New laws going into effect Sunday include drivers' license suspension for outstanding court fees

Becky Campbell • Jun 27, 2012 at 10:10 AM

People with outstanding court-related taxes and fees become at risk of losing their drivers’ license when a 2011 law is enforced beginning Sunday.

That law requires court clerk’s offices across the state to send information about those cases delinquent for one year to the Department of Safety. The state will suspend driving privileges until all the fees are paid.

The law was passed and took effect July 1, 2011, but an entire year had to pass and the account remain unpaid before clerk’s offices could start sending the information to Nashville.

Washington County Court Clerk Karen Guinn said it applies to anyone who was assessed court costs and fines on or after July 1, 2011.

Guinn said she’s concerned about defendants who have been paying on their court costs, but don’t or won’t have it paid in full by the one-year deadline.

And Guinn said it’s isn’t an option for her office to delay reporting the delinquencies.

“It sounds like it is mandatory for the clerks to do this because it says ‘shall,’ ’’ Guinn said. “I’m not sure if we have a choice of turning them in.”

Historically, judges and the clerk’s office have told defendants that as long as they are making regular monthly payments, they won’t get in trouble for not getting costs and fines paid by a certain deadline.

Those partial payments may not be enough to hold off the license suspension once this law is implemented, she said.

Guinn said she hopes to receive some clarification this week after a Department of Safety finance official meets with the Administrative Office of the Courts. She said the AOC is supposed to send letters to all clerk’s offices to ensure everyone understands how to enforce the law.

“At this point, we know we’re supposed to do it, we’re not sure how we’re supposed to do it but we’ll try.”

Outstanding court costs and fines from July 1, 2011, through July 25, 2012 are $2,929,522.12. Court fees are distributed to a wide variety of local and state offices and agencies — $29.50 for the state litigation tax, $26.50 for the county litigation tax, $12 for Sessions judge salaries, $60 for clerk fees, $25 to courthouse security, $25-$40 for the THP officer fee, $12.50 for the public defender’s fund, $1 to a victim notification fund, a $5 archive and records management fee, a $10 jail booking fee, a $2 Sessions Court data entry fee, $250 for drug test fees, $15 to the traumatic brain injury fund, $70 to the drug court fund and a $2 library tax, just to name a few.

Some fees are standard on all charges — such as the state litigation tax, judges salary fee, clerks’ fees, data entry fee and archive and records fee — but other charges have specific fees assigned to them. And each count on a warrant has it own individual fees, so it’s easy to see how costs accumulate to thousands of dollars for one case.

“I’m concerned about people” who don’t have their court costs paid, Guinn said.

If a person’s license is suspended for nonpayment of court costs and fines, they are also at risk of getting an additional charge if they drive and get caught, Guinn said.

Defendants with extreme hardship relating to travel for work or an illness can obtain a one-time six-month reprieve from the suspension, but it must be approved by a judge.

It’s just one of a number of laws that become effective Sunday. Others include:

— A requirement for scrap metal businesses to register each location where they purchase metal for recycling with the Department of Commerce and Insurance’s Scrap Metals Registration Program. Previously, dealers only had to have one registration for all locations.

— A law that allows a person convicted on or after Nov. 1, 1989, of one of several specified crimes to seek expungement of their criminal record.

— Increases to fines and jail time for second and third convictions of domestic assault. A second conviction will carry a fine of $350 to $3,500 and a minimum of 30 days in jail. A third conviction will carry a fine of $1,100 to $5,000 and a minimum of 90 days in jail.

— Increased penalties for certain offenders who are charged with carrying a firearm. Currently it is a Class E felony to possess a firearm if a person has been convicted of a felony involving the use of force, violence or a deadly weapon. That charge will now be a Class C felony. And it is also a Class E felony for the same conviction if the person has been convicted of a felony drug offense. That crime is now a Class D felony.

— Increased penalties for manufacturing, delivery, sale or possession of an imitation controlled substance. Under present law, the crime is a Class E felony with fines up to $3,000 in addition to jail time. The new law requires a fine between $2,000 and $5,000.

Visit http://bit.ly/Mt2X4U to see a full list of laws that go into effect Sunday.

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