It is a crime to drive while your license is suspended in the State of Florida when you have knowledge of the suspension.
Usually, you will get pulled over for a non-criminal traffic violation, such as speeding. When the officer runs your license, he or she will learn that the license is suspended. At that point, you will be charged with the criminal offense of Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) if the officer determines that you had knowledge of the suspension. You can be issued a written Promise To Appear (PTA) instead of being physically arrested, although an officer has the legal right to physically arrest you for DWLS, as well as have your vehicle towed.
Another way for you to get arrested for DWLS is to get into a traffic accident. Unless the police officer is driving behind you, they will not be a witness to the crash. The only witness, or witnesses, to the crash are the people involved. Police are called and show up after the fact. That is why in nearly all cases of Driving While License Suspended where a crash is involved, the officer cannot testify that the person with the suspended license was the driver of the car. Only the civilians involved in the crash can testify to that point.
The officer will arrive and run the licenses of the drivers involved. When your license comes up as suspended, you will instantly be cited or arrested for DWLS if the officer determines you had knowledge of the suspension. If you are determined to be at fault for the crash, you will receive a traffic ticket for the accident as well, such as: careless driving, speeding, failure to maintain a single lane, and so on.
One thing to know about DWLS crash cases. The civilian witnesses will likely be essential witnesses. That means that these witnesses must appear in court for the State to be able to prove its case against you. That's because Florida law requires that the State prove that the person with the suspended license not only had knowledge of the suspension, but that they were operating the car or in actual control of it.
So, if you are charged with Driving While License Suspended and there is a crash, it may not be enough for the officer to appear in court. Chances are, the civilian witnesses must appear as well.
Now - how are these DWLS crash cases resolved?
In some cases, it may be possible to get a reduction in charge, or even complete dismissal of the charge if you are able to obtain a valid Florida driver's license.
However, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, the Broward State Attorney's Office, and the Palm Beach State Attorney's Office WILL NOT agree to dismiss or reduce your charge on account of obtaining a good license if you were involved in a traffic accident and you are at fault for the accident.
If you were involved in a crash and your license was knowingly suspended, you cannot - repeat, cannot - rely on simply getting a good driver's license to fix the issue. Your case may need to be litigated.
If you have prior convictions, or even withholds, on your record for Driving While License Suspended, you could find yourself becoming a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO) if you plead guilty or no contest. You need to consult a criminal attorney before you make any decisions regarding your case.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney representing clients facing problems due to driving with a suspended license throughout Miami-Dade County