Suspended Before a DUI Conviction- Is this Even Constitutional?

According to local reports, a judge in Northampton County Pennsylvania has suspended the driver’s license of some of those suspected for DUI, even before the matter has been resolved in court:

Suspending a driver's license in a DUI case before a court ruling is unconstitutional.
Suspending a driver's license in a DUI case before a court ruling is unconstitutional.

Policy of taking licenses before a DUI conviction draws critics

The Salisbury Township woman insisted she was innocent of allegations she had driven drunk, and she wanted her day in court. Fine, the Northampton County judge told her, but until your trial in February, I’m taking your driver’s license.

If convicted, 25-year-old Jessica D. Trump would lose her privilege to drive. But that she would lose it before, without being found guilty, bothers her attorney and other defense lawyers, and even county prosecutors are distancing themselves from the strategy.

“Isn’t taking the license a presumption of guilt?” asked Trump’s attorney, Jason Jenkins of Allentown. “Because it sure feels like it.”

To speed along DUI cases and protect other drivers on the road, Judge Leonard Zito, who oversees the criminal court docket in Easton, has been taking the licenses of defendants he believes are dragging their feet in resolving the charges against them.

Zito’s move aims to encourage them to plead guilty or apply for court diversionary programs that avoid a trial. It is part of an effort to get a handle on DUI cases, which make up nearly 35 percent of the court’s docket. But it raises constitutional questions about whether the judge is truly treating defendants as innocent until proven otherwise.

As a citizen of Pennsylvania I believe the actions of this judge, as described in this news report are wrong for the following reasons:

  1. The purpose of bail is to insure appearance and to protect the community and not to “move cases along.” The purpose of bail is not supposed to be punitive.
  2. A license suspension is a major form of punishment. In Central Pennsylvania there is a complete lack of public transportation infrastructure. So taking an accused driver’s license is punishment. It can affect the ability of the citizen to get to and from their place of work which may result in a loss of employment or other long-term consequences.  This type of punishment should not be put upon anyone until the matter is resolved in a court of law. I still believe that we live in a time of the presumption of innocence.
  3. The right to a trial is a basic fundamental right. Any effort that is made to curtail a person’s right to trial is unAmerican. The loss of license is a major incentive to just “give up.” Otherwise, legitimate cases that should be tried will not be tried or negotiated to a proper resolution.
  4. The rationale behind this action, “to encourage them to plead guilty or apply for court diversionary programs that avoid a trial” is strong arm tactic that forces citizens to choose another option under duress rather than opting for a trial which is their constitutional right.  It is a form of pre-trial tax.
  5. If the State is overwhelmed with the number of DUI cases, then punishing the accused prematurely is not the answer.  The State should hire extra judges to ensure that every citizen receives a fair trial and is not pressured through unconstitutional tactics.

If you are involved in a DUI case where the judge has suspended or has threatened to suspend your license before the matter has been ruled upon, please call 1-866-MCSHANE.  We are ready to fight for your constitutional rights!

Justin McShane

PA DUI attorney Justin J. McShane is the President/CEO of The McShane Firm, LLC - Pennsylvania's top criminal law and DUI law firm. He is the highest rated DUI attorney in PA as rated by Justin McShane is a double Board certified attorney. He is the first and so far the only Pennsylvania attorney to achieve American Bar Association recognized board certification in DUI defense from the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. He is also a Board Certified Criminal Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Approved Agency.

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