Oregon’s DMV Database Is Broken And That Means Innocent People Are Spending Months Behind Bars

Oregon’s DMV Database Is Broken And That Means Innocent People Are Spending Months Behind Bars

from the hey-it’s-only-the-little-people dept

The Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles is pretty much just renting a car from Hertz. Participating in either system greatly increases your chances of spending time jailed for crimes you didn’t commit.

Hertz’s inability to perform basic inventory control functions means renters in good standing are being treated to guns out traffic stops and felony accusations on their permanent records. In Oregon, the state’s inability to run an accurate drivers license database means people are being locked up even though their vehicles are properly registered. (h/t BentFranklin via Insider Chat)

Nicholas Chappelle spent nearly a year at Snake River Correctional Institution after he was arrested and convicted for driving with a suspended license.

But he never should have spent a day behind bars.

Chappelle is one of untold numbers of Oregonians stopped by police, arrested, put in jail and even wrongfully convicted based on faulty DMV information– a breakdown in record-keeping that has existed for years but the state never fixed.

By the time a Columbia County prosecutor realized Chappelle was innocent, he had lost his job as a union ironworker and missed the birth of his son while held at the medium-security prison in eastern Oregon, far from his family in Scappoose.

Oh, well. It’s just little people. They can weather everything the justice system throws at them and expect little in the way of recourse if they decide to make a federal case of it.

Chappelle pled guilty to a felony he didn’t commit in hopes of speeding this process up. It didn’t work. Days are critical when you have a job and a place to live. Months are untenable. Nearly a year behind bars is catastrophic.

But will the state feel the pain? It seems like it should. Its improperly configured database does not recognize suspended licenses that have been reinstated due to math errors.

The DMV has improperly recorded approximately 3,000 driver’s licenses in the last two decades as suspended indefinitely through either 12/31/9999 or 00/00/0000, according to data obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive through a public records request.

I don’t want to assume the state is using Excel to track suspended licenses, but come on! This is classic Excel butchery. Compounding the math error is the alternate tracking system, which relies solely on convicted drivers to inform the state of their current status — a system that inverts the justice system to place the burden on former convicts to make the state aware of their current, lawful status.

Some of you may think this is how it should be. But allow me to inform you that you are wrong. The state inhales tax dollars to oversee an accurate database. Those being taxed should not be expected to correct the state’s errors. The state is being paid to do this job. People accused of license violations aren’t being paid anything to ensure the state doesn’t fuck their shit up. That’s completely backward.

But fear not, Oregon residents! The state has no idea how long things have been fucked up, nor does it have a plan to make things less fucked up in the immediate future.

The DMV has no idea how many people have been charged and prosecuted because of the erroneous records…

It appears DMV officials learned of the lapse at some point in the past, Joyce said. But it’s not clear exactly when and it “wasn’t at a high enough level to understand the urgency” to figure out a remedy, she told The Oregonian/OregonLive.

So, that’s the “solution.” Who knows and who cares, as long as it only affects the most powerless state residents? Shrugs are followed by shrugs from state officials who acknowledge there’s a problem, but have yet to take the problem seriously because it only affects people who, every few years or so, decide to talk to journalists.

Chapelle spent 11 months in jail before prosecutors recognized there was something wrong with the state’s database. He cannot possibly be the only victim of the state’s inability to do its job properly. Case in point: the Multnomah County prosecutor’s office has already identified at least 30 cases where the database might be wrong and falsely accused drivers might be right.

That’s the tip of the iceberg. No one in the state paid attention to this failure until journalists and a man falsely jailed for nearly a year brought it to the government’s attention.

The government gets paid well to do what it does. Given the funding that flows to law enforcement, the government should be on the leading edge, finding and addressing problems before they result in rights violations and the destruction of innocent people’s lives. But that’s never the case. It’s always outside parties discovering things the government should have been aware of for months, if not years. And when the government finally comes riding to the rescue, all it’s really doing is performing the bare minimum of un-fuckery. That’s not acceptable.

Filed Under: dmv, jail, oregon