Three strikes and still out driving
Editor's note: This story is the last in a series examining driver's license issues. WORTHINGTON -- In September 2007, a woman by the name of Mary Jane (an alias) was charged with the misdemeanor of driving after suspension in Nobles County. She ...
Editor's note: This story is the last in a series examining driver's license issues.
WORTHINGTON -- In September 2007, a woman by the name of Mary Jane (an alias) was charged with the misdemeanor of driving after suspension in Nobles County. She asked for and was granted a public defender, eventually pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, with half of that time stayed.
The fact that Mary Jane actually served jail time for this kind of charge is unusual, but then, so is Mary Jane's arrest record. It was the 12th time she had been cited for this type of offense.
"Basically, you can rack up 'no driver's license' charges, driving after revocation charges or driving after suspension charges, and it is never going to be more than a misdemeanor," said Nobles County Attorney Gordon Moore.
In Nobles County, Mary Jane was cited for no Minnesota driver's license, or no MN DL, in February 2002. She pleaded guilty and paid a $95 fine. In December of that same year, she was cited for careless driving and violating an instructional permit. She pleaded guilty to both in January 2003, but before she could do so, she had received another instructional permit violation. In fact, she was cited Jan. 13 and 17 for instructional permit violation. She eventually pleaded guilty to all three citations, paying a total of $410 in fines.
In April 2003, she was cited for no MN DL. By year's end, Mary Jane had picked up another violation of an instructional permit. She again pleaded guilty to both, paying another $140 in fines. Before she could plead guilty to the December 2003 charge, she received a citation for driving after suspension in February 2004. Records indicate she never had a driver's license in Minnesota; she had only carried an instructional permit until it was suspended.
In April 2004, she was once again charged with violating her instructional permit and driving after suspension. Mary Jane pleaded guilty to the driving after suspension charge and was sentenced in August to 90 days of jail time, which were stayed with a year of probation. By September, she was facing charges of driving after cancellation. Those charges ended up putting her in jail for 30 days, concurrent with some drug charges.
In July 2007, Mary Jane was cited for driving after suspension, which she pleaded guilty to in September, just two weeks after receiving another citation for driving after suspension. She pleaded guilty in December and was sentenced to 45 days in jail.
"People get driving after revocation and driving after suspension charges all the time and don't stop driving," Moore said. "They will pay fines and do jail time, but never more than 90 days."
The only way the charges move from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor is if their driving privileges were cancelled under IPS -- inimical to public safety. IPS is the only aggravating factor in driver's license charges.
"The problem we have is that there are other issues perceived as more of a threat to public safety than people driving without a license," Moore explained. "Resources are spent on sex offenders, meth lab producers, drug dealers."
The question of who is behind the wheel has been brought to the forefront recently with the bus crash in Cottonwood, where four children were killed when an alleged illegal immigrant ran a stop sign and struck the bus with her minivan.
Would people be as concerned about the issue if not for the fatal crash?
"Absolutely not," Moore answered. "Sadly, it takes a tragedy to focus attention on an issue out there."
Citizens questioned why the woman was behind the wheel at all when it was discovered she had been cited two years earlier for driving without a license under the same alias she first gave authorities after the February crash.
But, as Mary Jane's history shows, not having a driver's license does not stop people from driving. It is not only illegal immigrants who don't have a driver's license -- many people have had their license suspended for driving infractions or just never bothered to get one.
According to Worthington Public Safety Director Mike Cumiskey, if a person is stopped for a traffic violation and cannot produce a driver's license but has other ID, they are cited. If they do not produce ID, they are brought to jail, where they are given the option of paying a fine or having someone bring ID in for them.
""But in the rules of criminal procedure, an officer needs a justified reason to bring someone to jail for a traffic offense," Moore stated.
When the woman who caused the bus crash in Cottonwood produced ID in the name of Alianiss Morales, authorities accepted it until they investigated further.
"The problem is that if someone produces ID, do you take it at face value or ask more questions?" Moore asked. "That could start a profiling issue. Officers are between a rock and a hard place -- if they start bringing in people of apparent nationalities, they will be accused of profiling."