Many arrested for unlicensed driving see charges dismissed - WSMV News 4

Many arrested for unlicensed driving see charges dismissed

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Many might think people caught driving on a suspended or revoked license go to jail for months or even years. But the Channel 4 I-Team has learned that's not the case.

In Nashville, generally speaking, no license is no problem.

"It was just like out of nowhere," Tasha Dyer said. "I mean, he was going so fast."

Dyer never saw the driver who hit her at State Route 45 and Rio Vista last year.

"And it was a hit-and-run," Dyer said. "He hit me so hard. I didn't even know what happened."

The crash totaled her car and shook up her two passengers, her 7-year-old son and her grandmother.

A good Samaritan followed the driver and police later arrested Don Bender. According to the police report, Bender admitted to police he ran because he didn't have a license.

Dyer had never heard that until the I-Team told her.

"No way," she exclaimed. "So, nothing really."

Bender was sent to jail for two days. This was his fifth charge of driving on a suspended or revoked license.

A two-day sentence may sound light, but it's unusually severe.

In Davidson County, most people charged with driving on a revoked or suspended license don't do any jail time at all. Most have their cases dismissed.

That's the policy at the office of District Attorney Glenn Funk.

"That's really more of a crime of poverty," Funk said.

Funk said many people lose their licenses because of unpaid tickets, court costs or points on their licenses, and just need a chance to get it back.

"Our policy is, number one, do you want to have a couple of months to try to get your license back? And if they get their driver's license back, then we dismiss the case," Funk said.

If defendants make even an effort to get their licenses back, the district attorney asks the judge to dismiss the charges.

Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton sees hundreds of driver's license cases a week. She sends people to a class that helps them learn how to get their licenses back.

Dalton said that sending people to jail only makes the cycle worse. They go to jail, lose their jobs and can't catch up with their fines and fees.

It's a story that's heard a lot at state driver's license offices, where long waits and accumulating fees make it hard for people to restore their driving privileges.

"My court costs were $2,900," Alex Borras said.

Borras lost his license for back child support and being involved in a wreck with no insurance.

Those are the kind of offenders Funk and judges hope to help.

Bender, the driver in the hit-and-run crash, said he can't afford to reinstate his license. He declined to go on camera.

"A lot of people do come back to us with their driver's licenses," Dalton said. "They come back, they have their licenses, they're happy, we're happy, because that's the goal. The question is when they come back and they've not done what we've asked them to do."

Under Tennessee law, people who repeatedly drive on a suspended or revoked license can get up to a year in jail, but that's not what the I-Team saw in court.

Eugene Saltz was arrested for a sixth time for driving on a suspended or revoked license. The charge is being dismissed.

Ray Quintero faced his eighth charge or driving on a suspended or revoked license. It was also dismissed.

Randy Stevens faced his 12th charge for driving on a suspended or revoked license. He was sentenced to two days in jail.

"I understand many people's frustrations, that some folks continue to drive when they don't have a license," Funk said. "That's why in some situations, if it's someone who was driving without a good reason, someone who violated this offense on a number of times, then we do, on occasion, ask for a weekend in jail."

In January, Stephanie Ferguson, a woman with 14 prior cases of driving on a revoked or suspended license, wrecked her car on Jefferson Street on the way back from traffic court. Two men in the car she hit were killed.

Last year, state records show there were 179 fatal crashes in Tennessee involving unlicensed drivers.

"That's a two-ton death machine they are driving without a license," Dyer said.

Dyer said she is afraid the man who hit her and left the scene is going to kill someone someday. Since he hit her last year, he's been arrested two more times for driving on a revoked license.

"Someone could have been killed," Dyer said. "And he didn't even stop to check. That was my child. That was my whole reason for living in the car with me and my grandmother. And he didn't even stop to check. And he gets to just keep on. I don't know what the answer is. I know it's not two days in jail."

"Two days in jail is still a significant punishment," Funk said.

Funk's office said there are some people who won't get this. People who are on probation for a DUI are not eligible.

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