The Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office, in collaboration with the Buncombe County Clerk of Superior Court, and Buncombe County District Court Judges recently completed a restorative justice project providing relief for unpaid traffic debt affecting the driving privileges of more than 800 people.

This mass debt relief project provided relief for drivers subject to long-term license suspensions caused by unpaid fines and fees for minor traffic offenses in Buncombe County. The collaboration included the North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center (NCPBRC) and was focused on forgiving unpaid court fees and fines related to traffic cases that had resulted in a driver’s license suspension. Debt forgiveness removes a major barrier to lawful compliance with NC driving laws that disproportionately affect low-income earners.

“It is unjust to penalize poverty and to perpetuate poverty. That’s the outcome of withholding a NC Driver’s License over minor traffic offenses when we all know a driver’s license is a necessity for many people so they can work and take care of themselves and their families,” District Attorney Todd Williams said. “It is likewise inequitable for our systems to ensure better outcomes for people who can afford to readily address the red tape, fees, and fines associated with minor traffic offenses. This program takes aim at both of those injustices.”

People who have had a traffic ticket in Buncombe County are now invited to visit to determine whether they received court debt relief. People whose licenses were suspended for serious traffic offenses, such as Driving While Impaired (DWI), were not eligible for relief under this program.

“Under my leadership, this office has held amnesty days and expunction clinics in an effort to broaden the scope of justice services offered in Buncombe County – the debt relief provided by the program is part of these efforts. Drivers with safe driving histories but whose licenses are revoked solely because they can’t pay off their court costs and fines should not have their licenses permanently revoked,” District Attorney Todd Williams said.

In Buncombe County the DA’s Office worked with NCPBRC to acquire data from the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts to identify the cases that met criteria DA Williams set. The cases that qualified for the program were considered by Chief District Court Judge J. Calvin Hill in several batches beginning in December 2020 and were completed July 23, 2021. Employees with the Buncombe County Clerk of Superior Court completed entering the final set of debt relief orders this month.

About the NC Pro Bono Resource Center

The North Carolina Pro Bono Resource Center (PBRC) was established by the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission in 2016 to assist lawyers in fulfilling their professional responsibility to provide pro bono legal services. The PBRC serves as the statewide clearinghouse linking lawyers to meaningful pro bono opportunities, including projects it develops with partners to address emerging civil legal needs. The PBRC also manages statewide pro bono reporting and recognizes outstanding pro bono service through the North Carolina Pro Bono Honor Society.