FOX 5 Investigates: Old DC parking tickets cost drivers their licenses

A recent FOX 5 investigation profiled a woman who could not renew her D.C. car registration because of a ticket that had suddenly resurfaced from 1985. 

Following that report, the City Council held an oversight hearing about how the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is monitoring overdue tickets. The hearing revealed something even more worrisome for drivers from Maryland and Virginia.

Marny Britt of D.C. was shocked to find out about outstanding tickets when she bought her dream car last year.  The tickets are under her husband Stanley's name, but they financed the car as a couple, so Marny couldn't get plates.

"We just bought a car a year before that, and it didn't come up then. Didn't come up the year before that or the year before that. We kind of bought a car every year since 2010," said Marny.

The Britts point out all of the mistakes in the list of tickets from the DMV. There are tickets on cars with Virginia tags that Stanley never had. There are tickets on cars that he didn't own at the time.

"The cars that I have sold -- the tickets on that car, after I sold it-- are not mine. I feel I shouldn't be responsible for paying for it," said Stanley.

The total for the Britts? They owed a whopping $4,000 for old tickets!

They were told they could not fight the tickets because they were over 60 days old, so they got a payment plan. They put $1,000 down and then paid $505 dollars a month until they paid it off in December. Marny points out that the ticket payment was more than her new car payment. Their family budget is still off balance.

"It was a nightmare all the way across," said Marny.

"We were forced to pay it – had to," added Stanley.

"They just have you over a barrel," echoed Marny.

Corrie Banks couldn't renew her Maryland driver's license last year because of D.C. tickets. Maryland Motor Vehicles Administration (MVA) said that the District had flagged her account and so Maryland was suspending her license. She was stunned. She didn't know about any unpaid tickets. She went to the D.C. DMV.
"They gave me this printout of $7,000 worth of tickets-- all the way back to 1997. None of these have come up. I've gotten my license renewed. I've got tags," said Banks.

She points out that a bunch of the tickets are for cars she never owned.

"I have one here from an Acura. I never had an Acura in my life. I have one here for Hyundai -- never had a Hyundai. I have one here from a 2007 Honda, I have a 2007 Honda now, but I didn't get it until 2013."

FOX 5's Emily Miller asked if she thought the tickets on the Honda were supposed to be on the account for the person who owned the car before her. "It must be," said Banks. 

Banks was told at the DMV that she can't adjudicate the tickets. And she can't afford to pay them.  

"Right now I have no license. I have a car in my name, and have insurance in my name. And my husband has to do all the driving," said Banks. 

The Maryland MVA said it revoked Banks' license at the District's request. A DMV spokeswoman said that Banks has a moving violation on her account, but Banks said she has never been pulled over by police.

Virginia drivers can have their license suspended for unpaid moving violations in D.C., according to the Virginia DMV. 

City Councilmember Mary Cheh's Transportation Committee had an oversight hearing earlier this month. Cheh asked DMV Director Lucinda Babers about our story on Sherry Freeman getting hit with a 30-year-old parking ticket.

"How does the woman who got the ticket from 1985 know that she owes that ticket?" Cheh asked Babers at the hearing. "You're sitting home and you're watching television and you find out you owe a ticket from - I can't do the math - 30 some years ago."

Babers conceded that she discovered, after our story aired, that Freeman's notice came back in the mail undelivered all those years ago. However, Freeman says that is impossible. "The ticket was issued in 1985.  I didn't move from that location until 1989," she emailed FOX 5. "Ms. Babers's explanation still doesn't explain why the ticket wasn't detected through my name or social security number, which never changed."

D.C. has what's called a "clean hands law," which means you cannot renew your license or registration if you have over $100 in unpaid tickets. But the DMV director said that the system is too complicated to ensure that it works so people know if they have unpaid tickets.

"Can I look online right now and see if I have any outstanding tickets?" asked Cheh.

"Yes and no," replied Babers.

Cheh sighed loudly. "What's the yes and what's the no?" she asked.

"The ‘no' is, once again, depends on how many tags you have and how many split records you have. Putting in your tag may not give you everything if there's a split record," said Babers. 

Split record means things like you have the same name but different addresses. Essentially, anyone can have old, unpaid tickets on their account. You'll never know, until it's too late. 

"The bottom line of this is you are renewing your registration, you're renewing your license, you cannot take that as an indicator that you do not have outstanding tickets," said Cheh.

"Correct," Babers responded.

The old parking tickets being resurrected by D.C. affects drivers differently, depending where you live.

For D.C. residents, you can't renew your license or car registration if the DMV says you have any kind of old tickets over $100.

Virginia or Maryland will suspend your driver's license if the old D.C. tickets are moving violations.  But red light and speed camera tickets don't count as moving violations because those are connected to cars, not drivers.

For everyone, there is no statute of limitations and no warning on these old D.C. tickets. You're never in the clear.

So what if you can't renew your license? Or, what if you are being charged with tickets that are definitely not yours?

On Tuesday night, FOX 5's Emily Miller shares exactly what to do about your tickets if this happens to you.

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