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Legislation to Remove Criminal Charges for Driving Without a Valid License

From WPRI:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island lawmakers are looking to clear the congestion in courthouses across the state by changing a law that could affect many local drivers.

Every year, thousands are charged and convicted of driving without a valid license.

“A lion’s share of those cases are suspended license offenses so this bill was born out of necessity,” said Senator Stephen Archambault.

His bill that was passed by legislators takes away the criminal part for the first two offenses.

Right now, if you get into a car, start it, and you don’t have a valid driver’s license, you could go to jail.

“That is where this legislation comes in,” added Senator Archambault. “The first or the second time changes it so it’s no longer a criminal offense. It’s basically just like getting a speeding ticket.”

Archambault, a prosecutor and a defense attorney, said friends on both sides of the courtroom agree, adding that it is often an administrative issue for people with one or two infractions. He said those cases shouldn’t affect their careers.

“Could impede them from future jobs, hurt them with respect with future employment,” he said. “First and second offenses shouldn’t be criminalized. Sometimes we see tenth, 12th, 15th offense for suspended license – those are the people you want to have a criminal fine on.”

The Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office said they are neutral on this bill – and Governor Gina Raimondo will still get to weigh in before it becomes law.

A spokesperson for her office said she is looking through more than 400 bills that were passed in the last week and will review all of them.