Driving on a Suspended License (Misdemeanor DWLSR)
Our office routinely helps people facing charges of Driving While License Suspended or Revoked pending in Pinellas County, Florida. At The Law Offices Russo, Pelletier & Sullivan, we focus on:
- Avoiding any potential criminal penalties; and
- Helping you to obtain or reinstate your Florida driver’s license.
Why Was Your Driver’s License Suspended?
Many people believe that a driver’s license suspension only occurs in the event of a DUI or serious traffic offense. In truth, driver license suspensions can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
- Failure to pay a traffic citation
- Failure to appear in court
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
- Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) revocation
- Conviction for Possession of Controlled Substance (Marijuana/Cocaine)
- Financial Responsibility Suspensions (Lapse of Insurance)
- Failure to Pay Child Support
- Failure to meet Out-of-State obligations
- Excessive points on your driving record
Driving on a Suspended or Revoked License (DWLSR) – A Serious Crime
The Florida Legislature has put in place a series of escalating penalties for those convicted of driving under suspension. If you know that your license has been suspended and you drive anyway, you are always subject to arrest for a criminal offense. A first conviction can carry up to 60 days in the Pinellas County Jail and up to a $500.00 fine. With a second conviction, a driver can face up to 1 year in the Pinellas County Jail and up to a $1,000.00 fine. A third DWLSR conviction is often treated as a felony, carrying up to 5 years in state prison and up to a $5,000.00 fine.
Avoiding the 5 year Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) Driver License Suspension
In addition to the above penalties, a person who is convicted three times of DWLSR within a 5 year period will be declared a Habitual Traffic Offender and suffer a 5 year driver’s license suspension. See Florida Statutes 322.264. This suspension is not imposed by the Judge. Rather, it is an automatic administrative action taken by the Florida Department of Highway Safety, Division of Driver Licenses. Because this DHSMV administrative suspension takes place automatically, many people only learn of their lengthy HTO suspension well after their court case has concluded. By not having the advice of an attorney, countless drivers set themselves up for Habitual Traffic Offender sanctions by naively pleading guilty or no contest to what they thought was a simple traffic matter. In many cases, an attorney could have helped to avoid the HTO suspension had he been called on early to intervene on the driver’s behalf.
License Suspensions Caused by DUI Convictions
It is the custom and practice of our Pinellas County Prosecutors to seek jail sentences on cases where the underlying basis of the driver license suspension arose from a DUI. The philosophy of the prosecutor in calling for jail is based on the premise that:
- The driver is potentially dangerous;
- The suspension represented a penalty to the DUI charge that was circumvented by the unlawful driving;
- The suspension was court imposed and the driving is in flagrant disregard to the court order; and
- The failure to follow the court’s directive to cease driving represents disrespect for the judicial system.
Given this line of thinking, it is imperative that persons facing a DWLSR charge arising out of an earlier DUI case have an experienced attorney on their side. Many times, an attorney can make a difference in how the driver will be treated by the court. For example, your lawyer can argue mitigating factors, raise defenses on your behalf, or argue that your DUI suspension had already run and you simply had not yet sought reinstatement.
Possible Defenses to Driving on a Suspended License in Pinellas County
- Attacking the legality of the underlying suspension;
- Challenging the basis or constitutionality of the traffic stop;
- Demonstrating a lack of actual knowledge on the driver’s part that his license was suspended;
- Finding that the Law Enforcement Officer charged you under the wrong statute number or subsection;
- Challenging the validity of an alleged prior DWLSR conviction. (This could result in a felony charge being reduced to a misdemeanor offense, or a misdemeanor offense being treated as a first offense) Similarly, raising the defense that a prior DWLSR conviction relied upon by the prosecutor occurred before October 1, 1997. (Established Florida court decisions prevent the use of these prior DWLSR convictions for purpose of charge or penalty enhancement; and
- Questioning the ability of the prosecutor to meet his burden in proving that the defendant was the actual person who operated the vehicle.
Mitigating Factors and How These Can Help
Mitigating Factors and How These Can Help
In some cases, we may be successful in achieving a desirable outcome by acquiring a continuance of our client’s court date. This will potentially enable our client to complete tasks or pay financial obligations that will either cast him in a more positive light, or result in the reinstatement of his privilege to drive. It is of course, likely to be beneficial to get these tasks completed before appearing in front of the Pinellas County Court judge. Obviously, our advice in this regard is tailor-made to the nature or underlying cause of the original suspension.
We can also help explain why you were driving on the date you were caught – Although your reason might not rise to the level of a legal defense, it could nevertheless suggest mitigating circumstances that call for a more lenient sentence. These reasons might include:
- Driving to work to support your family;
- Driving to school or to pick up a child from day care;
- Driving to a doctors appointment or to receive other medical care;
- Driving as a last resort, because your regular form of alternative transportation was unavailable; and
- The traffic stop did not occur due to any bad or erratic driving on your part, but rather because a police officer conducted a routine tag / driver’s license check.
- If you have been charged with driving on a suspended license while operating a goped, moped, or scooter.
How We Can Help
Review Your Driver’s License Record to Create the Best Possible Strategy
Our office has secured direct access to the Florida DHSMV driver license records database. As a result, we have the ability to instantly obtain your lifetime driver’s license history. (The same information the judge in your case will see.) A review of this information is essential to understanding how and why your license came to be suspended and the steps that need to be taken in order to restore your privilege to drive. Additionally, these records will enable us to form a tailor-made strategy designed to portray you in the best possible light to the judge.
Negotiate with the Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office to Avoid Jail
It is important to have a lawyer that can open negotiations with the State Attorney’s Office concerning your pending DWLSR charge. An experienced criminal defense attorney may convince the State to amend the charge or to agree to a more lenient sentence designed to keep you out of jail and at work. This is especially true where the defense attorney can demonstrate a good faith effort on your part to either obtain a reinstated driver’s license or show that you have secured reliable alternative transportation.
Sale of the Vehicle Can Get Extra Mileage in Court
In extreme circumstances, where a client is a multiple offender or driver’s license reinstatement is simply impossible, selling the vehicle that was used to drive may send a positive message to the court. A skilled attorney can portray this action on your part as getting to the root of the problem and put the judge at ease that there will not be future violations of the law.
Administrative Alternatives that Avoid Court
In some situations, it is possible we may be able to help you avoid court altogether by resolving the DWLSR case through an administrative disposition. If we are able to take advantage of this remedy (found in Florida Statutes 318.14(10)) you will:
- Not be convicted of the suspended license charge;
- Never be required to appear in court; and
- Eliminate the risk of a jail sentence.
This unconventional administrative tactic is little known and often missed by people who are facing a suspended license prosecution in the St. Petersburg / Clearwater area. However, an experienced attorney can help determine if it is appropriate to engage this method of defense. If you are eligible, we will seek to ensure that the administrative resolution of your case proceeds smoothly and your prosecution stays out of the courtroom.
Driving With Suspended License Attorneys – St. Petersburg / Clearwater / Pinellas County
At the Law Offices of Russo, Pelletier & Sullivan, we routinely represent people who are arrested or ticketed for Driving While License Suspended or Revoked (DWLSR) throughout the St. Petersburg / Clearwater area. If you are currently facing this charge, you need a lawyer who can craft a strategy best designed to defend the charge, explore possible license reinstatement options, and highlight the mitigating factors in your case.