Suspended drivers caught behind the wheel

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Data pix.
Data pix.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 17, 2015) – CBS4 spent 2 weeks investigating drivers blatantly breaking the law right outside of the Marion County Traffic Court.

“You know, and I know everybody in here don’t got license. They done drove here while suspended and they driving away while suspended,” said one suspended driver we stopped coming out of court.

We watched half a dozen drivers each day appear in court for driving on a suspended license, then walk right out to the parking lot and drive away.

Judge Marcel Pratt presides over traffic court, and he’s heard every excuse in the book.

“Oh no judge, my mothers in the car waiting for me.  Sheriffs come back in, no mother was in the car. Oh no judge, I didn’t driver.  Yes you did.  And they tell me right in front of my face and then walk out the door,” said Judge Pratt.

Driving with a suspended license could mean a year in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.  Judge Pratt believes the situation is serious, but he has to weigh whether the punishment fits the crime.

“You look at the punishment behind what they’re doing.  Do you want to sanction someone with jail who is either unemployed, under employed, supporting a family,” said Judge Pratt. “Losing their job is going to make it harder for them to pay the tickets to resolve the issue.  It’s like a rock in a hard place.”

But these suspended, and therefore uninsured, drivers are putting everyone else in a hard place every time they get behind the wheel. CBS4 started digging to find out how they’re getting away with it and who is responsible.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office staffs traffic court, but it turns out there’s a fine line over who is responsible for the parking lot.

“Those court line deputies are not to leave that facility.  That’s their responsibility.  Were they to follow individuals to the parking lot or beyond that, that’s not what their responsibility is,” said Lt. Col. Louis Dezelan with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

Legally, the parking lot is IMPD’s jurisdiction. The problem is officers cannot stop people without cause, and it’s the deputies who see these suspended drivers walking out of court.

The issue comes down to communication between agencies.

“I think we’ve started that based on your report, and I have talked to people at IMPD,” said Dezelan.

IMPD responded to the CBS4 investigation and started working with the deputies.

“We’re out here today after learning from what you told us about the individuals leaving traffic court after they’ve been told by the judge not to drive because they’re suspended. We’re trying to basically put a stop to that,” said IMPD Officer Andrew Hannaford.

We saw officers stop two suspended drivers who drove away from court, and both were issued summons to return to court.  Officers towed one of the cars, the driver had 16 suspensions and 12 convictions for driving while suspended.

“You can write tickets all day long, they’re not gonna pay them,” said Hannaford. “But as soon as you take away their wheels, that’s when you hurt them in the pocket book.”

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