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  • September 24, 2018

    Tip of the Month:
    Failure to Pay Forfeiture Suspensions and Low-income Clients

    In the September 2018 Tip of the Month, Susan Lund discusses alternatives to driver’s license suspension for low income individuals unable to pay forfeitures in circuit and municipal courts.

    Susan C. Lund

    In Wisconsin, most driver’s license suspensions are not caused by unsafe driving, but by unpaid traffic tickets.

    The Wisconsin Department of Transportation reported that there were 206,729 failure to pay forfeiture (FPF) suspensions ordered in 2017, making up 56 percent of all suspensions – more than the other 84 types of driver’s license suspensions combined.1

    Susan Lund Susan Lund, U.W. 2011, is an attorney in the Milwaukee offices of Legal Action of Wisconsin, where her practice includes removing legal barriers to family-sustaining employment for low income clients.

    FPF suspensions are remedial sanctions, meant to help a court coerce payment from a willfully noncompliant defendant.2 Recognizing that some defendants will be unable to pay forfeitures in full due to poverty, our statutes provide protections for indigent defendants seeking to avoid or resolve FPF suspensions.

    Circuit Courts

    A circuit court may suspend a driver’s license for up to one year for every unpaid traffic ticket.3 However, a circuit court is required to notify defendants that they will be granted an affordable installment plan to avoid suspension if they meet the statutory poverty criteria.4

    If a suspension has already been ordered, a circuit court must lift each FPF suspension at least one time for an indigent defendant who petitions the court for an affordable installment plan.5

    Although there is no explicit mention of community service to prevent or lift a driver’s license suspension in the circuit court statutes, many circuit courts allow community service as a payment arrangement for defendants with no discretionary income.

    Municipal Courts

    A municipal court may also suspend a driver’s license for up to one year for every unpaid traffic ticket.6

    However, a municipal court is required to notify defendants that they may complete community service in lieu of payment or have a payment arrangement to avoid sanctions for nonpayment if they meet the statutory poverty criteria.7

    If a suspension has already been ordered, a municipal court must lift the FPF suspension and provide an alternative to sanctions upon receiving the request of an indigent defendant.8

    Alternatives to suspension include, but are not limited to

    • community service,9
    • due date extension,10
    • affordable installment plan,11
    • permanent stay,12 and/or
    • modification of the judgment.13

    A valid driver’s license can help individuals obtain employment and meet work, family, and community obligations.

    By educating low-income clients and courts about these poverty protections, attorneys can do a great service for our communities.


    1 Wisconsin Department of Transportation Revocation and Suspension Statistics

    2 City of Milwaukee v. Kilgore, 193 Wis. 2d 168, 187, 532 N.W.2d 690, 697 (1995)

    3 Wis. Stat. § 345.47(1)(b)

    4 Wis. Stat. § 345.47(1)

    5 Wis. Stat. § 345.47(4)(b)

    6 Wis. Stat. § 800.095(1)(a)

    7 Wis. Stat. § 800.09(1g)

    8 Wis. Stat. § 800.095(1)(a)5

    9 Wis. Stats. §§ 800.095(1)(a)5; 800.095(1)(d); 800.095(4)

    10 Wis. Stats. §§ 800.095(1)(a)5; 800.095(4)

    11 Wis. Stats. §§ 800.09(3)(b); 800.095(4)

    12 Wis. Stat. § 800.095(4)

    13 Wis. Stat. § 800.095(4)

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    Public Interest Law Section Blog is published by the State Bar of Wisconsin; blog posts are written by section members. To contribute to this blog, contact Jacob Haller and review Author Submission Guidelines. Learn more about the Public Interest Law Section or become a member.

    Disclaimer: Views presented in blog posts are those of the blog post authors, not necessarily those of the Section or the State Bar of Wisconsin. Due to the rapidly changing nature of law and our reliance on information provided by outside sources, the State Bar of Wisconsin makes no warranty or guarantee concerning the accuracy or completeness of this content.

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