PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia court system failed for years to report drug convictions to the state Transportation Department, wrongly allowing thousands of people to drive when their licenses should have been suspended, a newspaper reported Sunday.
At least two men whose licenses were not suspended later killed people while driving, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Pennsylvania law mandates that each county notify PennDOT when someone is convicted of possessing, selling or trying to buy a controlled substance. A first offense results in a six-month license suspension.
City court officials estimated such convictions have gone unreported for about a decade, but they could not explain why clerks stopped filing the appropriate paperwork.
The failure reflects “ineptitude at every level of the system,” said Administrative Judge John W. Herron, head of the Common Pleas Court’s trial division.
Legal records indicate about 11,500 people should have been reported to PennDOT for license suspension in 2012, but only four were. Last year, only 342 out of 11,246 people were reported.
Transportation Department spokesman Richard Kirkpatrick said his agency had no idea that Philadelphia stopped reporting drug convictions and has “no way of knowing” if a county is not reporting.
“We are the managers of the driver’s license system and are not an enforcement or auditing agency,” Kirkpatrick said.
The four counties surrounding Philadelphia submitted 9,246 names to PennDOT in 2012.
Prompted by questions from The Inquirer, Philadelphia court officials directed employees earlier this year to submit the required forms after each drug conviction. They also began reviewing old cases and have notified the state of 19,065 drug convictions going back to January 2013.
City resident Leroy C. Johnson was among the thousands of drivers not reported to PennDOT. Eight weeks after pleading guilty to minor drug charges in 2011, he was behind the wheel when he hit a car, which then struck and killed pedestrian Kevin Whye and injured his fiancee, Inia Withers. Authorities say Johnson was drunk at the time.
License suspensions don’t necessarily prevent someone from getting behind the wheel. But Withers was stunned when told that Johnson was not supposed to be driving.
“Wow! I was left with two broken legs,” Withers said. “It still affects me mentally. We were going to be married.”
Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.inquirer.com