DWLS (driving while license suspended) and NVDL (no valid drivers license) are two separate criminal traffic charges in the State of Florida. The two crimes could not be more different, however the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
DWLS means that your driving privilege has been suspended, revoked, or cancelled by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), by the court, or by some other agency. Most often, your driving privilege is suspended for failure to pay a traffic fine.
Driving while license suspended is a second-degree misdemeanor for first-time offenders, a first-degree misdemeanor for second-time offenders, and a third-degree felony for third or subsequent offenders.
If you have three DWLS charges within 5 years (whether or not adjudication is withheld) you can be designated a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO), and can face 5 years in prison for driving while an HTO.
DWLS requires the state to prove that your license was suspended AND that you had knowledge of the suspension. DWLS without knowledge is a non-criminal infraction because the element of knowledge (knowing your license was suspended but driving anyway) is the crime. Having a suspended license by itself is not a crime, only driving with one.
Knowledge is proven if the offender has been previously cited for DWLS, the person admits to knowing that their license was suspended, or the person received notice from the DHSMV regarding the suspension.
NVDL (no valid drivers license) is a second-degree misdemeanor and simply states that it is a crime for somebody to operate a motor vehicle in the State of Florida without a valid drivers license.
Repeat NVDL offenders do not face harsher penalties with each subsequent arrest. Also, NVDL charges will not result in your becoming a Habitual Traffic Offender.
When charged with NVDL, the state does not need to prove knowledge or that your license is suspended. Simply the fact that you were driving without a valid license is enough to secure a conviction.
It’s important to understand these differences because each crime carries different consequences. If you have DWLS priors and are charged with another DWLS, a plea could possibly subject you to an HTO designation, or more serious (even felony) charges for your next offense.
Attorney Eric Matheny serves clients in Miami-Dade and Broward charged with DWLS and NVDL.