Unpaid court costs? You could lose driving privileges

(WMC-TV) – The deadline is approaching for Tennessee defendants with unpaid court costs and fines to pay up, or the state will take away their driver's licenses.

Shelby County will be impacted more than any other county in the state because it has the highest number of court cases in Tennessee.

This law means more collected money, but it also means the courts get slammed with a bigger caseload.

Memphis Court Clerk Thomas Long has been inundated with calls over the License Suspension Law.

The law says anyone with unpaid misdemeanor or felony court costs and fines will lose their driver's license.

"Not only the sheriff's office, but the police department is going to have to be involved," said Thomas Long.

The law went into effect last July, but the state gives defendants one year to pay up.

So one month from now, the first batch of defendants with outstanding balances will face a day of reckoning, especially if they are caught driving.

"Arresting you and confiscating your automobile or issuing you a misdemeanor citation, which means you have to come to the Sheriff's Office and be finger printed and booked," said Long.

Long says county courts will be impacted greater than city courts because the city already revokes licenses for unpaid court costs 90 days after a driving offense.

Now, outstanding misdemeanor and felony cases for county courts will be added to the equation.

Long cut collections from $167 million to $45 million dollars since 1997.

"They've been to jail, they're out, they can't get a job, fines and fees have accumulated, they can't pay. You cannot arrest all of the folks, you cannot confiscate all the automobiles," said Long.

He set up a "Pay While You Drive" program to ease the case load.

He will meet with county court administrators to share his successes, to help them ride smoother through this uncharted territory.

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