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“Felony Driving Law” Has Harsh Effects

by | Mar 28, 2016 | 0 comments

“Felony Driving” Law Impacts Minorities

A new report by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) and Advancement Project, shows that the “Felony Driving Law” in Georgia has had unintended consequences.

The “Felony Driving Law” was enacted in 2008 and made it a felony to have four driving without a license convictions within five years. According to the report by the GLAHR, the law disproportionately effects Latino, African-American, and undocumented immigrant communities.

Law Targets Undocumented Immigrants: “Undocumented immigrants cannot legally obtain driver’s licenses in Georgia, and critics say the bill, signed in 2008, was one of many passed by states to restrict immigration. But by lumping unlicensed driving and driving with a suspended license under the same category, the law has also swept up a significant number of African-Americans in a state that already had one of the country’s highest incarceration rates.” 

African-Americans Impacted As Well: “In Fayette County, blacks make up 21.4 percent of the population and 65.8 percent of the “felony driving” arrests, while Latinos account for 6.9 percent of the population and 17 percent of the arrests. 

Racial Profiling: “When the law was first proposed, in January 2008, black legislators voted against it, fearing racial bias in its application. “I have a certain sensitivity to racial profiling, or as they say in the community, ‘driving while black,’” Sen. Emanuel Jones told local reporters at the time. “I’ve been pulled over for no reason other than I’m driving in a new car and I happen to be black. How can I explain to my constituents that I just made it easier for this to be a felony?”

Deportation Possible: “For undocumented immigrants with no access to legal licenses, any traffic stop is a cause for concern, but a felony conviction risks setting deportation procedures in motion. In one case documented by the report, a woman said that her husband was deported after being arrested for driving without a license, leaving behind three children who are U.S. citizens. He had no other criminal history.” 

Debtor’s Prisons: “But deportation is not the only risk unlicensed drivers face. Many are regularly sentenced to jail time, probation, and hefty fines — in a pattern of local governments funding their operations on the backs of low-income citizens that’s come under nationwide scrutiny in recent months. Of the three Georgia counties surveyed by the report, only Houston County disclosed the revenue collected through enforcement of the felony driving law: $6 million over a four-year period. Residents interviewed for the report, most of whom have family incomes under $34,000 a year, said they felt like ATM machines…[t]hat kind of complaint — raised in counties across the country…has prompted a recent DOJ memo essentially reminding court officials that raising revenue by forcing poor defendants to pay hefty fines and fees is unconstitutional.  

[From The Intercept]

Though the aim of the “felony driving law” is to promote public safety, it fails to consider that the majority of the people it effects are minorities and impoverished. Hopefully, after this report, the legislature will take this into consideration as it serves the communities throughout Georgia.