Anthony, a 22-year-old Bay Area native and single father, had hit a rough patch. He had been issued a few traffic tickets, but was making regular installment payments working as a mechanic in Oakland.
That’s when he received news that no parent ever wants to hear: his two-year-old son was diagnosed with Leukemia.
As his son’s sole caretaker, Anthony had to leave his job to care for his son. With his sudden loss of income, he could no longer meet the terms of his payment plan. Not long after, he found out that, because of his lack of payment, his driver’s license was suspended.
The penalties only grew worse. For his failure to pay as scheduled, the court tacked on an extra $300 “civil assessment” fee. Then, his fines were handed off to a collections agency.
All the while, Anthony had the sole responsibility to care for his ailing child. Without a driver’s license, however, that proved an unimaginable challenge. Chemotherapy treatment was more than 25 miles away from their home, and Anthony and his immunocompromised two-year-old were forced to take the bus, several times a week.
Anthony wanted to tell his story to the court. How could the legal system not sympathize with his situation?
As many in similar situations have found, to even get access to the courtroom to plead his case, Anthony was told he had to pay the full fine amount. Further, even if he resumed making the installment payments, he could not get his license back until the full amount had been paid.
It’s a destructive Catch-22: In order to explain why one cannot make payments, one needs to first make all payments.
At this point, the health of Anthony’s son is improving, but he says it’s been hard to get himself back on his feet and find a job without a valid license. “At the rate I can pay now,” he said. “It would be seven years before I pay in full and get my license back.”
To read more about the problem of license suspension in California, and how we can fix this problem, read our report, “Not Just a Ferguson Problem – How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California.”