Historically, following a traffic ticket, if you failed to appear in court, or failed to pay court-ordered fines and fees, your driver’s license would be suspended. This applied to both criminal cases and civil traffic cases.

If you were then cited and prosecuted for driving while your license was suspended, you would have a misdemeanor conviction, you would owe additional fines and fees and your license suspension would be extended.

Many Arizonans found themselves in a never-ending cycle of driver’s license suspensions and mounting court debts.

Thanks to criminal justice reform efforts initiated by the Pima County Attorney’s Office, supported by Pima County’s Justice Coordinating Council and by the Pima County Board of Supervisors, with additional support from the Arizona Administrative Office of the Courts, state law in this area has been changed.

Effective Jan. 1, 2019, driving on a license that is suspended for failure to pay a civil traffic penalty or for failure to appear in court is now a civil infraction, rather than a misdemeanor crime.

A suspended license violation will no longer result in mandatory impound of the car, which was very expensive and burdened families.

If a driver’s license is suspended because the driver failed to appear in court, that suspension will be lifted when the driver appears in court.

If the driver appears but cannot pay their fines and fees, the court may remove the suspension of the license, and authorize a restricted driver’s license, allowing the person to drive to work, school, treatment or other specified places. Also, the court now has discretion to reduce certain financial penalties based on a person’s ability to pay.

All of these changes will reduce the number of arrest warrants, physical arrests, incarcerations in the county jail and the number of vehicles impounded relating to driving on a suspended license.

They will end practices that have been criminalizing poverty.

Criminal justice reform is not easy and is often a very lengthy process, but it is important that we continue to work together to make positive change. This legislative change that took effect Jan. 1 is an important step in criminal justice reform.

The Pima County Attorney’s Office is proud to have initiated this reform effort and is grateful to its partners on Pima County’s Justice Coordinating Council, the Board of Supervisors and the Arizona Administrative Office of the Courts for their support.

The changes are common sense approaches to the law that will positively affect thousands of drivers.

Amelia Cramer is the chief deputy Pima County Attorney. Contact her at Amelia.Cramer@pcao.pima.gov