Thursday, October 18, 2007

Montana's War Against the Poor

Okay, that's not quite true. This post is based on Wulfgar who is in high dudgeon over the fact that his brother has been arrested for Driving While Suspended. Every state has similar laws, but this one in particular, the fact that if you are in arrears for your child support can lead the state to suspend your driver's license, seems to have him really going. He is blaming Bush (of course) and the post 9-11 Big Brother world that we live in. Trouble is, this law and its applications predate Bush. It was brought about by civic minded concerned citizens who wanted to make sure that dead beat dads were held to their court ordered child support. Another good example of well meaning intentions being used to screw over people.
I don't know Moorcat, nor all of the particulars of his situation, but I see it often enough. After spending $5-6,000 on a lawyer for a divorce, he is ordered to pay child support based on his income using a formula designed by the Child Support Enforcement Division. Everything is going along reasonably well, even though going through a divorce is devastating to both parties financially. But then - Whammo, your hours just got cut, or you are laid off, or whatever happens, your earnings are not what the court ordered child support payments are and you fall further and further behind.
Now, the law does provide that you can go to the court and argue a change in circumstances which requires that your child support be reduced. Providing of course that you can come up with the $1500 to $2,000 to pay a lawyer to do that. But you are broke, and the only free legal services are for the woman. As a man, you are basically screwed at this point.
Oh well, you work it out with the ex-wife, and she agrees to a reduced amount (if you are lucky), but then she goes to get AFDC. The fact that you are not paying all of the court ordered child support will be reported to the Child Support Enforcement Division who will then send you a letter and let you know that your license is going to be suspended. Sure enough, about a month later, you get a letter in the mail from the Montana Department of Motor Vehicles that says your license is suspended. and that after you make up the arrears in child support and pay the $100 license reinstatement fee, you can again legally drive.
In the mean time, you found another lower paying job, but you are at least making ends meet but you are not getting caught up with your arrears, but you are planning to do so.
One night after work, you stop off with your buddies and have a few beers. When you pull out of the parking lot, Officer Johnny Law is right behind you. The fact that you just pulled out of a bar is enough to pull you over, but this guy is good and he starts to follow you. While driving, you decide to call your new girlfriend and take your eyes off the road causing you to drift across the center line. You quickly correct, but it's too late, the lights from Johnny are on, and you're are pulled over. Johnny of course requests your Driver's License, proof of insurance and registration. You pull them all out and give them to the officer. He retreats to his patrol car where he runs your information, which comes back showing you suspended. He returns to your window, and asks if you have been drinking, and you admit to having two beers. The officer makes you get out and perform the field sobriety tests, which you have never done before, and you flunk. The officer is then going to offer the Preliminary Breath Test, and because of a storm coming through, you blow over .08. You are now under arrest, charged with DUI, and Driving While Suspended. Bail is set at $2000, which will cost you $300, which you will never see again, but at least you are out.
The next working day, you take time off from work (with no pay) and sit in court for three hours until you can enter Not Guilty pleas. Because you are poor, you will be assigned a public defender, who will read your police report, and think "Christ, the only thing missing is the Driving without Insurance to make the unholy trinity." After examining the facts, your Public Defender tells you that the fact that you drifted across the center line is enough for the stop, and all of the rest of the questions were legally valid. In other words, you are screwed.
You will later go to court, where if you have an experienced lawyer, he or she will argue to the judge that your suspension is a civil suspension, and so the mandatory two days in jail don't apply. The judge, however, is running for re-election, and she doesn't want to be seen as soft on crime, so she orders two days in jail anyways, a $1,000 fine for the DUI with $250 suspended, and another $1,000 with $500 suspended for the driving while suspended causing you to lose your job. She also orders you to attend the ACT classes, which will cost you another $500, and because your license was suspended, you are not to drive for another year. In addition, since you just took a conviction for DUI, your insurance company cancels your policy.
You complain to your defender, that her sentence makes it impossible to go to work and pay fines, child support or the ACT fees. To which your defender points out the obvious: They don't care.

Do you see a pattern here? If you are Bill Gates, the fines are no problem, and you can have your driver pick you up at home and take you to work. Of course in Montana, you could rely on the fantastic public transportation system that we have in order to get to work. Instead, we have a system that is designed to keep you poor. This is not just morally unjustified, it is impractical. In order to get to work to pay all of your obligations, you drive while suspended and without insurance. Further law breaking that if you are caught, will put you even further into the hole.
All of these laws have a valid societal interest, and are promoted by earnest, well meaning people. The trouble is, that in their application, they serve to create a permanent underclass, solve none of the problems, and cost a tremendous amount of money.

