As you know, Florida has a Habitual Traffic Offender statute that results in the loss of your driving privilege for 5 years if the Department of Highway Safety and Motor deems that you are an HTO.
There are many ways that you can become an HTO. However, the most common way that people become HTOs, especially in Miami-Dade County and Broward County, is by pleading guilty or no contest to three or more driving while license suspended (DWLS) charges within a 5 year period.
You can also become an HTO by pleading guilty to three DWLS without knowledge (non-criminal) charges so long as the guilty plea results in a conviction. Many people who opt to pay these non-criminal citations online don’t realize that by paying a ticket online, you are accepting a conviction.
If you become an HTO, don’t panic. You have remedies available to you.
If you have become an HTO by paying non-criminal DWLS citations online, you may retain the services of an attorney to vacate one of those pleas. By vacating one of the pleas, the attorney may be able to get the conviction converted into a withhold of adjudication. A withhold for a non-criminal DWLS will not result in your becoming an HTO. If a conviction becomes a withhold, the HTO designation can be removed.
If you have pleaded guilty or no contest to a criminal DWLS charge (with knowledge), it doesn’t matter whether you receive a withhold or a conviction. Three withholds for the criminal charge within 5 years will result in your becoming an HTO.
What your DWLS attorney can do is file a motion to vacate or most recent plea. If granted, the case will be reopened and can either be set for trial or resolved differently. For instance, if a DWLS is amended to a No Valid Driver’s License (NVDL) charge, that will not result in your becoming a Habitual Traffic Offender.
The best way to avoid becoming an HTO? Don’t drive on a suspended license. But if you do, make sure that you receive competent representation so that you don’t unknowingly take a plea that results in the loss of your license for 5 years.
If you do become an HTO, act quickly. You have only 60 days to vacate a plea after it is accepted by the court.
Eric Matheny is a Miami DWLS lawyer and Broward DWLS lawyer assisting clients with driving while license suspended cases and habitual traffic offender cases in Miami and Broward court.