Thousands of Arizona drivers never told about license status

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Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Division failed to notify over 34,000 drivers that their licenses had been suspended, revoked, or canceled and also lagged for months in alerting prosecutors, the Arizona Republic reported Friday.

The MVD notified county attorney’s offices around the state of the problem on Wednesday, saying in an email that notices weren’t mailed “beginning in late 2020 and ending in March.” A glitch with the agency’s mailing process was the cause.

“When MVD discovered this issue in February 2021, the first step was to understand what caused the problem, the extent of customers affected, and how to resolve the problem,” MVD spokesman Doug Parcey said in an email to The Republic. “Once those were known, the affected customers were immediately notified.”

The email to prosecutors was sent after the newspaper asked MVD officials why prosecutors were never officially informed. Some learned about it from defense attorneys.

Potentially thousands of drivers might have been arrested and prosecuted or paid hefty fines because they unknowingly drove with a suspended license. Prosecutors in Maricopa and Pinal counties have already flagged more than 1,000 cases, the newspaper reported. Municipal and justice courts will also have to review cases involving suspended licenses.

“Our first priority is to look at convictions,” said Rachel Mitchell, acting division chief of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. “We are focusing on prison… It is certainly scary for me as a prosecutor.”

Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer also vowed to make sure nobody was wrongly prosecuted. His office will put felony DUI cases on hold. Not getting a letter from MVD, however, doesn’t necessarily mean a conviction will be removed.

If drivers admitted to police at the time of a stop that they knew they were driving illegally, then the case won’t get overturned, Volkmer said.

The MVD’s disclosure, which said a computer glitch with the mailing process caused the problem, was sent about three weeks after prosecutors started hearing about it from defense attorneys.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s office reiterated that MVD had taken steps to prevent a repeat.

“This was an unfortunate human error made by MVD staff,” Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin said.

The state could face legal fallout from motorists who were wrongfully arrested or had assets like their vehicles seized.

“It’s a real mess,” said Mark Weingart, an attorney who specializes in DUI cases. “We could be talking about civil lawsuits.”

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.