DWLS can either be a criminal traffic offense (a crime) or a civil traffic infraction (a ticket) depending on the element of knowledge.
If the police believe that you knew that your driver's license was suspended but you drove anyway, they will charge you with the criminal offense. If there is no indication that you knew that your driver's license was suspended, you will only receive the traffic ticket.
"Knowledge" can be constructive. That is, so long as the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) can show that they provided notice by mail (doesn't matter if you received it or not), you will be charged with DWLS as a criminal charge.
Your traffic printout, an official record updated daily by the DHSMV, will show the date on which you were noticed of your driver's license suspension. Again, it does not matter if you received it or not. All the DHSMV must do is show that they mailed the notice to a current address.
If you are cited for the non-criminal DWLS without knowledge, you will receive a traffic ticket and you will be sent to traffic court. If you are arrested for DWLS with knowledge, you will either be physically arrested and taken to jail in handcuffs, or you will be issued a PTA (promise to appear) where you must appear in criminal court. If you retain an attorney, your attorney will appear on your behalf.
Most of the time, driver's licenses are suspended for either failing to pay a traffic fine, or failing to appear in traffic court for a traffic ticket. In either situation, the court will order that your driver's license be suspended.
If your driver's license is suspended because your unpaid traffic tickets, this may mean that you appeared in court on these tickets, entered a plea, and were issued a fine by the court. Every court-imposed fine has a due date. If you do not settle the fine by the due date, the Clerk's Office will order your license suspended.
I find this scenario to be the most common. Unfortunately, it means that you may have a lot of money to pay before clearing up your license. In this situation, you should consult with a criminal attorney who handles driver's license matters. They will assist you in getting those tickets paid and obtaining the proper D6 clearances from the Clerk's Office. The attorney will help you deal with the government agencies, such as the courts, the Clerk's Offices, and the DHSMV. This can be an agonizing process but having an attorney on board helps.
If your license is suspended for failing to appear on traffic tickets, DO NOT PAY THOSE TICKETS! Failure to appear for court means that you were supposed to go to court to address a pending traffic ticket but you did not go. As I explained earlier, your driver's license is suspended when this happens. However, the tickets are still open. All you need to do is retain an attorney who can file a motion to set aside the license suspension and have the ticket set for trial.
If you blindly pay these tickets, you will be accumulating convictions, therefore you will get points on your license. When you pay a traffic citation online or on the phone, you are automatically convicted. You must go to court to fight a ticket or request a withhold of adjudication from the hearing officer.
If you have failed to appear and you decide just to go online and pay all of your outstanding traffic tickets, you may accumulate enough points to get a point suspension on your license. Then you may be looking at a one-year suspension for points regardless.
Getting a good driver's license is beneficial to everyone. First and foremost, it permits you to drive without fear of going to jail. It must be awful to worry about being arrested every single time you get in the car to drive to work, to school, or even just to Publix. Secondly, it benefits society. Licensed drivers have a right to be on the road. The DHSMV requires that we carry insurance and that our cars are properly registered. In the case of a traffic accident, it is important that all parties involved not only have insurance, but that they have a right to be on the road.
Thirdly, a good license is the overall aim of our justice system. We live in a place where too many drivers operate their cars without valid licenses. The courts, particularly in Miami-Dade and Broward, want to see drivers obtain good licenses. If you can do that, it is likely that your criminal defense attorney will be able to get your DWLS charges dismissed.
What I have discussed applies more to DWLS as a misdemeanor than DWLS as a felony charge (Habitual Traffic Offender). If you have been charged with the third-degree felony of driving while a habitual traffic offender, contact my office so that we may discuss the best options.
Moreover, if your license is suspended due to a DUI, or a drug conviction suspension (marijuana, cocaine, etc...), then your criminal case requires special attention. I handle these matters as well and would be happy to assist you in mounting a defense.
As you can see, some suspended license cases are easier to resolve than others. However, the fact remains that driving with a suspended license with the knowledge that the license is suspended is a crime. For a first-time offense, it is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail. For second and subsequent offenses, the charge becomes a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail. For driving while a habitual traffic offender or a 3rd DWLS charge or more, the crime becomes a felony, punishable by 5 years in prison.
Call me today to discuss your case, no matter what the circumstances. I handle all suspended license matters in Miami-Dade and Broward County.