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Authority to Suspend Driver License

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Reviewed Date: May 26, 2020

Original Author: 
Ashburn, Melissa
Date of Material: 
Nov 7, 2003

Licenses and permits--Motor vehicles
Licenses and permits

Authority to Suspend Driver License

MTAS was asked whether a municipal court, without concurrent general sessions jurisdiction, has the authority to confiscate or suspend a person's driver license.

November 7, 2003

Re: Authority of municipal court to suspend driver license

Dear Sir,

You have asked me whether a municipal court, without concurrent general sessions jurisdiction, has authority to confiscate or suspend a person’s driver license. In my opinion, considering the facts related to me, the court has no such authority.

It is my understanding that a charge for speeding and failure to appear were before the court when this issue of confiscation or suspension of a driver license arose. Regardless of a person’s driving record, and the number of speeding tickets or other charges appearing on his record, a municipal court does not have authority to suspend a license under those circumstances.

It is a fundamental concept of law that a driver license, after being first issued, becomes a property right that cannot be revoked or suspended without the procedural due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Mackey v. Montrym, 443 U.S. 1, 99 S.Ct. 2612, 61 L.Ed.2d 321 (1979). The state statutes which permit the suspension or revocation of drivers licenses contain specific due process provisions providing for a hearing and notice. These statutes include charges for driving under the influence, vehicular manslaughter and other felonies involving the operation of a motor vehicle, none of which may be heard in municipal courts. T.C.A. § 55-50-501.

A drivers license may be suspended by the Department of Safety if a defendant has failed to appear in court or failed to pay a fine, but action is taken by the Department of Safety to suspend the license, not the city court.

I hope this information is helpful. Please contact me should you need further assistance in this matter or any other.

Thank you for consulting with MTAS.


Melissa A. Ashburn
Legal Consultant

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Information written by MTAS staff was based on the law at the time and/or a specific sets of facts. The laws referenced may have changed and/or the technical advice provided may not be applicable to your city or circumstances. Always consult with your city attorney or an MTAS consultant before taking any action based on information posted to this website.