College of Law offers License Reinstatement Project to assist Tennessee drivers

The University of Tennessee College of Law Pro Bono and Legal Clinic are working together to assist Tennessee drivers whose licenses have been suspended.

On July 2, Tennessee Middle District Federal Judge Aleta Trauger deemed unconstitutional Tennessee’s practice of revoking driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs.

Trauger’s decision, and the UT Legal Clinic’s past experience with clients who’ve had their licenses suspended, prompted Clinic Director Joy Radice and Access to Justice Coordinator Jason Collver to launch the License Reinstatement Project.

“Student attorneys in the UT Legal Clinic have witnessed the serious consequences on our clients’ lives of not having a driver’s license because of prohibitively high court costs and reinstatement fees,” Radice said.

Witnessing clients leave a clinic event without the resolution they were seeking has been a frustration, Radice said, but this recent ruling allows the Legal Clinic to offer clients solutions.

Those in need of assistance should call the License Reinstatement Hotline at 865-974-9537.

“Many people simply do not know how to go about this process,” Collver said. “The College of Law is able to collect their information and assist them through the process without hours on the phone.”

The state of Tennessee revoked 146,211 driver’s licenses between July 2012 and June 2016 for failure to pay fines, costs or litigation taxes, according to Trauger’s ruling. But only 10,750 of those people had their licenses reinstated.

Reinstatement of licenses is limited to Tennessee residents who have failed to pay court costs. So those whose license was suspended for driving under the influence, driving on a revoked or suspended license, failing to pay traffic citations, or committing any other criminal offense are not eligible for assistance.

“It is the most discouraging thing to have to tell so many clients that we cannot help them get their licenses back,” rising third-year law student Chelsie Spurling said. “They want to move past their criminal charges, but they get stuck. Until this court ruling, there was nothing we could do. I am excited that now there is, and that we can help.”