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How A Speeding Ticket Can Lead To Prison

Can a speeding ticket land you in prison?

You bet.

It goes like this:

Client is late for work and is doing 60 in a 45 mile-per-hour zone.  Client gets pulled over.  Client forgets to pay the ticket or set it for trial within thirty days and Client's driver's license is suspended.  Since the suspension notice is mailed to Client's address on file with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there is a presumption that Client has knowledge of the suspension.  The problem is, Client lives in an apartment complex and sometimes mail gets lost.  Client never receives the notice.  But that doesn't matter.

Two months later, Client has completely forgotten about the speeding ticket and is driving to work again.  This time, Client's got a burnt-out tail light.  Client gets pulled over and when the officer runs Client's license, they find out that Client's license is suspended.  Client pleads with the officer that they had no knowledge of the suspension, but it doesn't matter.  The officer can see on their on-board computer that the suspension notice was mailed to Client's address.  Client gets arrested and charged with Driving While License Suspended With Knowledge, a misdemeanor.  Client is taken to jail and their car is towed.

Client's bond is set at $1000.  Client cannot reach family or friends from jail and doesn't have $100 to hire a bondsman.  When Client goes to court the next morning, Client is offered a chance to close out the case.  The bond judge offers Client a withhold of adjudication and payment of court costs.  Does it mean Client can go home?  Sure.  Client pleads guilty and court costs are assessed.  Client has 90 days to pay the balance of over $350.

Client gets out of jail and learns that since they missed work while they were in custody, they've lost their job. While Client has just enough money to get their car out of impound, they don't have enough to pay the court costs.  The court costs go into collections and a license suspension is imposed.  With the still unpaid fine from the speeding ticket (also in collections), there are now two suspensions on Client's license.  With collection fees, late fees, and interest assessed, Client owes over $600 to get their license back.

A month later, Client has a job interview.  Client knows that their license is still suspended but they have to get to this interview.  Client's rent is two months past due.  It's critical that Client get a job.  Then they can get their financial situation in order and pay off those tickets.  Client is driving safely, obeying the speed limit, but an officer is parked at the side of the road, running license plates to see if the car is registered to somebody with a suspended license.  Florida law permits an officer to do this and to execute a traffic stop if they suspect the driver may not have a valid license.  Sure enough, Client's plate gets run, Client gets pulled over, Client gets arrested for Driving While License Suspended With Knowledge, Client gets taken to jail.

Because it's Client's second offense, the charge is a first-degree misdemeanor, as opposed to a second-degree misdemeanor the first time.  The bond is higher - $1,500.  Client can't reach family or friends from the jail and doesn't have the money to hire a bondsman.  So in the morning, Client goes to bond court and opts to plead guilty.  Sure it means another $350 or so in court costs, but Client will just have to suck it up.  Client can't afford to sit around and wait in jail for a month while the case is pending trial.

Client gets out but cannot pay the court costs.  Those go into collections and now, with interest, it would cost over $1000 to get their license back.

Three months later, Client gets pulled over again.  They get arrested.  They go to jail.  Client pleads guilty at bond court so they can go home, but as this is Client's third Driving While License Suspended charge, this third guilty plea renders Client a Habitual Traffic Offender.  Now Client's license is revoked for 5 years.  And if they drive, they can be charged with a felony.

Sure enough, Client takes a chance and drives.  For months they are able to get away with it until one day they are stopped for an improper left turn.  With the Habitual Traffic Offender status in place, Client is charged with a felony.  Client's bond is $5,000, and Client is looking at 5 years in prison.

So yes, one speeding ticket can spiral out of control into possible prison time.  The moral of the story is - keep your license valid, but if it becomes suspended, take care of it right away.