But at least we can feel good about ourselves that we are doing something about dead beat dads and drunk driving.


Anonymous said...


Understand that the uproar over what happened to me isn't about me getting arrested for Driving with a Suspended license. It was for the way the local City Officials abused thier position to get me arrested.

That said, let's look at your post.

It is actually not too bad and you got some of the points pretty well. Given some of the disagreements we have had, that is saying something.

Here are a few points to add -

1) Due to a loophole in the law, a state does NOT have to notify you that your license is being suspended due to Child Support. Some states do as a courtesy, but they are NOT required to. Unfortunatley, my support was set in Oregon. They don't. I found out my license was suspended by being pulled over by a police officer on my way to a job interview (Oregon suspended my license 40 days after I was laid off by Intel.)

2) Also be aware that it isn't just your driver's license they suspend. They suspend your passport, your professional licenses etc. My AA electronics license and my passport were also suspended.

3) Maybe in Montana, you can get your license back by paying your support again, but with Oregon, you have to pay not only your monthly amount, you also have to pay the back support before they will release your licenses. Unfortunately, since they have taken your professional licenses, about the only thing you are qualified to do is work at 7-11 or McDonalds.

4) Forget getting you support reduced due to a lower paying job or worse - no job at all. They tell you to borrow the money from family or friends. I applied to have my support reduced 3 times and they never even acknowledged that they recieved the forms (I know they did because I sent them delivery confirmation).

My daughter is 18 now and even though I have paid tens of thousands of dollars in support, I am labeled as a "dead beat dad".

My driving (and criminal record for that matter) is pristine with the exception of the driving on suspended. I have never had so much as a parking ticket, but I can't drive because society has said that child support isn't about providing for a child. It is about punishing a non-custodial parent.


Unknown said...

Never mind, Steve. I see you're basically clueless about the situation, and happy to remain so. I should have known ... you being such a great attorney and all. When a citizen breaks the law, well it sucks to be them. When the authorities break the law, you are just one clueless piece of work, ain't ya? Which one do you consider more dangerous? Never mind, the answer is obvious.

Unknown said...

Actually, after reading your post yet again, all I can see is the sad sorry whining of a public defender lamenting his own sorry position in life. My apologies, Steve. It's truly clear why you have no thought about others or what is moral. You really don't care about what is American, or what it means to support Democracy. You are just so picked on, and that's all that matters to you. Gosh. Sucks to be you.

Steve said...

Moorcat - I left a post at Wulfgar's where I pointed out that the petty abuse is legal. Your only recourse is to sue the law enforcement officer who gave the CCJI info to the mayor.
Montana does require notification, but they do it by sending a letter. If you don't get the letter, too bad. If your first stop was in Montana under the Oregon set up, we could have attacked the notice element. However, once you are stopped, you are presumed to know.
Montana only suspends the DL. Oregon is obviously going way over the top, hence the purpose of my post. And you can go into a Montana court to reset your child support, but again, it costs.
You are right, and I may have inartfully said it, but you do have to make up the arrears and pay the $100 reinstatement fee to get your license back.
And you are not the only one to have gone through this process. There are many clerks of court who stare out the window looking for someone that they know is suspended so that they can become a part of law enforcement. Which is perfectly legal.
Your last point is exactly my point. It's about the good citizens feeling good about themselves and that they have done something, even if it causes more harm than good.

Wulfgar: Your anger betrays your lack of logic. Your real problem is that you think that what happened to your brother is unique. It is not. The only way you can deal with these petty tyrants is at the ballot box. Unfortunately, too many people like the law enforcement image that these tyrants exercise.
And yes, this really is how America works.

Unknown said...

"They suspend your passport, your professional licenses etc."

That is utterly insane. Not that I'm trolling for a divorce, but thank god I moved away from there. I'm at a loss for words, and that doesn't happen very often.

Anonymous said...

The sad part of this situation is that had I made a post about the injustice of the Support Enforcement system, the harpies would have decended on me like gulls at a dump.

I am sure the idea behind the support enforcement system was good. Unfortunately, like many Governmental solutions, they had no idea how to implement it. Worse, the people pushing the agenda weren't/aren't interested in solving the problem - they only care about punishing non-custodial parents.

To give you an example....

The idea of Support Enforcement is (supposedly) to ensure that children are provided with support from both parents consistant with thier income. It is actually a noble idea.

Three states that I am aware of have tried to pass legislation that would give a non-custodial parent a "point" advantage to obtaining a government job. The idea is that the government is in a perfect position to ensure that the support is paid and by giving a non-custodial parent a job, you are ensuring that the non-custodial parent is working.

