person involved and they submitted the form and you didn't, then it's almost certainly what caused the suspension.

When I was hit in CA, I had the same thing happen, (though, I got a warning letter from the DMV) since I had never before lived in a state with such a requirement and had no idea I needed to fill out a form.

Regardless, if you can prove you were insured at the time of the accident,are insured now and have already had your license reinstated, it should be a simple matter to call up the DA handling your case and get the charges dropped.

It was almost certainly a valid arrest (since you admit that you did not fill out the form as required), but it's not something you need to fret over.
Call the DA, get the charges dropped, pay a court costs if you have to, and put it behind you.

It would probably be a good idea to double-check that your address on file with the DMV is correct, just so things don't get lost in the future.
posted by madajb at 12:24 PM on March 28, 2007

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