UPDATE: State blames contractor for DUI suspension letters
Individuals across the state who have had DUI charges dismissed in the past have received letters from the state telling them their driver’s licenses will be suspended next month, several lawyers tell Mississippi Today.
The letters come from the Department of Public Safety dated Dec. 12 through Dec. 14.
“Numerous driver’s license holders will potentially be suffering a suspension effective Jan. 25 that is contrary to law, unlawful and wholly improper when a case was dismissed,” Flowood attorney Lance Mixon said.
Messages left for Department of Public Safety spokesman Warren Strain were not returned.
Adding to the confusion, Mixon said, is that his legal assistant was told by Department of Public Safety officials that a glitch in the computer system caused the letters to be mailed to every individual who had his or her DUI charge dismissed. It is unclear without information from the Department of Public Safety if some of the letters are valid.
Mixon said six of his former clients, all of whom had their DUI charges dismissed, have called about letters they have received from the Department of Public Safety.
DUI charges may be dismissed for a variety of reasons, including insufficient evidence and lack of necessary witnesses.
“Two of my former clients (who) had their DUIs dismissed in 2010 and received these letters that notified them that their licenses will be suspended effective Jan. 25, 2017,” Mixon said.
Starkville attorney Jay Perry said he also received a call from a former client who received a letter saying that as a result of driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or greater, if he does not obtain a court order, his license will be suspended for a minimum of 90 days.
Gulfport attorney Aaron Hommell had the same experience and worries about individuals who have may not received the communication because they moved.
“They won’t even know their licenses are suspended until they have the blue lights running behind them,” Hommell said.
Hommell said there was also discussion about the letters among lawyers on an email list for the Mississippi Association for Justice.
“One attorney said DPS (Department of Public Safety) confirmed to him that ‘hundreds’ of these letters were sent out,” Hommell said.
Perry said at first his client thought the letter was a scam, but the circumstances don’t add up.
“The problem with that is there’s no scam of money, and the address (the letter is sent from) is the current address of the Department of Public Safety,” Perry said.
Computer issues plagued the department earlier this year. In August, the Department of Public Safety issued a press release saying that while undergoing the “most aggressive overhaul” of the state’s driver’s license system in agency history, a glitch in the system was discovered. The glitch would not allow early license renewal via the Internet or kiosks, and as a result, some drivers received a license that was valid for less than the intended four years, the department said at the time.
It is not clear whether that glitch reported in the summer had a role in the letters being sent to individuals who had DUI charges dismissed.
Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.