All four pieces of legislation failed utterly. In fact, one of the groups that lobbied AGAINST it was a national parenting group.

Please explain to me the logic behind NOT passing this kind of legislation.

The bottom line here is those people who are not willing to pay support will simply not pay. They will do whatever it takes to stay off the radar and avoid paying support. Those people interested in paying are usually the ones harassed because they DON'T stay below the radar. In fact, they are harassed WHEN THEY ARE PAYING SUPPORT. My driver's license was suspended twice while I was actively paying support. Both times I was able to go to court and have the charges dismissed and both times Support Enforcement claimed it was a "technical error" but it didn't change the fact that both times I had to pay a "court fee" and both times I had to pay to get my license reinstated. I could always sue support enforcement for those fees but it would cost more to sue than it would to pay the fees.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Support Enforcement has no oversight and operates in a vaccum so they are able to get away with pretty much anything they want.

Sounds kind of like the Dillon City Government...


Anonymous said...

The Loser Brothers are kind of interesting, for about ten minutes.

Anonymous said...

Don't know why you bothered, Steve, but applaud your effort, as wasted as it obviously was.

sad sorry whining of a public defender lamenting his own sorry position in life.

Or perhaps the sad sorry whining of a 40-something bookstore employee lamenting his own sorry position in life? The guy spends so much time throwing bombs for his own amusement he doesn't recognize when folks might want to offer a daisy now and again. Pathetic projection if you ask me.

Steve said...

Hey, I may not be as slow as Wulfie asserts, but I have certainly learned my lesson. Moorcat did get screwed over, but Wulfie's anger is so irrational and directed in all directions as to be totally ineffective.
Just like most (all?) of his thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I think you can only smoke dope for so many years and then you start to actually believe you’re a genius, even though you’ve completely stopped making any sense whatsoever. That’s all you are seeing in Wulfgar’s fragmented, rambling posts. They have a semblance of sanity because he can still operate a keyboard, make words, and string them together in rough grammatical order. But taken in sum, his words make no sense because the mind behind them is shot.

Scoop Montana said...

Steve- An excellent post and a great read. Thanks for sharing. I think you are spot-on about a problem we have intentionally created. We have to call a time-out in certain legal situations like this and stop taking away the tools people need to pay their debts to society.

These laws not only take away the means to provide, they strip good people of their dignity. Our legal system needs a strong hand on one side, Christian compassion and forgiveness on the other, and some common sense to know when to apply which.

Moorcat, if these city officials in Dillion really are this corrupt, you can rest assured the world will get them sometime. They are probably miserable people anyways, and you can go to bed at night knowing what a troubled life they must live to act like this.

On the other hand, we should punish without remorse repeat offenders like Wulfgar. This is at least the third time I have seen you recant on a comment you wrote before thoroughly reading a post.

For your punishment, I think you should be banned from posting on Montana blogs FOR AT LEAST ONE MONTH.

Consider it a posting suspension for being a deadbeat blogger.

Steve said...

I like it! It will be enforced immediately.

Anonymous said...

What you do not seem to realize, Steve, is that the old Welfare State is being transformed into the new Custody State. The goal is to place as many people as possible under the permanent control of the legal system, whether it be counseling, probation, home arrest, incarceration, parole, halfway houses, or registration in a dozen or more databases. The Custody State is big business, with the potential of being much bigger than the Welfare State.

Naturally, in order to keep the Custody State growing, more and more warm bodies must be found somewhere. Therefore, changes in the law are necessary to feed the Custody State: What was formerly a minor civil or social offense must be elevated to a criminal offense. Misdemeanors must be elevated to felonies. And in all cases whatsoever, the punishment for every offense must be increased in severity and extended over the longest possible time.

But all of that only applies to offenses previously recognized by society. To really get the Custody State rolling, new offenses must be continually “discovered” and added to the list of punishable “crimes.” Thus, for example, the crime of “spouse abuse” is discovered within the crime of assault and given its own standing as a new and different crime. Driving with a defective taillight, to take another example, was a minor traffic offense. Yet driving with a beer in one’s hand and a defective taillight might become a felony, even though the offender has caused no property damage or personal injury. This is so because alcohol consumption, which is popular among more than 70 percent of the population, was discovered as a potential source of new business for the Custody State.

Steve said...

Go: Actually I do realize it only too well. Right now, it seems that 20% of the adult population of Ravalli County is under some form of supervision. I keep trying to argue to the judges there that it is cost ineffective, but since it doesn't come out of their budget, they don't care.

Anonymous said...

Wulfgar's insulting tone says much about him and little else. Can't make a point without adding a little acid, Wulfpup?