It is all too easy to become a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) in the State of Florida.
The most common way is for you to have three Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) charges within five years. For the criminal offense (DWLS with knowledge) it doesn't matter whether you receive a withhold or an adjudication (conviction). For the non-criminal offense (DWLS without knowledge) you must have three convictions within 5 years. You will receive a conviction simply by paying a DWLS without knowledge ticket online.
If your charges are dismissed or amended to No Valid Driver License (NVDL), then that will not count toward your HTO status.
An HTO loses their driver's license for a period of five years. If you drive while under an HTO revocation, you face a felony charge, punishable by up to 5 years in Florida state prison.
You can also become an HTO if you have a DUI conviction and two applicable DWLS charges within a 5-year period.
The secret to avoiding the dreaded HTO designation is to keep your license valid. You do this by staying on top of your financial obligations (paying child support, keeping up-to-date insurance), by handling your traffic infractions correctly (not letting them go into collections, failing to pay fines, or failing to appear in court), and avoiding convictions for DUI and possession of a controlled substance (both charges carry mandatory license suspensions).
If your license becomes suspended, you need to take the right steps to fix it. An experienced attorney may be able to help with this. Simply paying outstanding balances on tickets may not be the right thing to do. You could accumulate points that will lead to another suspension. Many tickets that have not been paid may be able to be dismissed.
It is far easier to resolve HTO issues in Miami-Dade County than it is in Broward County. However, that doesn't mean that your Broward traffic convictions cannot be set aside, I just find that Miami-Dade County's process is easier and more fair.
Taking some precautionary steps will help you avoid an HTO designation. Once an HTO, it is very difficult to remove that designation. While I have been able to assist some clients with removing that designation, all cases are different and some HTO designations cannot be lifted.
If you are designated an HTO, you cannot even apply for a hardship license for one year, and only if you have no traffic tickets and you complete an Advanced Driver Improvement (ADI) course, at your expense.
If you are an HTO in Miami or Broward or fear that you may become one, call me.
Eric Matheny is a Miami and Broward criminal attorney assisting clients with Habitual Traffic Offender matters.