Valdosta Daily Times

November 6, 2012

Lawyer: Ga. driver’s license law unconstitutional


The Valdosta Daily Times

ATLANTA — Part of a state law that requires a Georgia-issued driver’s license to get behind the wheel is unconstitutional because it discriminates against non-Georgia citizens, a lawyer for a Mexican national argued before the state’s Supreme Court on Monday.

The law says anyone living in the state longer than 30 days must have a state-issued license, and anyone who violates that law can be punished unless they show up in court with a valid Georgia license.

Lawyer Arturo Corso represents Fernando Castillo-Solis, a Mexican citizen who has lived in Georgia 10 years.

Corso argues in a court brief that Georgia’s statute, along with a federal immigration program at the Gwinnett jail “work in concert to create a discriminatory scheme to target undocumented immigrants for arrest and deportation from the U.S.”

Castillo-Solis was pulled over by a Gwinnett County police officer in January 2010 because a computer check showed the vehicle’s registration had been suspended. The officer discovered during the traffic stop that Castillo-Solis didn’t have a license and charged him with driving without a license and failing to register his vehicle.

Corso argued the Georgia law amounts to discrimination against anyone who’s not a legal Georgia resident because they won’t be able to show up in court with a Georgia driver’s license. That’s effectively a “retroactive amnesty provision” for legal Georgia residents and violates everyone else’s right to a fair trial, he argued as he asked the high court to declare the statute unconstitutional.

Gwinnett County Assistant Solicitor General James Grant argued that overturning the state would essentially mean there would be no penalties for driving without a license in Georgia, which could put everyone on the road in danger.

Access to a Georgia driver’s license is not a fundamental right, Grant said, but a privilege that he said is not afforded to people like Castillo-Solis who are in this country illegally.

A lower court denied Castillo-Solis’ motion to suppress evidence and void the no license statute as unconstitutional. During arguments before the state Supreme Court, Justice David Nahmias grilled Corson on his client’s standing to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

Corso argued that although the Georgia law discriminates against anyone who’s not a Georgia citizen, it was specifically designed to target illegal immigrants. It promotes racial profiling and was meant to be used in combination with a federal-local partnership program — known as 287(g) after the section of immigration law that governs it — that empowers local law enforcement agents to check immigration status and flag people in the country illegally for federal immigration authorities, he argued.

Driving without a license in Georgia can result in jail time. People who are in the country illegally and who are booked into jail in Georgia may have their immigration status checked through one of a number of federal-local cooperation programs. Someone discovered to be in the country illegally may end up getting deported.

The current statute language has been in effect for more than three years, but Castillo-Solis’ lawyer did not present any evidence of illegal stops or racial profiling, the state argued in court filings.