The 14th amendment to the United States Constitution declares that no state shall “deny to any person…equal protection of the laws.” Yet some Pennsylvania residents are arguing that punishments for minor drug convictions violate the 14th amendment.
Here is why some are saying that it’s time Pennsylvania changes its approach to punishing minor drug offenders.
Revocation of driving privileges for drug offenders
From 2011 to 2016, 150,000 Pennsylvania drivers lost their driving privileges because of minor drug convictions. The state of Pennsylvania is just one of 12 states where the punishment for a minor drug conviction can include revocation of driving privileges - - even if the offense has nothing to do with a motor vehicle. For instance, a person can have their license suspended even if they were walking down the street or in their own home when found to be in possession of drugs.
One legal non-profit organization is fighting to change the 27-year-old law and filed suit against the state earlier this month.
Violation of the Equal Protection Clause
Equal Justice Under Law represents two individuals who were convicted on minor drug charges and subsequently had their driving privileges revoked. The non-profit’s legal team argues that state law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution with irrational and disproportionate sentencing guidelines. The lawsuit states that the revocation of driving privileges on a minor drug conviction is an unjust sentence when compared to other types of sentences received for motor-vehicle involved convictions.
Punishment for offenses that involve operating a motor vehicle, such as texting and driving or failure to yield to pedestrians, are less severe than punishments for drug offenders who weren’t operating motor vehicles. In addition, the law is retroactive. As such, offenses prior to the law taking effect in 1991 can increase the length of the license suspension, according to the petition.
Life after license suspension
The legal team argues that revocation of an offender’s driving privileges makes it harder for them to maintain employment. In order to supplement their income, they contend, the offenders may re-enter a life of crime to make ends meet.
If the law is scaled back or repealed in the future, minor drug offenders may be able to hold onto their driving privileges. With a valid license, these individuals would have more job opportunities available to them and a better chance at leading a lawful life, according to the petition.
Being convicted on a minor drug charge doesn’t always mean that you are a danger when you’re behind the wheel. If you are facing similar charges, the overturn of the law could help you to keep your driving privileges and ensure that you are afforded equal protection under the law.